I’ve now lived longer than my mother did, but still feel less experienced, stupider than she; somehow the stability of the past and the kind of structured life she lived seem better teachers than I had. I am old enough to remember 5-cent candy bars, 29-cents-a-gallon gasoline, and a doctor making a house call (I had pneumonia). He gave me an injection and then as a present let me keep the empty syringe, which was made of glass. I don’t think anyone gives glass things to five-year-olds anymore.
My first school had those wooden desks that stood on cast-iron bases so the whole thing looked like a tiny sleigh. There were no maps available for my grade, except of the Holy Land. The teacher was a young Catholic nun who could have been in a TV show, because she played guitar, sang to us and also told us stories about monsters, gruesome stories which involved killing. The school was very old, like a museum, dark on the lower floors like someone’s slick throat. We were required to move about the building in pairs holding hands, sometimes arranged in order of height. The classes were at least 50 children or more, but still no one spoke if the teacher left the room. It wasn’t because of strict discipline; my nun-teacher was always kind — funny and nice. I think we were quiet because of a fear of the high ceilings above us, the sawdust, the echoes and dark corridors here. We were somewhere in God’s mouth.
That was the long ago. A year or so later my family packed up and moved to another, larger city and the new school was not ancient, had no nuns or sleighs. Instead, the girls wore neon-bright printed clothing and everyone talked out loud right in class. The kids used maps and globes and knew what the world looked like. I also discovered that Jews, a people I believed existed only in the time of Jesus, were still around today and doing okay; my old religion books had given no hint of this. It was culture shock.
I feel, to this day, still like a neophyte and often naive. I don’t mind it. It means, at least, that I’m still capable of being surprised. Sometime I will probably hear of another ancient race of people popping back into existence, and all I can do is try to imagine what amazing things they’ve probably seen, wherever they were all this time.