Sunday, June 26, 2011

Time Capsules on My Doorstep (Week 3 of Fireflies at Dusk: A 52-Week Project)

The stories in these books were at least a temporary distraction from the Cold War, Chernobyl, and everything else going on.

Over the past couple of decades I've had this surfacing thought of a set of readers we used at an elementary school in a small town I lived in for a few years.  I wasn't sure why, but I knew that I needed to find these books again.  A couple of the things I had remembered of these books were that one had a huge green star on it, and that another one was called Signposts.  These two random bits weren't enough info to find them with a search engine, but every few years I'd try to anyway.   

Something just kept calling me to go back and find these books.  The idea of this would not leave me alone.   

Finally, one busy afternoon recently when the thought of these old books was hovering around,  I stopped what I was doing and made up my mind that I couldn't wait any longer to find them.  I set down everything in my hands, closed my eyes, focused intently on the image I remembered of the books on the shelf of my third grade classroom,  and I could see the words "Houghton Mifflin" on the spine.  At that point I realized I knew the publisher, and with that last bit of recovered info I finally found the collection of these out-of-print readers from all those years ago.  I ordered two from the set on Amazon.

I had loved the stories in these books.  I flipped through them when they were delivered to my porch, and I found it to be a pretty emotional thing to go through these little time capsules of my life. This week I decided to figure out why these old books are so important - something that keeps springing out of your subconscious for so many years has to be important.

I discovered it was because they represented that I could maybe get somewhere in life.
I loved the feeling that every time my reading group finished a book from the set and put it back on the shelf, we could move up a level to a new reader.  It was so satisfying knowing that I was getting somewhere.  By contrast, I remember getting moved down in math since I couldn't do well at it.  That sick, sinking feeling when they told me I had to go to a lower level math class was the same sick feeling when I was in my twenties whenever it was the last day of a temp job and I wasn't sure when the next job or paycheck was coming.

So much of the Gen X existence has been a feeling of spinning your wheels, worrying that you aren't getting anywhere, so the things that have made us feel that maybe we could get somewhere in life became very important to us.

I opened these books to find 1978/1979 as the school years these were used - one from a school in California, one from some school in Montana.  So to all you Gen Xers out there who remember going to elementary school during the Energy Crisis, this blog is for you.  When I hold these books, I am holding the collective experience of every Gen X kid who read them, even if now they don't even remember...


(Image: Copyright 1974 by Houghton Mifflin Co.)  
(c)  2011 words and photograph by Chloe - all rights reserved


Carrie Thienes said...

What a beautiful post, and so true. I loved those readers too, there was something so comforting in them. I remember a story called "The Carp in the Bathtub". Isn't that random?


ChloeGXP said...

Now that I have found out that a friend on the East Coast read these and a friend on the West Coast also read these, it may be that kids were reading these all over the country. As it turns out, these are an amazing little piece of Gen X history - even more than I had initially realized!

HeyRay said...

The picture from the Signposts looks vaguely familiar to me, though the name doesn't. My friends from elementary school and I have also reminisced about SRA reading cards. It was a single page of cardstock that had a story or informative article, and on the back were questions about the article that tested your reading comprehension. Each level was a different color, so we were always looking ahead...can't wait till I'm yellow! Then blue! Same as you described, we could see we were getting somewhere.
GenX and spinning wheels...we are the hamster generation!

ChloeGXP said...

Whoa...I haven't thought about SRA cards in ages! The teacher who taught from the readers above I think also taught my class from SRA cards. I think we used them for reading comprehension, although apparently they were used for other subjects, too. I looked it up in Wikipedia: "...SRA was purchased by IBM in a time when math education was seen as critical to the Cold War and Space Race..." So just like the readers, these little cards are another amazing little piece of Gen X history!