Volume 13, Issue 3 ~ January 20 -26, 2005
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

The Regimented Life

Nature's simple secrets can hide in quiet pools, and life's greatest lessons are not all learned in schools.

Grumpy (Mackenzie Noelle Boughey) started school the other day. Though she turned only three a few days after Christmas, she is now among us all. The first steps have been taken; henceforth she will be mired in a regimented life.

Though she goes to KinderCare only two days a week, Grumpy is edging away from the carefree lifestyle enjoyed by kids of generations past. Two days a week now, five days in a year or so ... then it will be classes, homework, jobs, probably marriage, kids and so on it will go.

A Five-Year-Old Scholar
How times have changed.

In my generation, youngsters were excused from any formalities and schedules until they were six. Then it was off to school. In my case it was age five because, like Grumpy, my birthday falls in December. At the time, if you had been a December baby, your parents had an option. They could enroll you in classes in the year you turned six, or they could wait until the next year.

Mother figured the earlier the better. She had things to do around the house while also tending to outdoor farm chores, and there was my younger sister Ruth. Besides, perhaps she thought it was time my life got a bit of regimentation. You might say I was hyperactive, already displaying indications of ignoring formalities, a disposition that has stuck with me to the present, despite school and the military.

I recall, I was anxious to head to school. After all, Grandma had been a school teacher in Iowa shortly after it had gained statehood in the mid-1800s; Aunts Caroline and MiMi were also school teachers.
First Days Down the Line

But not all kids have teachers in their family, and thoughts of school can be intimidating to young minds. So within this modern-day family there were reservations about Grumpy heading off to day care, which in these days is virtually school. For a week previously, we hyped her on the fun of the big day - as we had done when her mother, Heather, reached five and was about to head to school.

We thought we had prepared Heather well. Guess again. When the time came, she cried, clung to her mother and wanted to go home. Would there be a repeat with Grumpy, two years younger than mom when taking that big step?

It was Heather's turn to experience what we had gone through more than 25 years earlier. The first day in school for the first child is a milestone in the life of a parent.

But for Grumpy it was no ordeal. We had driven her past KinderCare a few times so she could get the lay of the land, and she already had her own ideas.

"Good-bye, gotta go play," she shouted to her mother as they reached the "schoolhouse" with belfry but no bell atop the building and a playground on the side. That was it, no kiss good-bye, no apprehension. Her mother was relieved there had been no I want go home. On the other hand, she was left wondering if things were so bad at home that her baby wanted to get away.

Maybe Heather and husband Jon were left wondering, but I could appreciate Grumpy's free spirit.

Like Grandfather, Like Grumpy
After all, that's how things had gone for me when Mother deposited me at Cherry Valley School, a one-room building in New England (see the accompanying photo). Grumpy, like me, viewed school as just another adventure in life - sort of like a ride on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry - but with no mother and father around to say don't do that, or perhaps, sit down and be still.

Grumpy's school has 85 to 90 students ranging in age from six weeks to 12 years. Mine had the same diversity, but ages ranged from five to 15 - as another accompanying photo shows - and note some of the boys are barefoot. There was no belfry at Cherry Valley; Miss Griffin, a newcomer to teaching succeeding Aunt Caroline, rang a big brass bell with her hands to beckon students.

I'm happy to report that on Grumpy's first day, the topic of her group was Nature. She came bounding out with a painting - not a very elaborate one, though she thought it was. It was a giant blob of brown. "That's mud," she beamed with pride. My hope is that someday she will be able to hold that painting up and say That's what the Bay was like when I started school, as she raises a gin-clear martini to toast a finally recovered Chesapeake.

She already loves the Bay and water; she has fished with me a few times - though she still prefers kissing fish to eating them. She has been on sail and powerboats, has her own two fishing rods and already knows how to tangle lines. Somewhat loquacious, she no doubt had a few things to say about nature to teachers Ms. Debby and Ms. Lucille before nap time.

I Yield to Progress
Nap time! At Cherry Valley School, there was no time for naps. The youngest boys not infrequently were on litter patrol in the school yard while older boys carted in wood for the stove or water for the barrel from which we poured drinks into tin cups. The girls on their side of the yard played hopscotch, a game I've not seen played for 30 years or so.

The playground's slide/ladder complex at Grumpy's school is almost as big as my old schoolhouse, and so many things to do. We didn't have even a swing or see-saw; if we were lucky, we'd go to a nearby pasture to salvage a short piece of old rusty barbed wire, bend it in an arc and pretend we were riding a motorcycle with our caps turned backwards.

School is so different these days, but seeing as Grumpy likes it, I'll yield to progress. I just hope from here on there's continued nature teaching. If kids of today are impressed with the bounty of the out of doors, perhaps the day will come when an enlightened Grumpy and her former classmates can toast a restored Bay. Start 'em young, I say. Enough said ...

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.