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Food For Thought

Those first days and weeks of school each year send me tumbling into the past. I dream of new–stiff, brown leather shoes, new crayons with none of the points yet broken, that Big Chief tablet of lined paper with its red cover, new teachers, old friends, new names to learn, trying to remember which desk in the new classroom belongs to me. It’s both daunting and exciting.
For some reason, I never worried about the new, more difficult math classes; all those new spelling words, history dates, or science labs. It wasn’t that I had so much self-confidence, rather I think it was my confidence in the teachers. I had unshakable faith that they would teach me those things. I guess it never occurred to me to doubt that everybody in the class would learn the same things I did. At least, not in elementary school.
By junior high, when we all became more aware of each other rather than in that ego-centered world of young children, I was interested to learn that some of my classmates didn’t learn as easily as I did– and astonished to learn that there were quite a few who learned more and faster than I! I recognized that learning was a partnership and at least half of the job was up to me. I plunged into extra-curricular studying by following up on things that interested me. After reading “The Merchant of Venice” in sixth grade, my fascination with Shakespeare took me to the library where I checked out a book of his plays. I admit that without the teacher’s comments and explanations, I missed a lot of the symbolism and cultural meanings, but then, I have read the plays many times since, gleaning more each time I revisit them.
I discovered algebra during those junior high years, and seeing the puzzle and decoding connection; sought out books of entertaining math problems and challenging puzzles of logic. Fortunately, my dad liked those problems too and we wrestled with them together, sometimes long past my bedtime. By high school, I was well hooked on geometry and physics, and had resolved to become a math teacher.
Junior high English classes also introduced me to poetry far beyond my childish nursery-rhyme concept of it. I memorized hundreds of lines and even attempted to write some poems of my own. I discovered that rhyming wasn’t enough, poetry had to say something that couldn’t be expressed any other way. I thought that to be good it had to be some profound, meaning-of-life truth that nobody else had yet put down on paper. At age twelve or thirteen, I’d hardly been around long enough to understand what life was all about. So I wrote dreadful, plodding verses that had nothing going for them except meter and relentless, self-conscious rhymes. It has taken me a very long time to realize that those “rules” can and probably should be broken and that humor and depth can exist in the same line - even the same word. While I’ll most certainly never be considered a major poet, the attempt has taught me the value of gracefulness, rhythm, the sheer beauty of words themselves in all writing.
I suppose it was the math skills and my love of language that got me a scholarship to the University of Iowa in 1952, and changed my life. Oddly enough, it was my math skills that exempted me from the requisite freshman math courses and gave me the opportunity, as a freshman, to take an optional art class. At the time, I didn’t realize that my classmates had had at least two years of art classes in high school. I’d had none. Not from choice, but because they were not offered. Not realizing what I DIDN’T know, I went innocently to drawing and art history class, then to painting, sculpture, and ceramics classes because they interested me. My total lack of knowledge regarding art, also gave me a somewhat unique advantage in that not knowing what was usual, I had a totally open mind about what might be possible. My innocence left the door wide open for uninfluenced creativity. I never did get back to the math department.
So, when school starts every fall, I remember my good fortune in receiving a scholarship and make a regular donation to the scholarship fund sponsored by the University Club of Iowa City. This fund awards scholarships each year to women attending the university and I am proud to have had a part in the two books published by the U-Club Writers Group. We also make and sell note cards showcasing some of our short writings and art work by those members who are also artists. If you like to write, or would like to learn, and would like to be involved with this talented, interesting, and friendly group of women, drop in at the University Club Fair, between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Sept. 13, at the Parkview Evangelical Free Church at 15 Foster Rd., just west of Dubuque Street on the north side of Iowa City, and across the river from City Park.