Grade school in East Lansdowne began in my third grade (maybe second). The old school had burned down, and for the first two years, we went to Yeadon’s Fernwood School, just on the other side of Baltimore Pike.
By the beginning of third grade, the sparkling-new school was ready. It featured the highest in new technology—a public address system piped into each room. It was used to begin our opening exercises, a sing-along with Kate Smith of The Star Spangled Banner.
The new system took a little getting used to. At first, Kate would just blare out without warning, scaring some of us to tears, but they soon got the routine working smoothly. The classroom clocks were synchronized from a central location, and at the exact moment (8:05, as I remember) there would be a tap-tap on the speaker mounted high up on the front wall. We learned to expect it and quickly stood up beside our desks. There would be the oscillating hiss of the record starting. We would take a deep breath, and, right on cue, right along with Kate, we would all belt out in our best soprano voices, “Oh-ooh, say can you s e e e e . . .”
At the end of the song, we would turn to the 2 x 3 ft flag hanging out from the front corner, put our right hand on our heart (peeking around to see where the girls were putting their hands) and followed the lead of our teacher, “I pledge allegiance to the flag. . . .” (“Under God” was not part of it in those days.)
Somewhere in this mix we recited the Lord’s Prayer. We were definitely in the “trespass” rather than the “debits” camp. It did not matter; we did not know what either meant.
Now comes the strange part. We would sit down, Bibles were passed back, and the teacher would direct someone to read a passage. There was no rhyme or reason to any of it. The person selected was at random. Not by turn, not boy-girl-boy-girl, not by ability. On any day, the hovering finger could point to any of us with the curt request, “Read, please.” An audible sigh of relief arose from the lucky unselected, as the great weight fell from their tiny, hunched shoulders.
We could read whatever we pleased. There was no continuity from day-to-day. Each reading was totally disconnected from anything read before or after. And there was no comment, except for the length. We would look up expectantly after a few verses. “That will be enough, Eddie,” or “Continue, Katharine,” was all that was ever said.
A few of the girls had obviously prepared. They would quickly open to a specific chapter and verse that they thought had some sort of lesson for us all and prissily read straight through with confidence without stumbling over any of the words. The others, mostly the boys, reacted with stunned shock, flopping open the Bible at random and beginning anywhere, even in the middle of a sentence, having no idea what they were reading.
The danger was obvious. The boys would visibly sweat as they tried to slog through something like, “And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were a hundred and thirty and three years. And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty and seven years.” On and on it went, stumbling over each name until the teacher mercifully ended his agony by saying softly, “That will be enough for today.”
Bill Scott once got mired in, “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.” We all suffered with him. We buried our heads in our Bibles and could not even look at him.
That would never happen to me. Psalm 8 was my go-to passage. Whenever I was picked, I would read Psalm 8. For all of the years of grade school, I read only Psalm 8. It was just the right length. I could pronounce all of the words. It said nothing embarrassing. And it was right in the middle of the Bible where I could easily find it. Perfect!
Psalm 8 is still my favorite, for all of those same reasons. “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! . . .”
That will be enough for today, Roger.