A View from the Hill: Down memory lane, potholes and all

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I’ve never been much for walks down memory lane. It seems a waste of time to wallow in the past when there is a future to look forward to. Of course, as we grow older, that future becomes somewhat foreshortened, and one has nowhere to look but back, so let’s go.

When my father died he left behind a very businesslike folder of every school document relating to me from kindergarten through college. Since memory often fails me, I thought these documents would offer a road map to memory lane. Turns out, memory lane is replete with big hills, deep valleys, and endless, whip-snapping hairpin turns.

In the beginning, it seemed I was heading for great things. By the end of first grade on June 13, 1958, I had clearly nailed school, with every category “excellent.” God bless you, Miriam Gordon, who wrote that I had “been cooperative” and “works well with the group,” which may surprise some people.

By second grade, the gloves were off. After an entire year in Eleanor Courtney’s classroom, the best she could say about me, having observed me for 167 days, and surely wracking her brain for anything positive to say, was, “Andrew often seems sleepy.” 

Oh really, Miss Courtney? I wasn’t going to get personal here, but perhaps Andrew was bored out of his skull, and for that reason kept a powder-blue Ford Thunderbird Matchbox car in his desk to wheel back and forth. Did you never notice that the lid was always up on my desk?

And let me tell you something else. First, my name is Sandy, but I didn’t tell anyone because I thought it was a girl’s name. 

Oh, and the only thing I remember about your class was the day I felt a wet, slimy snail crawling on my neck, and took it off and threw it on the floor. You squished it with your spiky high heel as you wrote some drivel on the board. Direct hit! Good show, Miss Courtney!

Oh, and I’m sorry I wet my pants in class.

Anyway, in third grade, the wheels came off. After giving me a D in “work habits,” particularly “working independently,” “completing work on time,” and “working neatly,” and giving me five Cs, Agnes Johnson expressed grave forebodings about my future: “A change has started to take place.”

In fourth grade, the insults continued to fly. My parents must have been beside themselves as they watched their fourth son go to the dark side. “Andrew has developed an irresponsible attitude,” wrote Mary Brodrick, who slammed my “work habits” but nevertheless sent me on to fifth grade, where I apparently took a break from my rogue behavior.

I changed schools in sixth grade and since the teachers at the new school didn’t yet know me, I got a pass for a little while. The principal said, “I was genuinely polite and considerate of (my) fellow men.”

Then they got to know me. 

On Nov. 15, 1963, I was taken to task for my poor sportsmanship. “On the field, Sandy has a lot to learn,” wrote Mary Halkyard. “He is not too cooperative, tends to argue decisions, and is sulky if he is not on the winning team.” 

Even my athletic ability was “below average,” she said, before pleading with my parents to do something. 

“Sandy needs your help as well as ours in developing pleasanter social attitudes,” she wrote. “Fundamentally, Sandy is a fine boy who wants to do the right thing, but at the moment he is following the wrong people, and knows he’s wrong, for when he’s corrected for misdemeanors, he is genuinely abashed and contrite even to the point of tears. We must help Sandy …”

One week later, President Kennedy was assassinated, and I’m sure all my transgressions were forgotten amid the nation’s grief.

The next year, teachers reported a “change of attitude” for the better in me. “He became more attentive in class, preparations showed signs of honest effort, and he was more businesslike (I was 12!) in his daily work,” even though I was “still immature (I was 12!).”

But finally, the relentless assaults on my character began to soften. Now I was “not always very alert in class,” but at least I “listened and responded to the best of his ability.”

I became a “moderate” student; the quality of my work was “eccentric, ranging from superior to unsatisfactory.” My preparation was “hasty and incomplete.” As for my classwork, “Sandy can make outstanding reports and recitations,” wrote Constance G. Green, adding, “or they can be completely silly.”

Fair enough. I still hate to be on the losing team. I still get sleepy. I no longer wet my pants (soon enough!). I still miss deadlines, like the one for this column. I can still be silly. 

But I think I turned out alright. Sometime, remind me to tell you about high school (honor roll) and college (high honors, probation, and a baby.) 

A long and winding road indeed, this memory lane.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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