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Red bird

Posted: June 21, 2013 4:02 p.m.
Updated: June 24, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Education was much different when I was a child! Children did not receive awards just for attending class. In fact, even in the first grades, students became what is known today as “labeled.” I was very disappointed when the teacher told me I was to be a blue bird, the division for the quicker students. I pled with her to let me be a red bird, the other division, to no avail. I remember she said, while patting me on the head, “Oh, honey, you don’t want to be a red bird.” Oh, yes, I did, no matter what stigma might be attached. Red birds are still my favorite birds.

As I grew older, the teachers called the students out and told them their intelligence quotient, or I.Q. This would certainly not be allowed today. Since my father had died when I was five months old and left my mother an uneducated widow, she was concerned with my education to be a wife. Women, after all, were supposed to have babies, cook and mind their husbands, not be educated. I was also to be “seen and not heard,” an impossibility for me. I did learn how to behave even if I did not always do so. I do remember one teacher who, when telling me my I.Q., said something akin to I should not think I was so smart just because I had a high I.Q. One thing I did know: my I.Q. must have been higher than hers. My mother had 11 brothers and sisters with large families who all teased, played with and taught me. I was the last baby in the family. I taught myself to read since my mother insisted on my taking elocution (speech) lessons. There, I received three-page poems to learn and recite in public. Because she certainly did not have time to ready me for public display, I had to ready myself or face problems. I have no sense of direction, even today, and she was not going to deal with a slow or remedial child. Piano and elocution lessons were her ways to teach me direction.

When I returned home as a third or fourth grader (yes, my mother did keep up with where I was, as did the neighbors as I walked home from school and on errands), she was waiting with a switch at the kitchen table. The superintendent had called and said he wanted to talk to her about Laura Jean. No self-respecting child wanted a call, certainly never expected to gain the attention of the superintendent. There, she asked me what he wanted. I assured her I did not know. Actually, I was as puzzled and apprehensive as she. She applied the switch several times, followed by the question, “Now, have you remembered?” When the gentleman came, what he wanted was to advance me several grades, something which would have placed me ahead of my brother, so she refused. I waited for the apology, something I did not get. She just looked at me and said, “Well, I guess if you got a whipping you did not deserve for today, you probably did so in the past.” Parents did not apologize, and she was probably right.

When my English teacher got me a scholarship to Agnes Scott College, my mother would not allow me to take it, saying if it were not also offered to my brother, I could not have it and adding, “Anyway, it’s charity.” How things have changed! I did get a college education, paid for by my own efforts, and probably would not have fit in at that elegant institution, having few clothes and no money. I certainly learned independence and effort.

My brother finally got what today would be a GED; back then, it was called Opportunity School. Obviously, boys were more important than girls as underlined when my mother told me I would have to work to send my brother to college since she had no money. I assured her I knew she had no money but was going to work to send myself to school. I was indeed lucky to find a husband who was highly intelligent and did like smart girls. My mother had assured me they did not. I did learn, as a teacher, talking to mothers about misbehavior or laziness on the part of their sons was a waste of time. A wise teacher talks to fathers about sons and mothers about daughters.

Today, I catch the blinding flash of a red bird flitting past me in the yard, or watch the males and females at my feeder with joy. They appear so cheerful. They also amuse me, especially the male, when he is trying feed his brood, never fast enough. I still like to think of myself as a red bird, hopefully bringing laughter and cheer wherever I go, at least gaining attention!



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