Redemption in Paper and Pencil Shavings (More of my Memoir at the Huffington Post)


Pixied and imperfect, I was already evolving into an over-achiever by the time I trudged into first grade–yellow rubber boots over navy Lady Janes–bundled in a nubby, winter coat my grandmother had purchased at Kaufman’s the fall before.

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Though destined to sweat, I was dressed for success; I was dressed to endure.

My teacher was Miss Peach. Nearing retirement, she was petite but pudgy, doughy as unbaked biscuits–short gray curls set perfectly in place. Miss Peach was as jovial as she was full of fat and excess flesh. She enforced few rules, so we first graders were more foot-loose-and-fancy-free than straight-laced or prim and proper.

I remember loving the “Sally, Dick, and Jane” books–a perfect world I could fall into during reading groups, while the rest of the class completed “seat work” outlined on a black board. The world Dick and Jane inhabited felt cozy and carefree–one where spilt milk and muddy feet were readily forgiven, where a kitten named Puff fluffed stories into fun. I didn’t read well aloud, but well enough to mostly maintain my place in the top reading group and develop a love of narrative, its almost-neatness, its nearly-normal–the predictability of pages turned. I loved the order found in books.

However, way worse than my oral reading, was my penmanship. It was pathetic, at best. It seems the notion of neatness and legibility meant little, if anything, to me, so much so I wonder now if anyone even bothered to explain that the goal of printing was communication–that what one wrote others were meant to read and comprehend.

That is until Miss Peach held a contest of sorts.

One day in the dead of winter, Pittsburgh piled high with dirty snow, sleet freezing on slick streets, we arrived at our corner classroom to find Miss Peach perched atop a wooden chair in front of the black board, carefully printing a paragraph-long letter to the principal.

When we had put away our coats and hats, mittens and scarves, when we finally sat, hands folded, in nearly neat rows, Miss Peach announced the competition scheduled to play out that day, a drama in our classroom smelling of wet wool and pencil shavings. For seat work that morning, we were supposed to practice our penmanship, copying the letter looming on the board. Whoever reproduced it with the most perfect printing would get to carry his or her letter across the hall and deliver it in-person to the principal.

Suddenly determined, I decided I would win. If it were merely a matter of copying . . . .

To read more, please visit my latest publication at the Huffington Post.  And, if you don’t mind, would you copy and paste the comments you leave here to the Huffington Post, as well?   I’m trying to raise my comment rate there.  And while you’re there, please “fan” and follow me!

Note:  Some of you may remember an earlier version of this post from last year.  I hope you enjoy the new-and-improved version.

Also:  Please forgive me for being so dreadfully behind on reading the blogs of my friends here at WordPress.  The holidays, work on my memoir, and several other publication efforts are getting in the way.  I miss you and will catch up as soon as possible.  Don’t give up on me.  I love you all!  Thanks to each of you for your support over these two past years of blogging.

59 thoughts on “Redemption in Paper and Pencil Shavings (More of my Memoir at the Huffington Post)

  1. Nice narrative, Kathy. Extremely well written. It takes me back to those days. My handwriting as atrocious, and it never improved. Thank goodness for the electric typewriter and word processors! Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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    • Thanks so much, John. I’m delighted this works for you as a narrative. You are the man who knows how to tell a story–at least in my mind. So thank you! I remember your writing always being bad! Sorry to hear it’s not improved. Merry Christmas to you and your family, as well, John.

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  2. Your toothless little self is so cute! God Almighty it’s GREAT to see that byline, Sista! I’d be wallpapering my studio with it if I were you!

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  3. Nice! And congrats on the Huff Post post! How our childhood loves and triumphs (and failures) color the rest of our lives.
    You and Tori BOTH had the pixie cut as kids, I see. My mom’s variation on that was the “bowl cut.” I could probably find some photos of my sister or me to illustrate it, but I’m not sure I’d want strangers to see them!

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  4. the reason i started writing was because my English teacher in 9th grade encouraged everyone to keep a journal…i started writing every night and then i never stopped…you post reminded me of my school days… 🙂 i have so many diaries in my wardrobe behind my clothes…

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    • I started to journal at about the same age–and I have SOOOOOO many from over so many years, I may have to move out of the house one of these days to make room for them! LOL Teachers can have such a big impact of kids, can’t they?! Thanks for your comment, my friend!

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    • i too have so many of them…though i have stopped writing them like i used i still carry one in my bag… i can never leave my house with a pen and a notebook… 🙂
      teachers are like one big thing that we look up to even when we think we hate them for all the homework and exams… 🙂

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  5. This is known as a tease! Ha. But I think it’s great that you’re writing on The Huffington Post, and will follow your link there for the rest of the story. One question, though: was your teacher really named Miss Peach?? Because that is pretty fantastic…

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    • Please do check it out. The Huffington Post is considered the world’s largest online newspaper. At least, I think it’s the largest. Great source of info. Thanks so much for stopping by, Claudia. Great to hear from you!

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  6. Done and done! I’m so excited that you’ve had an essay picked up at Huff Post! Congrats.
    I hope you and Sara are having a lovely holiday thus far. Please get Lucy and Ralph an extra bone from their friend Reggie.

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  7. Forgive my absence. I also haven’t been blogging for a while. I commented on your first HuffPo and will pop over there shortly.

    You’re a great story-teller Kathy. Love this phrase:
    our classroom smelling of wet wool and pencil shavings

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    • Oh, Rosie, I’ve been absent myself. Hard to keep up with blogging over the holidays, isn’t it? Glad you enjoyed the story, and thanks for the comment–both places–now and last time as well. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

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  8. Great post, Kathy! I really like how you started it here and then directed us to your HuffPo page. Very clever; may take a “page” from you myself, next time I post there. Hope you’re well and not to harried this holiday season. You can find what I think of your post over there!

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  9. Don’t you hate it when life gets in the way of blogging, Kathy? OK, will head over to Huffington Post and read. I think I already fanned you, but maybe not, because didn’t know how to do that for awhile. Congrats on having your work published there.

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  10. I am so excited for you, with all the opportunities presenting themselves. I’m late to the party (as usual), but will head over to the Huff Post to read and comment. As a side note (sort of): I miss Kaufman’s and some of the other department stores that Macy’s absorbed.

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    • Hmmm… the Huff Post is making it very difficult for me to post a comment. I don’t want to set up an account with them or connect them to my Twitter or Facebook accounts. Other options don’t seem to be working.

      I enjoyed reading this again. It’s so well written, and it brought back memories of my own childhood decision to have the best penmenship. 🙂

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    • Funny, I haven’t been to that part of the country in so long, I didn’t even know Kaufman’s no longer existed. Kind of sad. Hope you and your family have a beautiful holiday, my friend. Great to hear from you!

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