January 27, 2023
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Do kindergartners still take rest mats with them to school as the term begins each year?

It was actually first grade for me when I started public school in Amarillo, Texas, at San Jacinto Elementary School. I had already completed kindergarten, diploma in hand. That K for “kindergarten” was the private kind my folks paid for because they thought I could do with the “socialization.” School districts had not at that time signed on to pick up their students at the hospital the moment the birth certificate ink was washed off their itty-bitty feet.

Mrs. Marvine Francis was my kindergarten teacher, and we did fun things like growing beans in soil in little milk cartons. Except for the first day or so, it was great, and she was, all through the year, wonderful.

I do remember, on Day 1, that Mom & Dad had promised me that we were just visiting to check things out and that I didn’t have to stay if I didn’t want to. I can’t imagine that they actually uttered those words, but that’s the message that lodged in my head. The place seemed okay to me, but I had weighed the decision carefully and figured I’d just go home and continue with my life. Nope. My school career had begun, and my life would never be the same.

On the following autumn, my post-kindergarten graduate work commenced at San Jacinto Elementary. I can, and one day will, tell you more stories about an absolutely wonderful principal and some amazing teachers, but what I’m thinking of now is school supplies.

A cigar box. (Sadly, I don’t think it smelled like cigars, but, come to think of it, I do remember you could buy candy cigarettes at the school store.) It held scissors which could hardly cut paper but would certainly not cut your fingers. Your little bottle of Elmer’s Glue (with its orange top) would fit nicely into that box. Throw in a couple of big—I mean really big and fat—pencils. (Large erasers were forbidden at this point, and my impression is that having an ink pen in your cigar box would issue in at least a paddling and probably jail time.)

Also, of course, each student had the obligatory Big Chief ruled tablet. These things wouldn’t fit into your cigar box, but they were impressive. Deep red. With a formidable Indian chief’s visage splashed across the front in bold black. I wonder if you can still find those. Maybe they’re Big Commander tablets now. Big Commies, for short. Idiots.

But the largest and, I thought, perhaps most important item I took with me to first grade was an inch-thick, quarter-folding, “plasticky-smelling,” “rest mat.” Mine was blue and red, foretelling, I’m sure, my destiny to excel six years later when I began seventh grade at Sam Houston Junior High (“Hail the red and blue!” / Honor, love, and true devotion / We will give to you!”).

I went to San Jacinto prepared to learn—and to rest a bit each day. Mrs. Carmody (hair redder than Lucille Ball’s and fiercely determined that her students would succeed) wouldn’t put up with talking out of turn, dirty fingernails, or any funny business at all at any time during the day. And, yes, when it came time to roll out the rest mats for our daily nap, napping was the serious business at hand. No snickering.

I don’t remember being particularly excited about nap time. Now, of course, I’d pay somebody good money to make me take one. Every day. No ifs, ands, or buts. No talking. Dream if you wish. There’s stuff to do later. Cut. Color. Paste. String some letters together. Read some letters other people have lined up.

But, for now, our serious business is rest. Get to it or face a paddling.

Most of us adults are so pig-headed that we’ll resist ever taking any real time to rest even if God orders it in a commandment. Our refusal doesn’t mean that we’ll get away unscathed and avoid the crashes that will come from a lack of rest and the idolatry which says that if we ever stop for a moment, God probably won’t be able to spin the world without us. But we are (forgive me) as dumb and undisciplined as we are arrogant. Stressed-out families pay a high price for such foolishness.

I still think Mrs. Carmody was right. And I still think, on this and many other points, God and Mrs. Carmody were completely agreed.

Curtis K. Shelburne

Muleshoe Journal Correspondent

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