Chapter 13 – School Days

I have always looked forward to September, my favorite season of fall begins and for most of the Septembers of my childhood, I was actually excited to go back to school. I genuinely liked reading and learning, and got good grades easily. My mother gave me a  jump start by teaching me to read a little before kindergarten. Not that it was completely utopian, there were still nasty boys trying to bully us on the way home, or the occasional times I’d get in trouble for sticking my foot in my mouth. Some teachers liked me better than others and vice versa. I still love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils.

We had to wear dresses or skirts to school in the 1960s. My mom sewed a lot of these, and I can tell from photos they were both cute and practical. Unlike what I  see today, I never looked like a princess unless it was a costume for a play or Halloween. Nor did the dresses look anything like adult clothing, they were clothes you could play in, and we did have recess twice a day that involved a fair amount of running, climbing and ball games. Finally in 1970, the Powers That Be decided we could wear pants on cold winter days, and by the next year I think they were allowed in all seasons. As we approached the teenage years, my mother did not try to sew as many of our clothes; besides, Diane and I liked a trip to the mall to see how well we could do with a set amount of money to spend. Sometimes that caused us to buy a shared item, and that was known to lead to fights over who got to wear it first!

We had progressive reading classes, so I did not get bored by being stuck with work that was too easy. Later, there was progressive math too. I did not enjoy math as much, but was persuaded to go advanced in 6th grade so I could get out of taking it later. We chosen few gathered around telephones with headsets and a thing called a telewriter, and Mr. Nugent would teach us remotely from a nearby junior high. Computers were not yet common and PCs did not exist at all, so this was really state of the art technical stuff! However, the coolness factor did not make up for the tedium of being drilled on equations every day. The “take it now so you don’t have to later” argument repeated until I got all the way to calculus in high school, and then finally got to college and discovered I already had more math than I needed for my major!

Homework was not too intense in early grade school; I remember being able to spend time playing before settling down to do it, and then still having time for TV after supper. As the pace picked up in later grade school, Diane and I could look forward to “assistance” from our homework helper- Muffin was a master of sitting on the papers or books we had spread out on the kitchen table. Sometimes we would whip up a batch of cookies to fuel ourselves.

Muffin "reading" on the sofa
Muffin “reading” , also shows sofa reupholstering in progress

The early 1970s was also when my mother went back to work; her teaching certificate was no longer current, so she started at a florist until she could get it reinstated. I think she liked the creative aspects of that job. So around this time, it often became easier to have supper on time if Diane or I pitched in to make it. We were quite competent at it, though we weren’t attempting anything complex. I remember Tator Tot Casserole being a very popular thing at the time, though I now see it as the American food industry’s messed up version of Shepherd’s Pie. I still make it sometimes, and the cast iron skillet option is my own idea to save dish washing. My mother never used them, she had some paranoid notion that they were unsanitary! In college, I learned that they actually do add iron to the food cooked in them. Since I’d had some trouble with anemia when I was younger, I decided cast iron skillets were good insurance against a recurrence.

 Tator Tot Casserole

Recipe source unknown,  everyone was making it in the ’70s

4 servings

1 pound Ground beef ; or ground turkey
1/2 cup Onion ; chopped
1 can (12 oz) Cream of Mushroom soup ; or cream of celery
1/2 cup Milk
Salt & pepper ; to taste
1 pound Green Beans ; frozen, thawed, or fresh in season
1 package Tator tots

This is one of those recipes that works great in the cast iron skillet, you can go from browning to combining to baking in the oven in one dish.

Preheat  oven to 350.

Brown ground meat with chopped onion. Drain if needed.

Stir in soup, milk, salt & pepper to taste. Stir in green beans,

Cover with tator tots and bake about 30 min until tots are heated through and crispy

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Chapter 13 - School Days by Nicole Marie Masika is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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