Wednesday, December 1, 2010

There's One In Every Family..

..A Favorite Teacher

It has been many years since I was in school - many, many years - but I still remember each and every one of my teachers. I had a 100% Lutheran education with 8 years at St. Peter's Lutheran School in East Detroit, MI followed by 4 years at Lutheran High School East in Harper Woods, MI. My high school has now been closed, the building demolished and today I read in the paper that Ford Auditorium in Detroit, where my high school graduation was held, is going to be demolished as well. There will be no physical reminders of my school days.

However, I do have memories of one special teacher. Actually most of my teachers were pretty good. I do specifically remember a rather unkind second grade teacher who scared me, but other than her, my teachers were decent.

But my third grade teacher was the best! I remember her well.

It was the summer preceding my entrance into third grade. It was the custom at St. Peter's in those days that the teachers visited each of their students the summer prior to the start of school. This was the day that I was expecting my third grade teacher to visit and I knew her name was Miss Margaret Johnson.

Early afternoon I was playing with my friends. We had strung a clothesline from the side door of my house, across the driveway and attached it to the neighbor's fence. We had all our little doll clothes hanging there to dry but quickly got tired of that project and decided to ride our bikes instead. But our bikes were in the garage and the clothesline was in the way.

My little brother got the idea that he would stand at the clothesline and hold it up so we could all ride our bikes under. He was only about 4 at the time. My friends all rode their bikes under the clothesline but I picked up my head too soon, the clothesline caught me at the neck and my bike fell into the side door, breaking the glass and cutting my face badly.

Blood was everywhere and my mother was panicked. I was screaming, sure I was dying and the neighbor lady came over and together they bandaged me up. What a sight I must have been for Miss Johnson when she visited later in the afternoon. But she was so sweet and sympathetic and I think I fell in love with her then.

By the time school started, her name had changed. She was now Mrs. Margaret B and had recently married. Third grade was going to be fun, I was sure. I can still remember my second floor classroom, how our seats were arranged and how kind, complimentary and patient a teacher she was.

Although I was the most sedate and quiet child there was, I had another incident during the school year. We were out on the playground and I was standing still, minding my own business when a boy student ran into me, knocked me over and I passed out. The next thing I knew I was waking up IN the classroom ON the second floor and all the students were sitting staring at me asking me "what is your name"? Mrs. B called my mother who came over, panicked and took me home. Mrs. B was so concerned and checked often on me before I returned to school but I suffered no lasting effects.

Later in the year, another girl student suffered a similar incident, suffered a concussion and was out of school even longer. My goodness, us little third grade girls were tough on poor Mrs. B.

At the end of the school year, Mrs. B was gone. I never knew why and the years went by. Over those years I learned that Mrs. B's husband was a
noted composer of church music and a concert organist and I did follow his career as well as I could before the Internet.

A few years ago I was pleased to hear that Mr. Donald B was going to be coming to my church in St. Joseph, MI to perform an organ concert. I was hopeful that his wife would be accompanying him. The church choir was going to be performing as well and my mother, a member of the choir, spoke to Mr. B. and learned that his wife could not be present.

I wrote a letter to Mrs. Margaret B, attended the concert and at the social hour following I introduced myself to Mr. Donald B, told him his wife was my third grade teacher at St. Peter's Lutheran School in East Detroit and that I had this letter for him to give her. He was gracious and pleasant and told me that my class was the only class that his wife had ever taught, that they had started their own family that year and now had 6 children and many grandchildren. He did take my letter and told me his wife would be pleased to receive it.

Since that time, I have enjoyed a correspondence with Mrs. B. She and her husband, who has recently retired, live in Ohio. I had joked with her in my first letter that perhaps she had given up teaching because the girls in the class were so accident prone and gave her angst but she answered that we were the best experience she could have asked for and she frequently thinks of her class. Our class had recently had a confirmation reunion and I had a photo of about 20 of her former students as adults and I framed the 4 x 6 photo, sent it to her and she was pleased to have it. To this day, she remarks on the photo when she writes me.

At this time, her grandson's future wife is the organist and choir director at my church. Their family is planning a 2011 reunion in St. Joseph for the summer of next year and I am hopeful that I will be able to see her again at that time.

I wrote her recently to tell her that I had retired this year. Her remark was "do you know how old I feel in knowing that my former student is retiring". She has sent me photos of herself and her family and she remains my favorite teacher. What a joy to have reconnected with her after all these years.

There's One in Every Family..

..Special Holiday Traditions

Every family has their special holiday traditions and memories. Perhaps they date back to our childhood, and as we mature and have our own households, we try to duplicate those memories. Others forgo continuing their childhood traditions and carve out new ones for their families.

In my family, I can remember distinctly one yearly holiday over all the others. No, it was not Christmas but rather Easter. My mother's family lived in St. Joseph, MI on the western side of the state, and while I was born and baptized there, we moved to the Detroit suburbs when I was a toddler. Each Easter, though, we returned to St. Joe for our family holiday.

