My family has always been important to me. As a child, my paternal grandparents lived on the second floor of our fourteen room farm house. Grandma always made sure my homemade dresses had an extra touch, whether it was tiny flowers embroidered in tiny stitches on the collar, bits of lace on ruffles, or a smocked bodice. Grandpa taught me to play dominoes, which greatly improved my ability to add my scores.

I have always loved Christmas trees. One year as a child, I persuaded Dad to go to the woods for a tree in early December. It was a hemlock which loses its needles more quickly than spruce or pine, which didn’t grow on our farm. Before Christmas the tree had shed. Mom removed all the decorations and Dad went back to the woods for another tree.

One Christmas my maternal grandparents gave me a large Flexible Flyer, which traveled to and from my one-room school daily during the winter. It now belongs to my grandchildren.

This was the first Christmas in sixty years, Richard hasn’t been with me. My family, my son and daughter-in-law and two grandsons, my daughter and daughter-in-law have done all they could to ease the days. Without their support, the days would have been lonely, but they weren’t. Tears still fell, but they were not of regret. We remembered, but they were happy memories that made us laugh through our tears

Together my family celebrates!.


One man of my childhood—Bruce Thompson—has always been associated in my mind with Christmas and the Sanford Methodist Church.

He and his wife, Helen, owned a dairy farm at a sharp curve in the road. The buildings are gone now except in my memory, but I never drive around that corner without thinking of Bruce.

He was a man of God. He spoke kindly to and about everyone he met.

On a Sunday morning, he rose early to milk his cows and do his necessary chores. Our church often started at 9:00. In the winter time, he wouldn’t have those chores completed. No matter. He quit work, went into his house, cleaned up and donned his brown sharkskin suit. The chores waited until later.

Bruce worked very hard. I think the church service offered him a time to himself to think, contemplate, and sometimes to drift off. His head would nod for a few minutes, then come up straight, only to nod again.

After the worship service, Bruce stayed at church. He was Sunday school superintendent for as long as I knew him. He led a worship service for the children attending Sunday school, and taught one of the classes.

As part of being superintendent, he was the announcer for the annual Christmas program. I attended a one room school near the church. For many years (long before the present emphasis on separation of church and state) the school presented their Christmas program in the church. Bruce, wearing the same brown sharkskin suit, sat on the far side of the front pew. As participants we waited for him to stand. In his clear, resonant voice he would announce our name and the title of the piece we would be giving, the actors in the plays, or singers of songs.

When the program was finished, he called for everyone to join in singing Jingle Bells to bring in Santa Claus.

I was visiting my parents, when the telephone rang early on Christmas morning. The news was startling to us. Bruce was preparing for Church, when he quietly died. A true gentleman was greatly missed.


When my husband, Richard, began his senior year at New Brunswick Reformed Church seminary, I went back to teaching in Highland Park, New Jersey.
My first grade was a good mix of children. A few tried to skip the work I wanted them to do, but none were discipline problems. As I began breaking the class into reading groups, I found three or four girls, who after being introduced to the first reading book, seemed to say, “Oh, is that what reading is? I can do that. No problem!” I truly never had to teach them to read, they devoured books.
One of my favorite children in the class was a little boy. Jay was shorter than some of the boys, but stood straight. He looked like he was a professional fullback at age six. He was obvious bright and could easily do whatever work I asked for, but I had to cajole, encourage, and pick at him to get it done. At the end of one morning, all he’d done was to put his name on his writing paper. I wrote a note for him to take home at lunch time, and return to me, signed.
He didn’t bring it back. “I forgot.”
“Bring it in the morning.”
He didn’t bring in the note. “Mom didn’t have time.”
“Bring it back this noon, or I will send you back home to get it.”
His father appeared with him after the lunch hour.
“I didn’t know about the note before,” he said. “I’ve talked about it to Jay, but I didn’t want to discipline him because I was afraid I might hurt him. I will tell his mother tonight.”
That was the last time Jay didn’t finish his work. If he began to slough off, I only had to ask, “Should I call your father?”
He’d shake his head and cheerfully go to work.
Toward the end of the school year, it was our class’s turn to put on an assembly program. In the Ginn First Grade Music Book, teacher’s edition, there was a short musical play, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Jay took part of the bad troll seriously. As each of the three goats approached the bridge which would take them to the green pasture on the other side, Jay popped up onto the bridge to sing, “I will eat you….” The children watching loved it, and of course they cheered when the Big Billy Goat Gruff knocked the bad troll off the bridge. Jay was the star of the show.
The adults in the audience struggled not to burst out laughing as Jay jumped up to sing in his deep “bad troll voice” that often squeaked. What happened to Jay? I don’t know, but perhaps he did become a football star fullback somewhere, or perhaps an actor. I wish I knew.


