Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of Fish and Men

My dad, Don Williams, was born and raised in Wyoming. 

About fifty-five years ago he and his dad taught me to fish swift trout streams in blinding snowstorms.

I fished the Yellowstone River for the first time when I was only four or five. It was January in the mid-1950s, a stiff wind and vicious, blowing snow stung my tender cheeks and scared me. I grabbed my daddy's leg. He briefly caressed my head with his free hand just to let me know he was there for me.

Then he cast that Super Duper lure back upstream and continued reeling in the line.

A monstrous, lazy moose stood about fifteen feet away, knee-deep in the rapid, frigid Yellowstone, chewing on green river plants and looking at me with scant interest. The nearly-frozen river, the icy wind and snow, didn't bother that moose in the least. Certainly, he had no fear of me.

My dad, Donald, and his dad, Lester Williams, fished with a religious fervor.

For one thing, it was the only way they could hope to enjoy fresh trout for dinner. More than that, though, they embraced God's challenge that they provide for themselves and their families and be grateful for His bounty.

I loved my dad and grandpa. I wanted to be like them.

I'm a California kid just trying to hold onto family traditions. Yet, I occasionally have to jettison them when they no longer serve a practical purpose. 

My son liberated me from fishing nearly thirty years ago.

Jeremy was about six or seven. I took him camping into Northern California's Plumas-Eureka Campground. He had caught his first fish there when he was just five, back when he was still anxious to learn from me and to please me with his effort. 

(He still is and does, of course. I'm just sayin'...)

By the early 80s -- just a year or two after his fish harvesting experience -- he was thinking for himself:

"Dad," he said seriously and with no hint of sarcasm, "you know we can buy fish at the grocery store, right?"

He was right, of course, just as my dad and his dad were right in their time and place. 

We have all been right together, forever.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

21st Century Kindergarten

Our five-year-old grandson, Tyler, is in kindergarten.

(Generic Kindergarten class of 1956. I'm not in this picture.)
I actually remember my kindergarten days pretty clearly. Back then, in 1956, the kindergarten teachers had two classes each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I was in Mrs. Armstrong's early class. It was an action-packed three hours of finger-painting, stacking giant blocks on top of each other, bouncing large, reddish-purple rubber balls on the playground and taking a nap on a cold linoleum floor with only a bath towel beneath us.

Now that I think about it I wonder why a bunch of five-year-olds needed a nap at 10:00 a.m.?  I can only guess that the first hour and a half or so of Mrs. Armstrong's day was pretty brutal.

Barbara Billingsly as June Cleaver
We didn't do anything even remotely academic. I think kindergarten in the 1950s was just intended to help us little tykes develop social skills. And, of course, it gave our moms, the June Cleavers and Margaret Andersons of our world, a little time to get a jump on their daily cleaning and cooking in their day dresses and pearl necklaces.

Boy, have things changed!

These days, as far as I can figure, kindergarteners don't do anything that doesn't have a clearly-defined educational purpose. I think it's great. They're still developing social skills but they're also getting a head start on reading, 'riting and 'rithtmetic. Makes sense to me. In 1979 I taught my son to read two and three letter words when he was two. Now his son reads, speaks Spanish and is learning fractions at age five.

FIVE!

I wasn't introduced to fractions until I reached the fifth or sixth grade.

Tyler's sixth birthday is coming up soon. I talked with him about it a couple of days ago in the car.

Tyler Goold Williams,
Five and 11/12ths years old.
"Tyler, your birthday is just a little more than three weeks away!" I enthused. "Do you know how long that is?"

"Soon!" he answered precisely.

"That's right! And, how old are you going to be then?" I asked, imagining myself the Art Linkletter of the 21st century.

"SIX!" He was really excited now.

"So, how old are you now?" I inquired, trying to help his elementary concept of mathematics.

"FIVE AND ELEVEN-TWELFTHS!"
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