I have three memories around my second grade teacher, Mr. Nyenhuis.
The first involved the time he dumped Dan Wheeler’s desk on the ground, showing what an absolute mess it was. Seriously, there was a smell coming from it that we all had to find out about. It couldn’t be natural.
The second memory was around my broken wrist. It was my first (and only) broken anything and I had to get up in front of the class and tell everyone about it. I remember the feeling of all of my fellow classmates’ eyes on me and their excitement as I got closer and closer to the moment I fell off the bars on a backyard play set (I remember doing an incredibly inaccurate “crunch!” noise). To this day, I point to that moment as one of the defining ones that turned me towards storytelling.
The last memory involved Mr. Nyenhuis, the holidays, and Christmas.
See, for every year I was in elementary school, on the last week of school before Christmas, we had a tradition at Parkview Elementary. All of the kids were led out to the hallway for a daily sing-along.
There we all would be, sitting too close together in our rows, taking in the smell of sweat and floor cleaners but thrilled beyond belief, knowing that here was another sign that Christmas and Santa were right around the corner. It was a glorious tradition and I was shocked later when I discovered my school was the only one that had this.
The sing-along was always hosted by Mr. Nyenhuis, him and his wonderful accordion. And when I was in second grade, in his class, it was something to be proud of. That was my teacher, right there! How many other teachers can play a wicked accordion like that? And this was before the greatness of They Might Be Giants!
We kids were not a great choir. No one would want an album of us as we shouted our way through all of the standards. Our Rudolph, like everyone else’s these days, had all of the additional lyrics, and there were always some kids who liked to sneak in the lyrics about Batman and eggs into our Jingle Bells. But no one cared, it was so brilliantly festive. I’m surprised we kids got anything done that entire week, especially after such an energetic and life-enriching performance.
I remember shouting out with the rest of the group, asking, pleading, demanding for the next song. And if he picked your song, it was a magical feeling!
Each of the sing-alongs would end the same way, it would be something almost akin to a solo as Mr. Nyenhuis would sing us Silent Night. And there we would sit, all silent (almost too silent for such a group of children), each of us with our own unique story and background, listening to this thin old man and his accordion.
When Mr. Nyenhuis passed away a few years ago, my mother tried to convince me to send a card to his family.
I argued that they wouldn’t know me, I don’t even think I stood out much even when I was there; just being another kid, listening to his lessons. I regret a little not sending something, but it is far too long now.
We always like to imagine that we were raised in more innocent times.
It is an illusion we all dwell in, pointing at video games and movies, shaking our fists at the world around us that we feel are corrupting our children. But I have always had a hard time thinking that children raised during WWII or during the protests around the Vietnam wars or even in the 90’s with the Iraq war had it easier. It is childhood, and dealing with the realities of the world and what we people make of it is one of the steps in our development. There has always been violence in the movies and on television, heck when I was growing up my favorite movie had a scene of a father figure being struck down by a sword and a planet blowing up while we are told that they all screamed in terror and then were silent. A chilling thought if you think about it.
My son is 5 and every day I drop him off at his school. What that usually means is I walk him in to the line for his class, where he sits with his fellow students (crisscross applesauce) and usually then I (and the rest of the parents) can go. Happy in the fact that he is surrounded by friends and there is a 4th grade guard standing over the line.
Today all of the parents stayed until the last minute. Every single one of us.
We all knew why we were there. We didn’t say anything to each other about it, but we knew. And then we all watched as our children walked, single file, right into their class.
No, I can’t hide my children from reality, nor do I want to try. But I can decide when they learn about the world and how, moving them forward naturally; hoping that they know just enough to get by from day to day… And, just as importantly, I can fight to get things off the streets that could do them and other children like them harm. In other words, guns that really no one (outside of a cop or soldier) ever needs.
Yes, I can sign the petitions and support that, and I will for their sake. And I will hope each time that each signature I add makes a difference in convincing someone somewhere. Because we have to change this in our country.
We have to.
Last night I dreamed I was back at my elementary school again.
Mr. Nyenhuis was there as well as all of my fellow students and teachers. The accordion was in his hands ready to go, and each of the children were ready to shout and sing…
All they were waiting for was my courage as a parent to say begin.
I hope you have a nice holiday season.
Beautifully written. I read it this morning while getting ready to go to school. My students are special to me. Today I’ll be introducing my Jr. Highers to Charles M. Schultz and a Christmas story that almost never made it on the air. Senior High will be taking a break from their text books and embracing an interpretation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. I posit that they can find history and literature everywhere and their lives can be the richer for it. In this case they find this wealth in Christmas traditions–I get to be a part of that and I’m blessed.
Thank you for saying that! It was a hard article for me to write, so I just tried to focus on simplicity.
I love A Christmas Carol, one of the perfect books out there. I used to read it to my son back in the days when my voice could sooth him to sleep. Today, he would be disappointed by the lack of superheroes in it (But he probably would love the ghosts).
This is a beautiful post Scott. We all have our Mr. Nyenhuis and they make in indelible mark on our childhoods and our lives long after. There is something so magical about holiday traditions, whether they are at home or at school. They live on forever.
When my dad died 19 years ago this month I was surprised at the greetings and cards that came my way and those who visited the funeral home telling me of little things my dad had done that affected their lives and of which I had no knowledge. If you have a way to share this post with his family I am certain they would be grateful forever. In fact, sometimes those later reminders are those we cherish most.
Merry Christmas! ~jeanie
Thank you for reading and your wonderful comment.
Reblogged this on The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard and commented:
I wrote this post after I heard about the Newtown shooting. When that awful event was taking place, I was at the movies, thinking about some holiday shopping I had to do afterwards. I still feel guilty that my life was so normal at that moment. Silly of me, I know, but with a son in elementary (now the same age as many of the victims), I was really overwhelmed and disgusted that such a thing could happen in our country. I have given a few times in the last year to two different groups hoping to change the conversation we have in our country around gun control. The first is The Sandy Hook Promise (which you can find at http://www.sandyhookpromise.org/) and Moms Demand Action (at http://momsdemandaction.org). Please consider donating today. I’m not saying ban all guns, just maybe we should consider what guns are on the market and how easy it is to buy them. Do people need military-style weaponry? No. Should people have background checks for all purchases? Yes. Should we know who owns what and how much? Certainly.
I think of these things as I watch my grandchildren growing up and worry for their safety and worry that they are going to learn “fear” too early in their young lives. My fear growing up was the fear of being bombed in the late 50’s early 60’s. I remember the hiding under our desk practices at school and I remember the dreams of our country being bombed. A different time, a different fear, but a fear none the less.
I’ve come to the belief that there was always bad things going on in the world, now thanks to the media and the speed of TV and the internet we just know about it faster. A sad story from another country or state is no longer hidden on page 3 of the newspaper, but now it is known by everyone immediately and that plays with the psyche of our country. So things feel more immediate, more personal. Granted, Newtown is the exception to that theory. That was just a horror that could have been avoided. Those poor people.
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