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Firsts

While searching through some old photos recently, I ran across several that made me reminisce about "firsts" in my life as a husband and teacher. Long-forgotten people, events, and places suddenly filled my mind.


My wife and I were hired as a teaching team before we graduated college or even were married. (It's a good thing our engagement led to marriage, or our first year of teaching would have been more than a little awkward!) She was hired to teach first grade; I was to teach junior high history and sophomore English.

One of the perks of our job was that the school provided our housing. In our youthful naivete, we didn't ask any questions, such as whether it would be an apartment, a duplex, or a house. For all we knew, it might have been a thatch-roofed hut or a hovel of an apartment in a government housing project. But it was a pine-tree-shaded, 1150 square foot, three-bedroom house in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. And it was only 1.2 miles from the school.

When the principals of the elementary and secondary schools learned that our sole furniture was a box spring/mattress set, they got the school to loan us a huge faux leather couch so that we would at least have something to sit on. In spite of its size, it couldn't prevent our living-dining room looking cavernous and bare.


For several days, we searched for furniture that we could afford. In the meantime, we used a large upturned cardboard box as our kitchen table. Two smaller book-filled boxes served as kitchen chairs. The large box offered just enough room for two dinner plates, silverware, and drinking glasses. Even then , we had to guard them carefully lest they be vibrated to the floor by the B-52 Stratofortresses that routinely took off from nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and right over our house.


Not having yet earned our first paychecks, we used wedding gift money to purchase a tiny kitchen table and two chairs from the local Sears catalog room. It was a tiny floor model with two matching chairs. After receiving our first paychecks, we bought a used bedframe and two matching dressers. The previous owner had used one of the drawers as a dump for every kind of cosmetic she ever owned, and it was caked with powder. It took us many scrubbings and vacuumings to rid it of all the residue. We never did get rid of the smell.


Shortly thereafter, we bought a small desk for the one small bedroom we converted into an office. The largest of the three bedrooms was for storage and hanging clothes to dry when it was raining and we were unable to use the clothesline outside. In cold weather, the clothes frozen on the line, and we thawed them in that room.


We got to and from school and around town in my first car, a hand-me-down 1965 F-85 Oldsmobile from my parents. We nicknamed her "Elza" to help us remember our new license plate, which began with the letters LZA.

We also bought our first his-and-hers bikes that year. We enjoyed the times we spent cruising on them through the neighborhood. And we really enjoyed the adrenaline rush we got the day we found unfired 30.06 cartridges scattered up and down the street and raced to the local fire station to inform the authorities so they could pick them up lest some innocent kid get them.


Probably because of Connie's natural beauty, the administrator chose her to appear in a 5 1/2 by 9 1/2-inch newspaper ad for the school. That was her modeling debut.


My public performing debut came when I was coerced into joining a few other faculty members in presenting a

reading as part of the school's annual Artist Series, a formal affair. My colleagues (left to right from me; Miss Lundy, the home-economics teacher; Mrs. Tice, the administrator's wife; Mrs. Thomas, whose specialty I've since forgotten; and Mr. Robertson, the junior high science teacher) and I presented the poem "Is There Time?" Each of us had a verse to recite from memory.


Only after I'd committed to the task did the director say, "Oh, by the way, you all will be singing, too." Had I known, I probably would have begged off in favor of someone with a better voice. Instead, I sang solo--so low no one could hear me!


Connie and I both were excited when we got our paychecks, not because they were so large but because we needed the funds to survive. Because I had my master's degree, my check was larger than Connie's. Ten dollars more. But every penny was precious. We established a rule: One pay period we would live on my check and set aside hers for buying furniture and food. The next pay period, we reversed it. It was tough, but we never missed a meal, and we both had money to buy things for our classrooms and sometimes for ourselves. In fact, once a month we splurged and dined out--at McDonald's.


In spite of the trials and foibles of that first year of teaching and marriage, both of us now look back fondly on the memories we banked. In the words of an ad jingle, "Not much money, oh, but honey, didn't we have fun?!" The sacrifices we made seemed as nothing more than a challenging adventure because we were in love with each other and with our teaching.


We lament, however, the young people today who seem to want to start out adult life having everything their parents worked years to obtain. Late model car, large house, fancy furniture, wide-screen TV, computers, etc. Although those material things are nice to have, they rob young couples of the experience of the struggle, the bond of love and trust and teamwork that they develop, all of which are priceless. Parents might think they are helping by sparing their children the struggle, but they inadvertently are actually robbing them of something that is irreplaceable. As the young people age, they won't be able to enjoy the precious memories of the "firsts" that my wife and I now enjoy.


If you have adult children, don't mollycoddle them by giving them everything. Let them struggle a bit. It won't kill them. In fact, it'll provide them with the moral backbone necessary for living adult life. And it'll give them memories that they can, in turn, share with their own children and grandchildren.

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