Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dusty Needs More Male Influence

              I have among my belongings a scrap book my mother and I put together many years ago.  My most recent perusal uncovered a copy of my Kindergarten progress report.  It wasn’t a report card, per se, as the nomenclature for grading was S (Satisfactory), I (Improving but not yet Satisfactory) and N (Needs Improvement).  I have always tried to excel in any grading context and I was proud to see I received an ‘S’ in 27 of 30 categories.  Of the three categories where I received an ‘I’, I am guilty of two.  The third was I apparently did not know my address.  Considering my people were nomadic Southern Baptists, I think I can be forgiven as we had only moved to Winnfield, Louisiana, two months prior to starting school.  Plus, I was only four years old, y’all. 

                The other two categories should surprise no one; I was not yet satisfactory in “Listens While Others Speak” and “Rests Quietly”.  I have been a talker from way back, people. 

                Eastside Elementary had two reporting periods per school year and each period offered an open narrative place to send notes to parents.  Although my teacher thought my talking was an issue, she chose to leave the narrative field empty of additional comments. 

                By the end of the school year, I had improved to an ‘S’ in 29 of 30 categories; I retained an ‘S-‘ in “Rests Quietly” category.  I did not and still don’t enjoy a mid-day nap.  I have things to do; conversations to have.  However, something happened or changed in the spring as the narrative notes for the year included the phrase, “Needs More Male Influence” followed by “Performs Beautifully”.

                I wonder the reasoning behind this particular choice of phrase.  What was the motivation to describe me as needing more male influence in Louisiana in 1976?  What was she hoping to accomplish?  Did she feel compelled to soften the blow with her declaration that I “performed beautifully”.  Was it a panicky response to a hasty decision on a document she couldn’t simply destroy and start over?  She also couldn’t use Liquid Paper as its inventor (Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith of the Monkees) didn’t have the product available throughout the country until 1979.  Was the added statement a pre-cursor to the now ubiquitous praise sandwich, where you praise, critique and then praise an employee or co-worker.  Was this an open-faced praise sandwich, a praise pizza, a praise frittata? 

My father was a welder at the local sawmill, but he was home most every night to my memory. He even attended church somewhat regularly and by that I mean at least twice more than Christmas, Easter and Family Photo Day.  He taught me how to ride a bike and when I wrecked the first time he taught me to “shut it up” instead of crying.

                What did my mother think?  She didn’t put too much stock in other’s opinions, except Jesus and her mother, but she taught us how to act appropriately in any situation.  Unfortunately, sometimes need overtook training.  I wonder if this was about the dentist visit/toy car debacle.

                I had a dental appointment and my mother came to pick me up from school right after nap time.  As I never really stopped talking during this time, I never received a prize.  Mrs. Brewer, my teacher, would reward good nappers with candy each day.  At the end of each week the best boy napper received a toy truck or car and the best girl napper a small doll; it was the South in the 1970s and we love giving a gift.  Having never once received candy, I was in no way in the running for Best Boy Napper.  My BFF Jason Tarver occasionally received candy, which I summarily decided he should share.  When he disagreed, I ate it anyway.  Yes, I know I was a handful and a half.  We had completed nap time and Mrs. Brewer was in the process of announcing the winners when my mother arrived.  Taking leave of my senses, I began to cry and state very plainly that Mrs. Brewer obviously did not like me as I had never been given the Best Boy Napper toy which invariably went to either Kyle Brewer or Floyd Lamb. 

My mother was caught off guard, without a frame of reference for toy distribution etiquette in a classroom setting.  With a look of horror and confusion, Mrs. Brewer handed me the toy ambulance.  Not wanting to “whoop me down” in front of my classmates, my mother let the scenario play out but I can assure you I was not allowed to enjoy the ill-gotten gain.  That privilege was bestowed upon my brother while I had to stand idly by watching him enjoy the doors that really opened and the wheels that really turned.  I was standing as sitting was not something I was able to accomplish so soon after my re-training session with both mother and father, concerning proper behavior in public.


  1. Such a weird statement - "needs more male influence". I'm not one for getting my knickers in a twist like so many do about All. The. Things. that offend EVERYone these days. But that really is a weird statement. Hmmm. I would love for the 44 year old me to talk to the 1970'something teacher. Just pick her brain. Figure out why she's thinking what she's thinking.

    1. Right? I would love to know what she was thinking and what she hoped to accomplish.