Science Packs a Wallop

Since school has started almost all over the country, I am reminded of an incident from my school days in the fifties. As young girls, my sister, Gretchen, and I lived in Pittsburgh and went to Winchester Thurston School in Oakland. I was a year ahead at school, but our birthdays were only 22 months apart, so we were close.

Father drove us to school every morning, but we took the streetcar in the afternoon. We took the #75 streetcar from Ellsworth Avenue, through East Liberty and east on Penn Avenue to our street, Homewood Avenue near Frick Park.

Our route took us past a bread factory, where the aroma of fresh baked bread tempted us every afternoon. Mother warned us not to get off the streetcar and try to buy bread at the factory, and she always had a snack ready when we got home. We usually had a choice between potato chips and Coke(my favorite) or milk and cookies.

One day, when our streetcar got to the corner of Penn and Fifth Avenues, the conductor announced that because of road construction, the streetcar was not going the rest of the way up Penn Avenue.

“We’re going to turn left here and go down to blah blah and turn onto blah and blah, blah, blah.” I suppose the adults on the streetcar understood these directions, but it was gibberish to us. We had no idea where our faithful #75 was going. We were panicked. How were we going to get home?

“We should get off here,” I said, thinking we could walk the rest of the way home.

“No, we should stay on the streetcar,” Gretchen said. “We don’t know the way home.”

“I’m pretty sure we just stay on Penn Avenue until we get to Homewood Avenue,” I said.

That day I made my sister get off the streetcar. We were standing by ourselves at one of the busiest intersections in Pittsburgh and Gretchen was mad. She was almost in tears when she said,

“What are we going to do now? We don’t even know where we are.”

With that BANG! She hit me on the head with her science book!

“Ow!” I groaned, surprised by her sudden turn to violence. “Why did you do that?”

“Because now we don’t know how to get home,” she yelled at me.

“I know how to go,” I said, trying to sound self-assured despite my recent injury to the head.

We stood there quite awhile trying to figure out how to cross the intersection. It was four lanes in one direction and three in the other. Using the lights to tell us when to go, I led Gretchen across both streets and we started walking up Penn Avenue. I didn’t know how many blocks it was to Homewood Avenue, but I knew it crossed Penn and we would eventually get to it. However, we were getting tired and I still couldn’t see Homewood Avenue ahead, so I suggested we turn into a drug store on one of the corners. Gretchen agreed. We did what our mother and father had taught us. I asked the salesgirl if we could call home because we were lost. She looked at me very strangely and let me use the phone.

When Mother came and picked us up, she only had to drive two blocks to get to our house. We felt kind of stupid, but she was glad we called her and said we did the right thing to get off the streetcar.

I felt justified, but I had a sore bump on my head for several days. I had learned that science packs a wallop.

Why do we always need to be right?

In our culture we are educated in a system that values being right and abhors being wrong.

We are taught from a very young age that answering a question with the right answer is good and the wrong answer is bad. We are graded for twelve years in school with a system that validates the “right” answer every day and devalues the “wrong” answer. No wonder we all grow up needing to be right all the time.

Our society also rewards people with money when they are right. A school student studys and gets good grades because he/she gets correct answers on tests. These answers help him get into a good college, where he graduates at the top of his class because he gets the right answers on all his tests. (This guy is definitely a goody-two-shoes and I practically hate him already). Finally this superb fellow gets a really high paying job because he has a history of being right.

So a second thing we have to do in order to be happy being wrong, is to be happy being poor middle class and not having every single material item that our neighbor has. The Bible supports this truth with “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods,” and I am adding “even his 48″ flat screen TV!”

The need to be right causes us to get into many arguments, often offending those around us. When was the last time you insisted someone else was wrong about something? When we get into that situation, where we are in a face-off  about a particular point, do any of us have the grace to give-in?

It so happened that the day I was considering writing about this, I had a disagreement with my husband. I don’t even remember what it was about, but as I thought about it, I REALIZED HE WAS RIGHT. That was a painful realization for me. My insides begrudged his correctness. I felt a big lump in my chest, knowing that I had been wrong. Somehow I feared dire consequences for being wrong.

Then I started to analyze myself. I pictured Mrs. Houston, my grade school principal, glaring at me from her desk because I didn’t know my geography. I pictured Miss Zigler sneering at me because I couldn’t remember the words to my part in the play. I thought about these incidents for several days. I even thought about confessing to Bob that he had been right, but I couldn’t do it. Then I started to realize that ever since I had been in First Grade I had been told that there was only one answer to a question and that was the RIGHT answer.

I started to feel  better. I realized it didn’t matter who was right about the point of conflict my husband and I had argued about. I realized there was no need to confront him about it and cause another disagreement worse than the first one. I could forgive him for being right and accept being wrong. I felt good about myself. I felt like it was “big of me” to admit being wrong, even if it was just to myself.

Perhaps we all would be happier if we gave up being right as often as we can. It’s possible we would receive more love and admiration from our spouse,  our children, and our co-workers. We might be more relaxed and have a more peaceful life. It sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

Would you rather be right or be happy?

My Native Language

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and when I finally moved away to California, the people I met laughed at me.

“You sound like you’re from Pennsyltucky,” they chided.

