I began my academic life in nineteen sixty two at a little two room school that sat out on the edge of country living at the time. There was one big white house in the area that sat upon many acres. They had horses that would come right up to the fence on the school property line. It was one of four schools in the school district that all looked the same.
It was my year of kindergarten. The word "kindergarten" is German for Children's Garden. I guess that makes sense even though there was not a garden on the grounds of the school. My school went by the name of "Rockford". I have no idea who Rockford was but I do remember having a little white sweatshirt with blue letters across the chest spelling Rockford out. At that time kindergarten was only four hours long instead of the full days we make kids attend now. It was a time of learning to socialize. It was a time of learning things that helped continue to fill the knowledge amount in your small growing brain. Small science experiments would amaze you like magic. Numbers would suddenly achieve order. Letters would become works of art as you learned how to construct each one with your pencil on a Big Chief tablet. By the end of the year these letters would be put together to form small simple words that had meaning. It was a wonderful time of learning.
There were two classes in that little school and the teachers would take every opportunity to teach you something new. Curiosity derived from lack of experience always seemed to bring up questions from us. Looking back a lot of the questions were common sense but at the age of six, common sense isn't what it becomes when you are older. Common sense to a six year old is basically knowing right from wrong. You don't steal, you don't hit, and you don't lie. If you don't know the answer the teacher is not going to berate you in front of the class as they do when you are in the higher grades of the public school system.
I had this six year old common sense. I was raised to have it and to act upon it. Looking back at the times of sibling battle where hits were to happen often at home and where a little lie to keep you out of trouble seemed almost a necessity, doing it at school seemed like it was out of bounds. It is one thing to lie to save your skin, quite another to lie to a teacher who was making magic apear on the black board on a daily basis.
One day, one of the teachers drove her brand new car to school. It had a new gadget in it that had just been developed to save lives. She started telling us about a thing called a seat belt. The seat belt was suppose to hold you in the car seat and keep you from flying through the windshield in case of an accident. She talked about the seat belt for a while giving examples of how they would save us. She told us how she believed they would be in every car from now on and that we should accustom ourselves to using them, although it wasn't the law that you had to.
The seat belt was only in the front seat because that was where they believed most of the injuries occurred in a car collision. She wanted every one to witness the power of the seat belt so that when we would ride with our folks we could encourage them to buckle up and we would gladly do it ourselves.
She then asked a question that would be one of my first humbling and embarrassing moments in my school
life. She asked how many of us have used seat belts. I looked around the class and saw a few hands go up. One of the hands was my friend Doug's who parents always seemed to have a new car. Another hand was that of Becky, a cute girl that lived around the block from me. I had always liked Becky and for some reason I wanted her to know that I was as much up to date as Doug was so I shot my hand up in the air. The teacher was very pleased that so many of us had experienced the wonder of the seat belt.
Later that day as we went out for recess she called us all together. She said that since we were limited on time those of us who had not tried a seat belt were welcome to line up and take turns strapping ourselves in to her front seat and trying out the new contraption. My mind began to race at once. I had already said I had used a seat belt but now I really wanted to see what it was about. I hung around the line of kids waiting their turn trying to decide if I should get in line or not. Maybe the teacher had not seen my raised hand. Maybe she would be so busy explaining how to use it to each and every kid she would forget she had seen my hand.
I decided it was worth a shot. I slid over to the back of the line.
Recess was almost over when it came my turn to sit in that brand new car and buckle up. She looked at me and I knew right away that she remembered. She questioned me about raising my hand in the class room and I said, "well, yes but it had been so long I had forgotten what it was like". Looking back on it I know that she saw right through me. She knew I had lied and I did feel a little bad about it. Not bad enough to accept the fact that I had blown my chance of trying the seat belt out though. My curiosity was much stronger than my guilt. She said okay and helped me to get in the car.
The seat belt back then was like the ones on airplanes now. They strapped across only your lap and it snapped into itself. You had to adjust it to make yourself securely fastened in. Once I was fastened in I tried my best to lurch forward and hit the dash or the windshield. These things really worked. I was tied into the seat and I wasn't going anywhere until she unbuckled me and let me out. As I got out it seemed like she wanted to talk to me about something but she drew back and let me go on my way.
Now we look at seat belts as a must in a car. Laws are in place that require all cars to have not only front seat belts but also seat belts in the back. Instead of just going across the lap they now cross over our shoulder holding your whole body in place. They have come a long way in the technology of safety in cars.
The lesson I learned that day was not one of safety though. It wasn't a lesson of the future and how this new device would effect my life as I grew older. The lesson I learned that day was to be myself. Sometimes if you try to be someone or something you aren't you can lose out on an opportunity to learn or to experience something that is a wonder to each individual when it is discovered or invented.
Rockford is no longer there. Even though the big white house is still there, the acreage around it is home to a large Junior High School that I would attend many years later. Longview Lake is across the road from where Rockford use to be and I drive by the location on a consistent basis.
I learned that it is much more fun and much more important to be yourself then to try to be someone you aren't to impress others or win favor among peers.