Marengo Years

How did a city girl end up a high school English teacher in rural Iowa? From graduating in a class of eight-hundred-fifty, quick-stepping to Pomp and Circumstances so the procession wouldn’t last an hour; to senior class sponsor of thirty-two, holding students back until the prior one was all the way down the aisle and seated – so the band could play the entire song.

Town square on Main Street. No traffic lights. Elementary school kids on decorated trikes and bicycles in the high school homecoming parade. Future Farmers of America, 4-H, and drama club. Six-on-six girls’ basketball and a superintendent who sometimes wore bibber overalls. Houses with unlocked doors and party-line telephones.  Church cookbooks and pot-lucks. Friendly people always willing to share, listen, and lend a helping hand. My second time in high-school. More special than the first.

ten foot drifts that year
folks hunkered down waiting for plows –
farm cats warm in barns

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Written for dVerse, the virtual pub for poets. It’s Tuesday Poetics and Amaya is hosting, asking us to remember our school days. Photo: Our rented farm house in rural Marengo, Iowa.

19 thoughts on “Marengo Years

  1. V.J. Knutson August 14, 2018 / 1:47 pm

    Love this piece, Lillian – your humble roots and obvious love for your home shines through. The image really adds to the piece too.

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  2. Adda August 14, 2018 / 2:10 pm

    We were lucky students to have such a a dedicated, caring, compassionate, wonderful teacher as you. Althoughi was exelled from school for 3 daysfor smoking on school grounds by being caughtby you, you had my upmost admiration.
    So glad you enjoyed your days at Marengo. You sure made our high school days much more interesting.

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    • lillian August 14, 2018 / 8:31 pm

      Really??? The expelled and smoked no part??? I have no memory of that! And in that case, I’m so glad you still have these comments❤️

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      • Adda August 14, 2018 / 10:52 pm

        It was difficult to write a response on my cell phone so I made many typo and sentence structure errors. It seems you were able to decipher my comment anyway. You were able to take us beyond the bounds of Marengo to a world we would never have been exposed to at such a young age. You were prepping us for the world beyond for those of us who would move away from the small, quiet and quaint town. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

    • lillian August 16, 2018 / 11:49 am

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed.

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  3. kim881 August 15, 2018 / 2:31 pm

    Isn’t it funny, Lill? We share a common language and similar experiences but, when it comes to talking about school, I get lost in an alien world! I know nothing about ‘graduating from school’ – over here we only graduate from university; and I can’t imagine what it must be like to quick-step ‘to Pomp and Circumstances so the procession wouldn’t last an hour, or what a senior class sponsor might be! I only know of homecoming parades and queens, ‘Six-on-six girls’ basketball and a superintendent who sometimes wore bibber overalls’ and potlucks from the cinema and TV. It’s exciting to find out about this other world. And what is 4-H?

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian August 16, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      Believe it or not, some schools make little mortar board hats and have kindergarten “graduations!” Elementary school ends in most schools now after 5th grade and then kids go to middle school for 6-7-8. Most elementary schools will have some kind of “graduation” ceremony, party for kids with their parents coming, maybe giving them a certificate etc…but usually no cap and gown. BUT in the U.S. high schools have graduations — at the end of 12th grade — and kids wear the proverbial cap and gown (gowns are now flimsy things you usually buy and sometimes the “school colors”; cap is the mortar board with a tassle that hangs down and usually at the end of it there is a cheap metal piece with the year (18) or in my case (65 as in 1965). There is a ceremony where kids march in and are seated — family members, aunts, uncles etc attend. There is a valedictorian (student with hightest GPA) and Salutatorian (2nd highest GPA) and at least 1 student speaker. Most times kids actually “audition” to be the speaker, saying their speech in front of some teachers who then select the speaker. Each student walks individually across the stage and receives their diploma from the principal. When my class graduated (850, remember?) someone had the brilliant idea of each student carrying up a marble and when the principal shook our hand, stealthily placing the marble in his hand! The high school band/orchestra traditionally plays the piece Pomp and Circumstances when the students march in.
      4-H is a club, most popular and maybe only popular, in more rural areas in the states…and maybe only in the midwest? Kids can be in it from grade school through high school. The 4 Hs stand for Head (clear thinking)p Heart (greater loyalty), Hands (to service) and health (to living better). Kids do projects and ultimately present them in their county 4-H fair, get ribbons and if they get a blue ribbon, present at the state fair. The Iowa State Fair is one of the most well known and maybe one of the few still in existence. Projects can include raising a calf (and then it’s sold at the fair), sheep, chicken, dog, cat (dogs and cats aren’t sold!)…pigs and hogs. Kids actually take the animal into a ring on a leash and parade them around and farmers sit and bid on them and judges look at them etc Other projects, making jams, pies, growing pumpkins, squash etc; making centerpieces; knitting / crocheting / sewing / quilting projects; doing a science project and making a poster presentation about it…a myriad of things.
      Whew – this is probably the longest explanation/reply I’ve given on dVerse.
      Oh yes — and at the Iowa State Fair, there’s a carnival section with rides; there’s stands that sell corn dogs, ears of sweet corn that they dip in butter and hand you by the husk end; fried dough; cotton candy; etc. And then there’s all the tents, by category, where you go in and see all the entries which now will be judged for best in the entire state! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • kim881 August 16, 2018 / 12:18 pm

        Thank you for your interesting introduction to the U.S. school system. I’ve always been intrigued by the snippets I have gleaned from TV and film. It seems to be more sociable than it was here when I was at school. I think our school are changing and most seem to have poems, mainly after the GCSE exams.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Abigail Gronway August 15, 2018 / 11:53 pm

    Wonderful memories! Thank you for sharing them. I too taught school for several years. My usual subjects were Spanish and music, from elementary through high school. But one year I also got to teach 8th-grade English, and that proved to be my favorite class of all time—not because of the subject, but because of the students. They were eager to learn and willing to be taught.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian August 16, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      I still communicate with some of my high school students — and they’re now in their 60s! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Abigail Gronway August 17, 2018 / 10:54 am

        That’s wonderful! Thanks to Facebook, I too keep in touch with both former students and former teachers.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Gospel Isosceles August 16, 2018 / 10:54 am

    Love the contrast you set up between the two graduating classes. For the past several years, we’ve lived in tiny towns, graduating two to six students a year. The whole town celebrates each student’s accomplishment and there is ample opportunity for scholarships from local businesses. What a difference from the big machinery-like schools of the city and suburbs. Small towns have their issues too but there is a sense of being loved. Thanks for your take, Lillian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian August 16, 2018 / 12:08 pm

      I do think there are pluses and negatives to both types of schools — as there are in most alternative choices in life. In the smaller country schools, I found that by the time I got the kids in 10th grade, it had been decided very early on who were the bright ones and who were not. One of the hugest controversies I caused was in giving a student a B his senior year in an elective English class he took with me. That meant he had to share the valedictorian honor (highest gpa) with his arch nemesis. I was called by the parents and called in by the principal and the student came to see me after school, one day furious, the next day literally in tears. Ah — the trials of those high school days when a “lost love” or not getting a role in the school play seemed like the worse thing that could EVER happen in your life! 🙂

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