If you have ever known someone from Pittsburgh you may have noticed that they have an odd accent and some strange sayings. When we grew up we were told to “scrub” our teeth and “red” up our rooms. “Red up” means to pick up all the things that are out of place and put them back where they belong. We “worsched” our clothes instead of washing them like people in other cities! When we picked up the telephone we were answering the “party line,” and we knew the operator by name, and she knew us and all the people on her switchboard.

Although we started in public school, when I was in third grade my sister, Gretchen and I went to Falk School, a private experimental school that encouraged one-on-one contact with the teacher so students could learn at their own pace.

We were driven to school in a taxicab that picked up all the kids from East Pittsburgh who attended the school. There were six of us. The cab driver’s name was George and he was nice but he had a thick Pittsburgh accent. He had trouble saying “Gretchen” and he called her “Garsher.” She didn’t like it, but no matter how hard we tried, no one could teach him to say her name correctly. Soon my sister became, “Garscher, warscher washing machine!” This provided gales of laughter every morning and she didn’t seem to care. She took it well.

One reason she probably didn’t mind was because she had found romance in second grade. There was a boy named Peter in her class who liked her and he invited her to his house a few times. His father was a doctor and a scientist, and when she was there he showed her his laboratory. When she got home she told us all about it at dinner. It turned out that Peter’s father was Jonas Salk, who discovered the cure for polio in 1952. My sister was hobnobbing in second grade!

My life was much less glamorous! One day I dropped my new yoyo in the toilet at school. I was so horrified. I couldn’t believe it was really in there, and stared at it for a long time. I knew I had to take it out, or call one of the teachers and have everyone find out about it. Finally I made myself stick my hand in and grab the yoyo. Oh Yuk! Then I had to throw it away, but the only place to throw it was in the open waste basket. If I threw it there, the girls would recognize it as the wonderful purple yoyo I had shown off so proudly that morning! In the end, I dried it off and wrapped it in paper towels and threw it in the waste basket. Oh, the throes of elementary school!

Do other people have such lurid memories of grade school? What’s your most embarrassing moment? Or were you hobnobbing with the rich and famous?

Can a Politician be a Lunatic? I have a test.

It has come to my attention that some of my readers were confused by my last blog, WHO WILL REPLACE THE LUNATICS? Some of those readers mistook the word lunatics for the word politicians. This is a grave matter that must be taken up with all seriousness.

Political figures are not necessarily lunatics, although the laws and measures  they pass do not verify that statement.

Can a politician be a lunatic? YES

Can a lunatic be a politician? YES

What is necessary is a test to be given to all people who run for office in the USA. Here are the questions that I nominate for the test.

  1.  What state, city, county or area do you wish to represent? ________. If the person cannot name and spell the area they want to represent correctly, I say they should be running for vice president of tenth grade.
  2.  Spell the names of your parents and give your own address and phone number. This is a must for everyone in the USA and if the information is not accurate, NO RUNNING FOR OFFICE!
  3. Who is the President of the United States? If the political hopeful gets this wrong he/she should be expunged expatriated expelled sent away from the country.
  4. Name your spouse and children.  Spell each name properly. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.
  5. If the political hopeful is still hopeful at the end of the test AND gets all the questions right, send him/her on their way to the nearest political party headquarters. Give the candidate for office directions to BOTH headquarters, spin him around three times, and whichever one he finds first, let that one be his party of choice.

The Secret Passageway

In fifth grade I started at Winchester-Thurston Preparatory School for Girls in Pittsburgh, PA. It is a prestigious school and at the time was housed in a very impressive building with huge columns and a tall brick fence on Fifth Avenue in Oakland.  Our parents explained to my sister, Gretchen, and I, what a good school it was and how we should be very studious, because if we did well, we would have a very good chance of getting into college. They explained that they had to pay to send us there and we needed to appreciate that, and that it was good that there would be no boys at the school to distract us from our studies. I’m not sure I completely believed this, even at the age of nine.

Things went well for the first few years. I made many good friends, including Chrissie, Molly and Susan W. and I did well in my studies. It took a while to get used to the strict and sometimes pompous teachers, who expected nothing short of perfection, but eventually I learned acceptable behavior. For instance, we had to thank each teacher when we left the classroom and curtsy and shake the headmistress’ hand when we went home for the night.

Chrissie is the best friend I have from my years at WT and we had many sleepovers. Her parents bought a gigantic home in Fox Chapel and she invited me to spend the night. We were sitting around in the den watching TV, when she started telling me a secret.

“My father says there is a secret passage way from the den(library) leading to somewhere else in the house.”

“What?” I exclaimed, my eyes as wide as saucers. I had been reading Nancy Drew Books as though they had nutritional value, and the idea of a mystery was very exciting.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” answered Chrissie. “Want to look for it?”

Before she was finished asking, I was up knocking curiously on the beautiful wood paneling. Chris and I spent hours that day trying to slide pieces of wood to the left or the right, and moving our hands over the walls trying to discover a secret button or latch. We knocked, we pushed, we put our ears to the wall, and we searched diligently for some kind of opening.

Over the length of our friendship, we must have spent at least a month trying to find the secret passageway, but never did. Chrissie told me just a few years ago that the passageway was never found, and she wondered if her parents had made it up to keep us busy. That was fine with me, because I had so much fun looking for it, how could I be mad?

Other Multiples

If you know someone with multiple personalities, please tell them about my blog. I would like to connect with them