I’m scouring my frontal lobe for memories. I don’t remember what movie I watched last night, but those memories from my childhood are solid, like firmly planted oak trees.
Let’s go back to first grade, when grammar school spread before me like a big, empty prairie. Back then, anything seemed possible.
First grade provided our class with Miss Sumner, a wild redhead, probably in her 50s, with that combed-back hairdo, wavy, like auburn fields of wheat. As I recall, some students got stuck with Miss Swanson, a skinny, reserved bird of a teacher. My twin sister Teresa landed in Miss Cramer’s class. I think I lucked out getting the animated Ida Sumner.
Miss Sumner was outgoing, and able to handle the most rambunctious of pupils, including me. I was always very talkative, mischievous and looking for attention. When you come from a family with six kids, every child is like a hungry bird with its mouth open. In the McGrath family, there was never enough attention to go around, so we had to get our thrills elsewhere, and for many of us, it was at Carpenter Avenue Elementary.
Teresa and I didn’t go to kindergarten at Carpenter. My mom was already teaching, so I believe we were stuck in nursery school until we were almost 6, since that school was convenient to where she was working.
There, I remember being far taller than the rest of my playmates, and getting to ride the largest tricycle. I wasn’t good at taking naps back then, nor was I very good at it in Miss Sumner’s class. If I slept, I might have missed something!
Being in first grade was a chance to make new friends, go wild on the playground, and give Miss Sumner a run for her money. When she was teaching, she claimed she could always tell who was talking because she had “eyes in the back of her head.”
Of course we all believed her, and had I half a chance, I would have gladly combed through her thick wad of hair to find a second set of eyeballs.
Many of us got sent to the corner to sit in the “hot seat” for talking too much, where we would pretend to apologize and feel shame. For me, it was a chance to wow my pals with my arsenal of animal imitations and facial expressions, much to the chagrin of Miss Sumner.
I’m sure I tested her patience, but I hope, on some level, I was a source of amusement for her. I don’t know what happened to her, or how long she taught at Carpenter, but she was one of my favorite teachers. Because of her creativity and imagination, she helped foster my appreciation and enjoyment of attending school.
I’m sure teachers nowadays have a different set of challenges. With all the budget cuts, overcrowding and lack of support on so many fronts, I can’t imagine the difficulty involved in trying to manage an army of 6-year-olds. But in the '60s, perhaps things were easier.
So, I want to thank you, Ida Sumner, wherever you are. You helped make school a pleasant place for me, and for that, I’ll always remember you.