The first year they had us switch teachers rather than just stay in one classroom was fifth grade.
It wasn’t like high school or even junior high (as it was called then), where everyone gathered for a class and then hived off to wherever they were going and you’d see a different group of people in the next class. We’d all get up as a group and hike over to the next classroom. They were trying to get us used to the idea of switching classes without having us free to wander all over the building, which you know we would have done.
My regular teacher was the history teacher. From there we’d move over one room to the math teacher, then one room further to the English teacher, and then all the way back down the hallway past the first rooms to the cross hallway where the science teacher was, one big loop around the top floor. It worked, I guess. We did it again in sixth grade, so we were good and ready when junior high rolled around.
I remember a few of the things we did that year. We studied the metric system in science, as it was the mid-1970s and the US was supposed to switch over to the same system that everyone else in the world was using by the time we got out of high school and they wanted us to be prepared. The main takeaway I got out of it was that there is a tremendous difference between a pound of cheese and a kilo of cheese when you’re standing in a deli line. In history we spent much of the year – the school year that started two months after the Bicentennial, after all – singing the preamble to the Constitution, as arranged by School House Rock. I can still do that now, and I even add in the little phrase that School House Rock left out because that’s the kind of nerd I am. In math they put some of us in a “work-ahead” group and left us to our own schedule, which is always a bad idea for me. Sometime in January the teacher informed me that I was now behind the class and would be transferred back to the regular class if I didn’t get my act together. By Valentine’s Day I had completed the year’s assignments and had nothing to do for the next four months. So it goes.
The one assignment I remember from English class was to write an essay based on a song. The teacher had known Jim Croce personally – he was from Philadelphia, just like us – and she was a fan. This was a couple of years after Croce had died in a plane crash, and they still played his stuff on the radio now and then. It wasn’t Oldies at the time. She played Time in a Bottle what felt like a dozen times on the old record player that she had in her classroom and then asked us what we’d like to put in the bottle.
“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day ‘til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you.”
I have no idea what I wrote for that essay. I was twelve – what could I have possibly written? You really need to spend some time on the planet in order to give that assignment the thought that it needed.
When you’re young, everything is immortal. Things just are, and they’ve always been just so, and they’ll always be just so – especially if, like me, you come from a place and an environment where a great many people have worked very hard to make your life comfortable and safe.
When you get older and get out into the world a bit, fail at a few things, have your heart broken once or twice, lose a few people, you begin to realize how fragile things are and how quickly the foundations of your world can change. How even the most important things can be taken away without so much as the malice that would give such a loss even that much purpose. Things just happen. People come into your life and they leave, willingly or not, and you break and put yourself back together and the pieces never quite fit together right and the gaps collect thoughts, and eventually you know at least some of the things you’d put in that bottle.
A friend of mine posted Time in a Bottle on his Facebook page today, because he has something to put in the bottle.
There are things in this world that you just get used to.
“Memory is what God gave us that we might have roses in December.”