One of the first lessons that my mother learned as a beginning teacher in Boonville in 1956 was to become friendly with as many of the staff at the elementary school as possible in the shortest amount of time possible—particularly the secretary. Perhaps she felt a certain affinity with the person who held that position because that was the job that she herself had held for six years in her home town of Carthage, TN, prior to completing the last two years of her coursework for her Bachelor’s degree (at the conclusion of which she met my father, at her graduation ceremony in Wilmore, KY). Regardless of the reason, it was a lesson that served her well over the entirety of her 25-year career, and served me equally as well during my 15 years of teaching.
Although I don’t recall the name of the secretary at the elementary school, or the principal, or any of the teachers other than my own, there were two female employees whom my mother befriended who played a substantial role in my life during that first year that we lived there. One was Mrs. Beth Tuttle, my 1st grade teacher (not Mrs. Elsie Hickey, whom I mistakenly identified earlier, but who was actually my 2nd grade teacher), and the other was Mrs. Doris Hess, the cafeteria manager. The reason the former was significant is self-explanatory, given that while in school, students spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents. The reason the latter was is a little more obscure, but addresses a lifelong issue with which I still struggle today.
I guess my mother felt that fulfilling the responsibilities of her new job in addition to caring for my brother and me and still cooking dinner every night was enough of a challenge in and of itself without having to prepare three lunches every weekday. For this reason, for a good part of that first year, anyway, she bought me a hot cafeteria lunch. All well and good, except for the fact that I was then, and to some degree still am, an extremely finicky eater. Because of this, a great deal of the hot cafeteria lunch which Mrs. Doris Hess had so lovingly prepared with her own hands ended up in the garbage can every day. Because Mrs. Hess reported back to my mother exactly what had been eaten and what had been tossed, we eventually ended up in one of our first of many confrontations over the rest of her life. Although it established a very dangerous pre-cedent, this is one that I won—my mother agreed to allow me to go shopping with her to choose the items I wanted for sack lunches if I made them myself and assured her that I would consume all of the contents. I never ate another cafeteria lunch until high school.
I don’t recall exactly at what point during those three years we acquired our first (black-and-white) T.V. set, but I do remember with fondness all of the excellent child-ren’s programming that was available to us. Although I loved Howdy Doody, with Buffalo Bob and Clarabelle the clown, Captain Kangaroo, with Mr. Green Jeans, Grand-father Clock, and Bunny Rabbit, who always managed to trick the Captain out of his bunch of carrots, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, and the Mickey Mouse Club, which catapulted Mouseketeer Annette Funicello to movie fame and stardom, by far my favorite of all was the Soupy Sales show, with his buddies Black Tooth and White Fang. Since the show ran in the middle of the day, I was only able to watch it on holidays and during vacations, but my favorite aspect of the program was that he would announce at the beginning what he was going to eat for lunch (at the end), so the kids in the audience could prepare the exact same lunch and eat with him. That was a real treat for me.
In my first recollection, I mentioned several taste memories relating to the outside area surrounding the parsonage—the sweet berries, tart apples, and tangy mint. I main-tain that it is a child’s ability to interact with his or her natural outside environment using the five senses—particularly taste—that allows for deep learning of the intricacies of the physical world, which inevitably causes a profound effect on the psyche that lasts well into adulthood. As I wrote about these early childhood experiences, sensory memories came flooding back into my consciousness, and I recognized how deeply they have affected my life from that point up to the present. The most flagrant proof of this, in the predominance of taste memories that I expressed, is the fact that my lifelong battle with obesity began immediately after leaving the psychological and emotional safety that was afforded me by that physical environment.
Prior to leaving Boonville, for the three years that I was there and the six years preceding my family’s arrival—the first nine years of my life—no such preoccupation with food existed, and my weight, being normal, was not an issue. Many psychologists have drawn a strong parallel between food and emotional security/stability. Such was also the case with the Doss family, our predecessors at the parsonage, as related by Helen in her book The Family Nobody Wanted (1954, New York: Scholastic Book Services). After the adoption of their last three children, upon her husband Carl’s insistence, she left the parsonage for the summer to enroll in courses at a nearby community college, where she remained in residence for the entire summer. Through written correspondence, Carl assured her that the children were receiving adequate care, including healthy, well-balanced meals consisting in part of vegetables from their garden. So, in this way, the children, just like my brother and me, were sustained both physically and emotionally. ¥¥