When I was a child my family moved frequently. Not just house to house but state to state. No, Dad wasn’t in the military. He was a dreamer. But not the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Caratacus Potts type where every invention is magical. No, Dad simply looked for his next get rich business. And there were many. And pretty much they were all failures. For him, though, every failure brought about a new challenge.
A few times Dad sent Mom, my brother, and me to live in the town where Grandma and Grandpa lived. There we lived in an apartment above their drugstore. A rather rickety affair perched atop the flat roof of the store. A flat roof that had seen far too many indecent North Dakota snowfalls. I often wondered about its integrity, wondering if one day the roof collapsed and I’d find myself in the sundries aisle. But I didn’t care. It was a roof over our heads and Grandma and Grandpa worked downstairs and lived a few blocks away. Now that had its perks!
We moved to the apartment the fall of 1968. I was seven and in the second grade. The school year had already started. I knew some of the other kids from all the vacations to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. So I was not afraid to be the new kid. This time.
The first day of school Grandma came with us. She knew many of the school staff and teachers. A definite perk because she could tell which of the two teachers were better. Grandma chatted with the staff and found out Mrs. Tupa was teaching second grade that year.
“Oh Susie, Gladys is one of the second grade teachers,” Grandma exclaimed.
I’m seven. Who’s Gladys? But Grandma was excited so I was excited.
Mom was excited too. While Mom didn’t have Mrs. Tupa in school, her little brother had and he loved her. Everyone loved Mrs. Tupa.
Grandma turned to the school secretary and asked, “Is Gladys around?”
“Let me check if she’s in.”
The next thing I know a woman about Grandma’s age charged into the office excited to see Grandma. They exchanged a few words and then the woman turned to look at me, a huge smile on her face, and said, “Of course she will be in my class!” She took my hand and walked me to her classroom. She was Mrs. Tupa.
The school year progressed. We learned all kinds of things. Reading, writing, and simple arithmetic. I struggled a bit with handwriting. I pressed too hard and it was sloppy. Report card time: handwriting D. Yes, I got a D. Mrs. Tupa suggested a harder lead pencil would help. It did and by the end of the school year my grade jumped to a B.
Many students struggled with handwriting that year so we didn’t learn cursive writing. Mrs. Tupa told us it was no big deal and that we would learn it the beginning of third grade.
The summer of 1969 we moved to Alexandria, Minnesota. Mom registered my brother and me in the local Catholic school. I was a little scared to be the new kid this time because I didn’t know anyone. We did all the usual things on the first day of class—introductions, seat assignments, recess, and then it happened. Our teacher, Mrs. Gilronan, wrote on the blackboard. She wrote a simple question and asked us to respond. She wrote in cursive!
I sat in my seat dumbfounded. Mrs. Tupa said we would learn cursive in the third grade. I looked about the room. All the other kids were busy writing their response in loopy letters, dots, and dashes. I sat there a good five minutes terrified. I didn’t want to admit I was too stupid for third grade.
I teared up a bit as I got out of my seat and approached the teacher. As I stood by her side I whispered, “I can’t read what you wrote on the board.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. I was so ashamed.
Mrs. Gilronan put her hand on my shoulder and asked, “Is it the cursive?”
I bobbed my head up and down and said, “Mrs. Tupa said we’d learn it in the third grade.”
She nodded and told me to go back to my seat.
Mrs. Gilronan went to the board and printed the question below the cursive version not saying a word. What was the question? The question asked every first day of school—What did you do on your summer vacation? That I could answer. I nodded at Mrs. Gilronan, picked up my number three pencil, and proceeded to print my answer. And yes, I learned cursive the beginning of the third grade along with all the other students who learned for the second time.