I woke up this morning thinking about my kindergarten teacher. Wonderful, sweet LaVonne Yeager who talked sorta like Mr. Rogers but with a tough side Fred never seemed to possess.
So many good afternoon memories from that magical fall when people still routinely walked on the moon and the summer of love was a recent memory not yet gone stale. Mrs. Y taught me to sing Goodbye, Old Paint (I’m-a leavin’ Cheyenne) and gleefully proclaim my status of Junior Fire Marshal. I remember how delighted she was at my Halloween costume—how excited she was to reveal that my friend Loren Bratetic had also come dressed as a bat. I can still see her carrying in a tray filled with upside down ice-cream cones decorated to look like Saturn V rockets for Barry’s birthday, and I can still see the smile—that never vanished even after her dark hair turned white.
All those memories naturally led me on through the years.
My small town Bloomfield, Nebraska elementary school had enough kids to divide the class in two. Each grade had an east wing and a west wing. In first grade, I was in One-East with Mrs. Kimball. Mrs. K was a gem—she didn’t teach me to read (I already had that on my own. But she taught me the finer points—WHAT to read, and WHY). Her son had been in my kindergarten class, and I liked James – but rather than have his mom as a teacher, he was over in One-West with Mrs. Hetzel.
Oh, Floy Hetzel.
Where to begin? In first grade, I was scared spitless of her. She was tough and seemed to be 1000 years old, certainly older than Mrs. Kimball, who—in another universe—could’ve been a TV-mom. I didn’t really know her until I hit high-school, and Mrs. Hetzel, by then retired, was a regular substitute. I discovered her dry wit, the pitch perfect sense of humor, her integrity, her compassion. One day during study hall, she told me how her husband had run one of Bloomfield’s early filling stations, firing my love of small town history.
She’s one of a handful of people in my life whose memory breaks my heart simply because she’s gone and likely never knew how much I loved her.
In second grade came Mrs. Preiner, who was beautiful with long blonde hair and glasses. This was important because I too had long blonde hair…and glasses. Yep. It was in second grade that my young eyes went bad, and it was Mrs. P who told me to stand up to it. Of all my early teachers, I recall her being the most reserved, and she insisted on calling me Rich, saying I was too old to be called Richie—at eight.
I forgot to mention—I’d landed on the east side of the building again. But in grade two I got to start crossing the hall for one class each day: math with Mrs. Warner. A bit older than Mrs. P, she was my friend Steve’s aunt. I can still hear the sadness in his voice when I called him a Lucky Duck, saying “now you’ll get a straight A” and he answered, “fat chance.” Because Mrs. W. was fair. Super fair. Extremely fair. So incredibly fair, she made sure me and Lisa H—the new girl with gorgeous loooong hair and a wicked kick (ask Dan D.) got identical desks on opposite sides of the room. Hmmm….
Third grade. I’m on the east side again.
With first-year teacher Miss Bonderson.
I had guessed I would get Mrs. Toelle, a nice older lady I already knew from downtown. My mom worked at the shoe store in those years, and though we lived on a farm, I considered myself a man-about-the city.
But by the time summer was over, Mrs. T had moved on. This was the advent of a new time at our school when a great influx of young early baby boomers were beginning their careers. Miss Bonderson’s arrival signalled nothing less than a paradigm shift, for me, and for the rest of my life.
Ah, Deb Bonderson—so many, many memories. She taught me a song about a Yodler (On A Mountain So High), the Little Rabbit Foo Foo song, and she showed me a slew of great books I’d never seen before. Homer Price and Danny Dunn and—I swear—Kon Tiki! And if, during first and second grade I checked out EVERY SINGLE dinosaur book from the library, it was in Miss Bonderson’s third grade class I found Alfred Hitchcock’s Random House collections, and the Hardy Boys.
It was in third grade that I fell out of my bunk bed and nearly broke my back (probably not really, but it was sore the next day). Miss Bonderson was there for me all week, like a big sister making sure I recovered.
One day she brought her boyfriend to class (or maybe he came to meet her for lunch). She broke my heart, but we all teased her anyway.
Such sweet, innocent memories. Could such a thing occur in a classroom today?
And in Third West—Trudy Hoffman, who had always been there with me since as long as I could remember, and still is. Whose love and sweet compassion and great sense of humor helped me through class when I crossed the hall for—yet again—math. We loved Mrs. Hoffman’s room and fought each other like mad to sit in her reading nook’s super funky orange papasan-style chair. I loved her as a teacher, but also because she was Trudy—somebody in my forever family.
The next three grades…next week.