In September, I found a job at a nursery school two blocks from our Philadelphia apartment. At the beginning it went well. I liked the other staff, particularly my partner, Sarah. The boss left us on our own with no direction. I confess I was a horrid teacher. For the first time in my life, I spanked one or two of the boys. I was a mean teacher. Those little boys must have hated coming to nursery school. I’ve regretted and compensated for my behavior ever since.

Early the next spring, the boss came to Sarah and me separately to say she had to let one of us go, but said, “I’d like you to stay.” Walking home, Sarah and I shared those conversations. Neither of us wanted to work there. After being paid the next day, Friday, we skipped and danced down the street, happy to be jobless.

My friend, Joy B., suggested I apply for a summer position at the Provident Mutual Insurance Company home office where she worked. I did. I took a typing test without erasures and made 35 words a minute. Typing had not been my strong point, but the personnel director was satisfied. She asked me to type a short letter and allowed for erasures. I was hired and put in the sales department. We took cards sent in to the company by perspective clients. The cards said we would give them a personalized pen or some other gimmick to get a salesperson in their door.

Once a month I typed a long list of agents giving their sales of the month. The agents were very picky about their names, initials, etc. I learned to be picky with my typing. These had to be typed on blue mimeograph film (no copiers in 1956). Fortunate for me, if I made a mistake, I could put some blue liquid on the error, wait for it to dry and make the correction. Another person took the film and ran it through the mimeograph machine to make copies which we then addressed and sent to each agent.

I sat next to a woman, June, who typed at least a100 words per minute. She would reach into her drawer and pull three sheets of paper and two carbons, put them in the typewriter and whip off a letter. Should she make a mistake, she ripped the papers and carbons out of the carriage, tossed them in the trash, and reached for more. The way she used carbons must have cost the company a lot of money.

One day June was sick or on a day off. It was the day I really learned to type. The boss handed me three letters at 3:00 in the afternoon. We were finished work at 4:00. He wanted the letters before then. I handed him the letters just before 4:00. I must have taught my fingers to concentrate that day. Ever since then I’ve been a much better typist. Computers make typing a breeze, but in 1956 it was an IBM manual typewriter.


During my last year of teaching in Interlaken Central School (1959-60), I had a pre-first grade class. These children had spent a year in Kindergarten, but needed extra help to be a success in first grade.

Leon was a special case. His biological mother had kept him in his crib for the whole first two years of his life when social services took him from her and placed him in a foster home. When Leon arrived there, he had not learned to walk, talk or even stand on his own. His foster mother loved him and as an only child she spent her full time with him for three years. His foster dad was a cross-country truck driver so was gone from home much of the time. Leon learned to walk quickly after he was fitted with glasses. He learned to talk and when he was five, he attended kindergarten and was given a “conditional pass.”

Then Leon’s life was interrupted again by his biological mother. She demanded that he be given Catholic religious instruction. His foster mother couldn’t provide the instruction for reasons unknown to me. Leon was moved to a new home with a family, which had other children. This proved to be a good move for him because the other children provided models and “teachers” for him.

Leon was placed in my classroom. An intelligence test showed him to have a little below normal intelligence. The psychologist told me not to expect much from him, but to give him with others in the room an advanced kindergarten experience.

There were five children in Leon’s small reading group. This was the day of Dick, Jane, and Sally, Puff, Spot, and Tim – three children, a cat, dog and stuffed bear. These names plus look, oh, run, jump, up, down, come, and go were the words of the first book. After two months some of Leon’s reading group could still not identify these words in spite of my antics to get their meaning across. We eventually moved on to the next book with added words.

I began saying, “Look at the words on this page. Think what they tell you. Then tell me what they say.” For example, “Come and play ball.”

One day, Leon said, “Do you want me to read them?”

“Yes, can you read them?”

Leon did.

“Turn the page. Can you read these words?”

He did.

Somewhere through the magic of insight, Leon had learned to read.

I gave him two books to take home. The next day he apologized. “I’m sorry Mrs. Lake I only had time to read one book.”

Leon’s progress continued. By June, he was reading as well as more advanced children in my class. The psychologist retested him. His IQ had jumped from 85 to 115. It was not that Leon had become brighter, he was catching up from the first two years of his life. He was maturing in ability to use his full intelligence. I wish I could tell you what happened to him years, but I can’t.

Leon’s story has always made me wonder about how we look at one another’s intelligence. Do any of us use our full intelligence to the level that is possible?