In the fall of 1970, I started sixth grade at Brook Hill Elementary School in Santa Rosa. The few years we lived in Santa Rosa will forever remain with me as an idyllicism (made up word) of the highest form. Block parties on 4th of July, warm weather, our school across the street and sixth grade.
Sixth grade is where and when I came alive. Everything that excites and moves me was born in the last classroom in that plain school building. Although I was writing at an earlier age, the subjects that would activate that skill were taught to me in sixth grade.
I have learned that school is like a buffet feast. There are so many foods to choose from. In order to appreciate everything, you take a bite from each plate. But the ones you really like, those become your favorites, your comfort foods. So as with education, you taste as many subjects as you can, but the ones you love, the ones that make you come alive, those are the ones you return to, the ones you pursue.
Mr. Caudill, my sixth grade teacher, set a grand table. Of the many things he taught us, these are the subjects I have returned to, the ones I have pursued.
First was poetry. Each week, I believe, we got a new poem. I remember smelling the newly mimeographed paper anticipating a new tale. “Gunga Din” and “The Kid’s Last Fight” were two of my favorites. “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer, when you’re quartered safe out ‘ere…” I would bellow in a bravado-ish brough that would send my sister under the covers. Sadly, all my papers from sixth grade were lost in the move to Daly City. But the spark had been lighted, and still burns.
Second was music. Mr. Caudill handed out sheets with contemporary music lyrics. “Blowing in the Wind”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” were a few of the many songs we learned about. I still know these lyrics by heart. I have written a few songs myself that remain in the confines of my journals; but because I learned to appreciate the music and lyrics, I can discuss any song with my kids. I help them highlight what their favorite musicians are trying to say. And as a by-product, I have come to love their music as much as my own.
Third was geography. I learned to love maps. I’ve always had a map on the wall. Even now, living in my parents’ house, I have an old ‘80’s Hapag Lloyd map up. I need a new one though; there are so many new countries since the fall of the Wall. In sixth grade, we studied South American geography and cultures. We used to have map contests to see who could find a nation’s capital the quickest. I was good at that game. I loved it. I learned that there were other people around the world with different customs, beliefs and ways of living. I did a report on the Incas in Peru. We sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in Spanish. Here was my first taste of that beautiful language. I am working my way to fluency even now.
I was eleven when I was in Mr. Caudill’s sixth grade class. I was eleven when I learned these subjects. But I didn’t just learn them, I ingested them, they became a part of who I was. They came to fruition in my English degree, my many Spanish classes, my missionary interests and my feeble attempts at creativity. I watched “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” last year. There is a scene where Control and Smiley were leaving Circus Headquarters, and in the background, there were maps all over the walls. I had an “a-ha” moment. I should have been a spy!