Miss Sage and Grade One

“Miss Sage and Grade One”

Miss Sage had purple gums. It’s an odd thing to stay in this student’s memory, but who is a six-year-old to explain the unexplainable.

There were two distinct groups in Miss Sage’s class: there were the “English” and then there were the children of immigrant parents who tended to spit in public and who could not discuss the students’ life in and out of the classroom with the teacher. The kids who were clean and the kids that tended to smell because they were sewn into their winter underwear. The kids who came from small families and the kids who came from multi-child families who had siblings in every alternating grade in the Herbert school.

And we could tell the difference because we were colorfully different and went to the Mennonite church next door that was preoccupied with keeping their traditional language and had periodic revival meetings in English. Miss Sage, bless her heart, knew the difference.

There were the children who went to the movies on Saturdays in the Town Hall that housed the secondhand fire truck, and there were those of us who already in grade one knew that it was a sin to go to the movies. We knew with unexplained certainty that worldly things were shown in the movies.

Miss Sage was a good, no nonsense, teacher and her students turned out to be rather good at learning to read “Dick and Jane” and their cultured activities, much more sophisticated than the lives of the immigrant children in first grade. The twins had pets, dogs and cats that were allowed into the house. We only knew of farm animals that were outside chasing mice. It was an early learning experience and helped us to acculturate to Canadian ways. Little did we know that acculturating was leading us to become worldly, for which I am immensely grateful.

Helen was Miss Sage’s special pet. That was clear to all of us, knowledge reinforced when Helen’s birthday became the occasion for a lavish all afternoon class party. We were all appropriately jealous, but the party was eventful enough to remain clearly and colorfully in my memory. After much dithering she chose Miller to be her Prince for the afternoon. Make of that what you will.

The report card at the end of the year said, in bold printing, that I had passed with honors.

The last day of school, on my way home, my father and I met. He was going into town. I stopped and proudly showed him my report card. He glanced at it briefly, wordlessly handed it back to me and strode off without a word. I stayed on the spot for a full minute gazing after him.


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