My mother was one of 4 children. One of her brothers lived with his family locally and her other two brothers lived in the suburbs of Chicago. They were all always the first to arrive at my grandparents' home on the day before Easter. My father needed to be at his barber shop on that Saturday and my mother would load the car with our suitcases, myself and my brother and we would drive to the barber shop to pick him up at his closing time of 6 p.m. My mother most definitely could not forget the Easter baskets that we kept at our house but which my grandmother would fill in St. Joe. Sometimes we had to wait for my father to finish his last customers but we were usually on the road by 6:15 p.m.

On I-94 we went and 3 hours later we were arriving at my grandparents' home. Even though it could be as late as 9:30 my grandmother always had a chicken dinner awaiting us. She bought only fresh chicken to roast and what a difference from the poultry we buy today. There is nothing more prominent in my memory than the smells in her house when entering while she had dinner cooking.

My grandparents lived in an old frame home in downtown St. Joe. The home had two bedrooms on the main floor and four on the second floor. My parents always received the extra main floor bedroom and my cousin, Jeanine, and I were lucky to have a second floor bedroom. We always felt like grown ups when we were upstairs in our own little area. The two sets of aunts and uncles also took the two other bedrooms on the second floor and my little brother and Jeanine's little brother, Mike, got to sleep on the couch in the living room.

My grandparents had little money but it didn't matter. When I was 12 my grandfather passed away and my one uncle and his family had moved to California. But the two Illinois uncles and their families and our family continued the Easter trip to St. Joe.

My grandmother outdid herself with decorating the house. Her cut glass punch bowl sat on the buffet and sparkled for us to enjoy.

Cut glass punch bowl of Ella Kijak

She put together her hand made Easter egg tree and had that displayed on the buffet as well. I now have both the punch bowl and the Easter eggs to cherish.

Easter egg tree with homemade eggs by Ella Kijak
Antique Easter baskets behind tree

We all sat up late on Easter eve talking and visiting but finally we were off to our respective rooms for sleep (and more giggling with our cousins).

On Easter morning grandma would arise at 5 a.m. (with little sleep) and walk downtown to Wilson's Bakery which was on State Street. She wanted to be the first to arrive so that she could select the best coffee cakes and muffins for our breakfast. She worked on a huge breakfast for all of us as we sat in her dining room around her huge table. When we came to the table we noted our Easter baskets were now filled with chocolate covered eggs, marshmallows, colored eggs and a present for each of us. I remember one year Jeanine and I received little glass covered dishes with mine in the shape of a deer and hers in the shape of a bunny. The covers came off to reveal a little jar of dusting powder. Again, grandma had little money but knew how to find just the right presents to please us. Another year, much earlier, I remember receiving a cylinder shaped box with crayons and a sharpener. I think the love that went into the gifts was what made us cherish them so much.

I don't have those gifts anymore but I do have the little lamb stuffed animal that she made me and I put it out each Easter on my buffet.

After breakfast it was off to church for all of us and grandma was so proud to have her whole family there to accompany her. One year the church was so full that we were forced to have to sit on folding chairs in the basement where the church piped the service in (the church wishes today to have such attendance). The uncles (and my father) did not appreciate the basement seating and after that we made sure that we arrived at church at least 30 minutes before the Easter service.

Back home after church and grandma, the aunts and my mother with Jeanine and myself set to work finishing the dinner of ham, potatoes, vegetables, relish trays, home made crescent rolls (that took two days to make) and pies, pies, pies - all handmade by grandma. There were even Easter cut-out cookies for us to enjoy though I have to admit that my grandmother had a preference for anise in her cookies and the taste did not excite me. But her pies were heavenly.

As a centerpiece each Easter my grandmother made her special Lamb cake. She had this mold that involved a special recipe (and much fiddling around to not knock off the lamb's ears, etc) and she would make a yellow cake, frost it with white frosting and cover in coconut. Again, it was a sight to see, though not liking coconut, I don't remember ever tasting the cake.

I now have the mold and have made lamb cakes the last few years myself but have chosen to make a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I have even named the cake as "Lucy Lamb". Don't ask me where the name came from; I have no idea.

Lucy Lamb Easter Cake
Antique vase with hyacinths
Both cake mold and vase from Ella Kijak

Following dinner, all the women chipped in to do the dishes and clean up the dining room while the men did what men do - watched television. In those days, I remember, men did nothing in the way of chipping in and cleaning up or certainly the ones in my mother's family did not.

The afternoon went by quickly with talking, visiting, snacking and by 7 pm or so my father was ready to make the trip back to Detroit. He was never one for taking an extra day off from the barber shop-being self employed dictated that.

It always seemed that the week-end went by so quickly. The aunts and uncles had a much shorter trip back to the suburbs of Chicago and didn't leave as soon but off we went, waving good-bye and wishing the week-end could have lasted longer. We would be back in the summer to visit our grandmother but this was our one time to visit with our aunts, uncles and cousins. My grandmother always stood outside and waved to us until we could not see her any longer and we were back on I-94 for the trip home.

Ella Kijak with roses
St. Joseph, MI

Many years have gone by since those Easter memories. My grandparents are both gone. My father and all of my uncles are gone. Even my special little cousin, Jeanine, is gone, dying way too soon in her early 40's of cancer. My mother and I are living back in St. Joe now and try to replicate those Easters as best we can with the keepsakes that we still have.

Easter definitely was that one special holiday in my family.

Above photos from personal collection of Cheryl Schulte