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Seeing One's Parents as Children

Rummaging through stored boxes in search of something can be time consuming, especially when one gets sidetracked along the way to finding the thing that prompted the search. But it can also be fun and enlightening.

I decided to indulge my curiosity when my recent rummaging prompted me to chase a rabbit trail. I never did find what I was looking for, but I discovered something else, and it made me see my parents as they were when they were children.

I ran across my parents' grade cards and my mother's school autograph books. (I don't think their school had yearbooks back in the 1940s.) The time I spent pouring over those historic (to me) documents allowed me to see my parents in a new light.

As for the grade cards, I got a couple of surprises. Mother was always a good student, both in academics and behavior. She was especially good at math, something with which I struggled from birth. That's why I was surprised--no, SHOCKED!--to see that she had received for one grading period a D in arithmetic. And I can only imagine what she must have done that prevented her from ending one year with straight A's because she got a B+ in conduct.

Daddy was never as good as Mother academically, probably because he had difficulties reading. He once told me that even in high school, he had to have his mother read his assignments aloud to him. He read so slowly that he never would have finished his assignments otherwise. He was an auditory and tactile learner; he did things well and learned quickly when working with his hands. But the fact that he grew up on a dairy farm and yet one term got a D in agriculture, of all subjects, was an eye-opener for me. Yet, he was president of the school's Future Farmers of America program and senior class president. (Mother was class vice president.)

But it was Mother's autograph books that gave me a lot of laughs and revealed her and her classmates as just typical silly and fun-loving teenagers. Witty and silly rhymes seemed to have been "the thing" back then. But a few entries (especially those from teachers) were prescient. Following are some examples.

Dearest Hazel,

When you get married and live across the lake,

Send me a piece of your wedding cake.

Dearest Hazel,

The higher the mountain, the cooler the breeze;

The younger the couple, the tighter they squeeze.

This entry was by the school principal, E. O. Clark, and dated March 5, 1941:

A beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form. It gives a higher pleasure than statues or pictures.

Some entries, like the following two, left me wondering:

  • Remember the day in biology when you slid under the table.

  • Remember always Wednesday night May 16, 1945.

Daddy wrote the following on January 11, 1944, possibly unknowingly foretelling their future. (He seemed to have written the same thing every year. He was either unimaginative or determined!)

When you get married and don't go to school,

Have a good education and don't marry a fool!

A mathematician must have written this one:

2 sweet

2 be

4 gotten

This one highlighted the bane of the female students:

Yours till stockings quit running and start walking.

And this one made a self-deprecating admission:

When you get married and live down South,

Remember me and my big mouth.

Mother's home economics teacher concluded her entry with these words:

Hope you won't find this final exam you are about to take too bad.

One boy wrote,

Don't it make you mad,

Don't it get your goat,

To get in the bath-tub

And can't find your soap?

A boy named Glen was destined to be disappointed (Daddy made sure of that) when he wrote,

Sure as the vine grows around the rafter,

You are the girl I am after.

A number of friends were wiser than they knew, writing,

Love many, trust few.

And always paddle your own canoe.

After graduation from high school, Mother and some of her classmates enrolled at National Business College in Knoxville. The girls who signed her autograph book seemed to have gotten more serious; most of the boys, however, were as silly as ever.

Many girls wrote something that closed with "Remember me as a friend from N.B.C." One boy wrote, "When you get through with the clock in typing next time, let me know. I'll try to beat you to it one of these days. Hope you get 60 [wpm?] pretty often."

A teacher at the college wrote, "To a good student one that doesn't cause any trouble," implying that some other students (probably the boys) did cause him trouble.

I could share more such examples, but I think you get the picture. Whereas we often remember our parents as the providers, guardians, disciplinarians, and maybe even as the spoilers of our "fun," it's sometimes good to remember that parents were once children, too!

Daddy and Mother on their wedding day

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