Tales from real life
|Well, if they're not true, they oughta be!|
|I learned to do math with pencil & paper, beginning in first grade with a Big Chief tablet. It came with wide-ruled lines printed in landscape format on rough newsprint paper. We had to ask the teacher for permission to leave our desks to use the wall-mounted pencil sharpener in the corner by the supply cabinet. Our bright-yellow No. 2 pencils wore down quickly, and needed sharpening often, but then the sharp point would tear through the low-quality paper. The pink pearl erasers were almost as bad. We made many mistakes and the erasures left ugly gray blotches. A second erasure would usually go right through the page.
We arranged the numbers in columns, carefully aligning the digits by ones, tens, and hundreds. We’d draw a line under the last number and then add up the ones column, carry over to the tens, add those up, and carry again. The steps were repeated for each column from right to left until the result appeared at the bottom. Subtraction was similar, except for borrowing from the left instead of carrying from the right. The borrowing seemed much more difficult than the carrying. I don’t know why that should be, but it’s still true today.
Addition and subtraction were fairly intuitive, it was easy to see how they were based on simple counting. We could always use fingers & toes if we needed a hint. Still, the practice of two plus two occupied us until third grade. That was when we were introduced to the deeper mysteries of multiplication and division.
The most advanced educational theory of 1965 consisted of rote memorization. We wrote out the times tables on those Big Chief tablets over and over until we developed wrist cramp. The only respite came from Mrs. Garbe’s hi-fi. She had a collection of 45 rpm records that had all the multiplication tables from twos to twelves set to music. Just imagine a classroom full of eight year-olds singing along to ‘eight times eight is sixty-four’. And, the strangest thing was that we enjoyed it. Everyone preferred the sing-along to the hand cramps.
Multiplication turned out to be a sort of shorthand for multiple additions, and division was just shorthand for multiple subtractions. Add, subtract, multiply and divide. Those four functions were all we needed for the next six years. The numbers got bigger, but the basic functions remained the same. And, since the times tables continued to be assigned as discipline for bad behavior, I wrote them out thousands of times during many missed recess periods. I’ve forgotten many of my grade-school lessons over the past fifty five years, but I will never, ever forget the times tables!
|There’s a narrow, two-lane ribbon of asphalt that stretches as straight as a string west of the small town of Ronan. It dips into gullies and rises over a few modest hills, but it’s mostly level on its 11-mile run to a dead-end near the Flathead River. There’s a large, rounded butte almost 7 miles from town that gives the Round Butte Road, and the surrounding area, their names.
When my father was a boy, Round Butte had an elementary school, a church, and a general store with a post office. The store had already gone by the time I attended the Round Butte school in the 1960’s, and only the church remains in use today. My older sister, Linda, attended 4-H meetings in the church basement, and my younger sister Laurie was married there. The church and school faced each other across the Round Butte Road, making them the natural center of the roughly 20 square mile area where I grew up. Sometimes, we rode our bikes up to the highway just to feel the marvel of pavement beneath our wheels, but usually we rode them to school.
We lived on a gravel road that dipped slightly away from our driveway, and then rose steadily for almost a mile to its junction with the Round Butte Road. A right turn onto a gradual downhill slope brought us to the school on a quarter mile of what seemed, to us, to be glassy smooth pavement. It took 15 minutes of hard work to pedal our bicycles uphill, through crunching gravel, to reach the delightfully silent glide down to the schoolyard. The trip home, on the other hand, took only a bit of work on the asphalt to reach the turn onto our road. Then, we could make a glorious high-speed dash through the gravel with our tires dancing and skidding as we flew home in no time at all.
Riding in Dad’s ’57 Studebaker Hawk was even better. It was a sporty car, aerodynamic, with a good amount of power, and Dad enjoyed using it. Mom wasn’t as thrilled as we were when he’d drop the manual transmission into second gear and put the gas pedal on the floor to pass a slow vehicle on the highway. I don’t ever remember feeling scared, I loved the roar of the engine and the surge of acceleration as we ‘won’ the imaginary race. Another game we liked Dad to play was ‘coasting home’.
We’d beg Dad to coast as we approached the Round Butte Hill. He’d get the Hawk revved up to around 90 mph, and then shift to neutral as we crested the steep hill. Our sleek car lost only a little bit of speed in the first quarter mile as we whizzed down the steep slope (I’m sure the tail fins helped). We’d still be cruising along at a cool 60 mph or so after a level half-mile when we reached a short, steep, uphill climb toward the school. We’d pass the school driveway on a 100 yard stretch of level road at speed of maybe 30 mph. Then the suspense kicked in. Would we make it all the way to the left turn onto our road?
If our initial speed was too high, then we’d easily make the turn at 10 or 15 mph. That was okay, but a bit boring. If the initial speed was too low, Dad would have to put the car in gear to make it ‘over the hump’. But, if our speed was just right, we’d barely make it around the corner at 2 or 3 mph, and then gather speed for almost a mile on the downhill gravel road. Perfection was when Dad could pull into our driveway and park after coasting for more than two miles in neutral.