The year was 1960. We still liked Ike, as a nation, but were on the brink of electing John F. Kennedy to the presidency. I was in the second grade and didn’t know a Roman Catholic form a Ramen noodle. The substitute teacher they sent to take care of me and my little linthead friends while our teacher, Miss Ruby Jordan, recovered from surgery was a little petite thing, with a blonde pageboy haircut. She was newly graduated from the University of Georgia, hallowed be thy name, and taught me about sororities and lavalieres.
Yes, I do, too, remember all of that. I have an impeccable memory of everything that happened to me 50 years ago. It is a blessing — and a curse. I have no idea what I did yesterday morning.
The sorority girl who taught me for two weeks in the second grade wore saddle oxfords and wool plaid skirts and soft sweaters — and cried easily. None of her tears was caused by me, but we had a few rough customers among the 35 children in my second-grade class. (I didn’t remember that. I counted faces in the group picture.)
I am certain that our substitute would go on to become a wonderful teacher — or maybe she married and became a wonderful wife, but in January of 1960, she was out of her element among the boys and girls of our little North Georgia mill village.
The first thing she had us do on our first day back from Christmas vacation was gather all our tiny wooden chairs in a big circle for reading time. I tried to explain to her that while everyone else was reading about Alice and Jerry and Jip — Dick and Jane and Spot were persona non grata in Porterdale School — that I was supposed to sit at my desk and read the Atlanta Constitution that I had brought from home. (Ruby Jordan knew about individualized instruction long before it became the national norm.)
Miss Substitute Teacher was having none of that. She made me join the circle just like everyone else and I would have to wait until I got home to find out what Ralph McGill and Charlie Roberts and Jesse Outlar and Celestine Sibley had on their collective minds that day.
Before we began to read, our interim teacher thought it would be a splendid idea if we went around the circle and had everyone tell the other members of the class what they had gotten for Christmas. That was a horrible idea!
We had all gotten an orange and handful of nuts in the toes of our fathers’ stockings. The fruit and nuts were pilfered from our Bibb Christmas boxes when we weren’t looking — the ones we had gotten on the last day of school at the Christmas program in the gym.
Beyond that, pickings had probably been slim for most of the members of the class — and many of the congregation had received nothing at all from the jolly man in the red suit. Times were hard for mill hands in 1960 America, understand, and many of my classmates were being set up for some very embarrassing and awkward moments.
For once in my life I was a quick study. I raised my hand and volunteered to go first. I proclaimed to everyone in the room that I had gotten a Daisy B.B. gun and an erector set and a Lionel train, along with a set of Lincoln Logs and a new puppy and a brand new bike.
My friends looked at me with puzzled faces because they all knew that the only toy I had received was a little table top basketball game that my folks bought for $3.99 from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. One of my friends, however, realized what I was doing and volunteered to go next.
She rolled off a litany of gifts that she had fantasized about while perusing the pages of the Wish Book as well. A Betsy Wetsy doll, an Easy Bake Oven, a chemistry set and a coaster wagon were some of the things she claimed Santa left under her tree. I am not sure she even had a tree that year.
Pretty soon everyone was eager to get in on the fun and hands began to shoot up all around the room. Our teacher’s eyes grew wide in amazement as each list grew longer and longer and longer.
That has been 53 years and I still see some of my classmates from time to time and we still laugh about the Christmas when Miss Jordan’s class garnered every item listed in the Sears-Roebuck catalogue.
I hope your Christmas was filled with joy and that in the New Year, all your dreams come true.