First Grade

A funny thing happened to me in the first grade. This was my first ever class room experience. I was in a small Catholic school in a class taught by a nun in full habit. Everything was very orderly with the desks lined up perfectly and about thirty children, quiet as mice. Sister Agnes entered the class room and swept to the front of the room. Each of us had a number two pencil and a Big Chief pad before him or her.

Sister Agnes began by writing her name on the board in pinched, block letters. She then turned to us and said we should write our names at the top of our pads. I certainly knew my name, my address and my parents’ names. I was carefully trained to be able to recite this and I knew our telephone number by having used it. I remember very well that we were in the “dickens” or “DI” exchange with a party line of only one other person. That’s probably news to a lot of people but when Baton Rouge was young there were rotary phones and not enough numbers to go around. So you had to add a pre-fix, like an area code, and then dial the number. Two of them were Dickens and Elgin. Maybe there were others.

I looked around and saw my class mates assiduously writing on their pads. It took most a minute or two to write their names but they completed the assignment. It did not take long for me to find my way to Sister Agnes’s radar. She walked over and studied my blank pad.

“Do you know your name?” she asked to snickers around me.

“Yes, ma’am,” I smiled.

“Yes, Sister,” she responded.

Now I was confused, but she said, “When you respond to us you say ‘yes Sister’, not “yes ma’am. Now, do you know your name?”

“Yes, Sister,” I said, having already learned something in the first grade.

“Can you write your name?” she asked.

“No ma’am…Sister. I don’t know how to write. That’s why I came here.”

By this time the other kids were howling and my face burned.

After it quieted down with a look from Sister Agnes, she asked, “Did you go to Kindergarten?”

“I don’t think so because I don’t know where it is.” I replied.

She then asked who had been to Kindergarten and the hands went up all around me.

Right then I learned the value of an education.

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About vrmayhalljr

Van R. Mayhall Jr. is the senior partner in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana law firm where he practices corporate and business law and handles selected litigation. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, he was educated at Louisiana State University and Georgetown University. He and his wife, Lorri, have three grown children and enjoy boating on Lake Pontchartrain.
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