1. I Am Born
I was born in Florence, Alabama. It was a small town then. I
have a phone book from when I was ten years old, and all the
telephones in town could be listed on twenty-nine pages.
Florence was more a Tennessee than an Alabama town. It was
north of the Tennessee River and only a few miles from the state
line. In its early days it was a stage coach stop on the road to
Nashville, and even now, it is more akin culturally to Nashville
than to Montgomery.
I went to school in a brick schoolhouse which everyone in
town loved and which has since been torn down to make room for a
tennis court. I had Mrs. Pollard for fourth grade. I believe it
was she, more than anyone else, who made me a teacher. She
retired shortly after I was in her class, at age seventy or
thereabouts. That means that she must have come out of teacher
training college early in the 1900s. She was therefore Old
Mrs. Pollard lived across the street from the schoolhouse.
She had us memorize poetry from the blackboard: “October’s
Bright Blue Weather” and “I Think That I Shall Never See a Poem
As Lovely As a Tree” and something about the Pilgrims.
Mrs. Pollard taught us with a minimum of resources. Each of
us had a small box of colors that had to last us the school
year. Mrs. Pollard sent a knife around the room (not a sharp
one), and we cut off a small segment of each color, a tablet the
size of an aspirin. The rest of the colors went back into the
box, and we used the tiny segments to color with. Every two
weeks we had art, and we used our aspirin tablets to follow Mrs.
Pollard’s demonstration of how to draw an oak tree in autumn or
goldenrod in spring. Goldenrod was at that time the state flower
of Alabama. Mrs. Pollard used a pointillist technique. I can
still hear, in my mind, the sound of twenty school children
bending over their work as they hammered out goldenrods:
Mrs. Pollard wore a purple dress, pinned a silver brooch to
her bosom, and pulled her white hair into a bun in back. She
spoke of herself in the third person: “Steve, my boy, would you
go across the street and bring Mrs. Pollard her mail?” We all
I became a teacher myself when I was grown, and I wanted to
be as good a one as Mrs. Pollard. Somewhere along the line I
heard what James A. Garfield had said about Mark Hopkins.
Garfield was a Church of Christ elder, a Congressman, and
President of the United States; Mark Hopkins was the president
of Williams College in northwestern Massachusetts, from which
Garfield had graduated in 1856. This is what Garfield said:
“Give me a log hut, with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins on
one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings,
apparatus and libraries without him.”
That is approximately what I had in the fourth grade, and it
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