52 Ancestors – #40 – My 5th Grade Year

Ten. A decade. The first whole number with more than one digit. “Ten” is the prompt for Week 40 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog challenge. It seems like a great opportunity to share a little about my tenth year of life.
In 1965, I was 10 years old and in the 5th grade at Bear Path School in Hamden. That year was quite significant for me. That was the year when I really began to understand how short I truly was. I knew I was shorter than most kids my age. (I wasn’t blind!) In fact, in 2nd grade, I told my mother that “The higher kids say I’m a small fry and they want to boil me!” (Thanks, Mom for keeping such good records in my baby book!)
Here’s a terrible scan of a slide from 1965.
I’m pictured with my best friend at the time, Debbie Colliander.
I’m the short one, in case you weren’t sure!!

 But, it was in my 10th year of life that it became more noticeable. The other kids were starting to sprout – making the height gap more obvious than ever. There was another girl in my class who was also short, though not as short as I. She was beginning to get growth hormone shots and her mom was discussing that with my mom as an option for me. So – my grandmother (my father’s mother) paid for bone scan x-rays and some other tests to try and determine a possible cause for my petite stature and whether taking growth hormones would be a good plan. It should be noted that I am the only short person in my biological family. It should also be noted that my father was quite short as a young boy and didn’t start his growth spurt until the age of 18.

The results of the medical tests were “just doggone short, for no reason.” Pretty sure that’s not how it was written on the actual report, but that’s how I remember it. Hey – I was 10! Just so you can get some perspective here, on October 19, 1965, I was a whopping 47 ½” tall. The height of an average 10-year-old is 54½”. I guess 7 inches was considered significant. (Full disclosure – 53 years later, I’m now 57” – a full 10 inches taller!)  
What made my 5th-grade year so prominent in my memory? Yes, there were some health concerns. I was plagued with frequent bloody noses. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the back of the classroom, holding my head back while class went on around me. That year I was also diagnosed with “screamer’s nodules.” Yes – that’s a real thing!!! I tended to develop polyps on my vocal chords which caused my voice to become raspy. The “cure” was to stop talking for at least 24 hours until the nodules became smaller. If you know me at all, you have a good sense of how tough that was for me!! My explanation for this malady was that because I was so short, I had to speak more loudly (and more frequently?) in order to get noticed. I still get flare-ups, especially the first few days of a new class term, when I do a lot more talking than usual.
It was in my 5th-grade year that I had my first boy-crush. His name was Kevin. He was pretty cute. I don’t have a picture because he moved away after that year. Kevin was my “knight in shining armor.” Some girl was drawing mean pictures of me (the content of which I don’t even remember.) Kevin took the pictures and ripped them up right in front of her! We had a “whirlwind romance” which consisted of me visiting his apartment on Mix Avenue where he kissed me outside his basement window!
But, the main reason 5th-grade sticks out in my memory is my teacher. Mrs. Knox. I think she liked me. Sometimes, it was hard to tell. She did make me stand me in the closet with gum on my nose because I was chewing in class. To be fair, she did that to anyone caught chewing gum. She always called me “Peanut.” Pretty sure it was a term of endearment, but it didn’t help me fit into the group of “normal” kids. But, I loved her. She is probably my favorite teacher, other than Mrs. Karacsonyi, my German teacher in high school.
Mrs. Knox saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Something I really didn’t fully appreciate until recently. I am a writer. I wrote a story that year about a Japanese girl and a snake. Sadly, I can’t remember anything else about it. I kept the story, written and illustrated on that weird little arithmetic paper, for years. Until the mice at my mother’s house devoured it. Mrs. Knox made quite a fuss over my little “book.” She had me read it to the entire class. She told me I was a good writer. No one (other than my mom) had ever told me I was good at anything until then. She even commented on it on my report card! One would think that might have been a turning point for me – that I would take her praise and start writing like crazy. Um. Nope.
My 5th-grade report card. 
Mrs. Knox had such faith in me, I was promoted to the “accelerated 6th-grade” class. My success was short-lived (Ha! Pun intended. I think.) The notes by Mrs. Jomini on my 6th-grade report card declared that “lack of effort is responsible for Deborah’s drop in grades.” The disappointing “poor report card for ability” reinforced my opinion that I wasn’t as smart as the other kids. (Telling a kid to “try harder” really doesn’t work. IMHO, most kids aren’t honest enough with themselves to admit they aren’t putting enough effort into their work.) My struggles in 6th grade continued into junior high and my self-esteem plummeted.
1966 Bear Path School 6th grade class. Can you find me?
I’m the short girl on the left, not much taller than my friend, Nancy who is sitting down, and a full head-and-neck shorter than Jon standing behind me!
Mrs. Jomini is wearing a red dress and standing behind Jon.
I was angry with my 6th-grade teacher for years. But, hard as it is to admit, she was right. It took me years to realize that I had a pretty good brain. And that it didn’t require much more effort on my part to use it well. I just had to figure out the best way for me learn. I am a visual learner. My auditory skills are quite weak. Once I learned to take better notes on what the teacher was saying, my grades really improved!
I am a writer. I write almost every day. Since 2010, I have authored a family recipe book, a book about the two years my mother spent in Japan, worked with my sister-in-law to update my father-in-law’s family history, co-authored a book on dollhouse furniture, and most recently have almost completed a two-year project writing about my husband’s great-grandmother. Oh – and this blog!

So – thank you, Mrs. Knox. It took me a long time to see in myself what you saw in your tiny 10-year-old student. I don’t know what happened to you or where you are now, but I hope you knew how much impact you had.

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