by Sharon Stevens

“If we want their attention to tell them stories,we need to shout something riveting in the first few words.” – Nandy Ekle

Post Cards From the Muse – Wordsmith Six Blog

When I read Nandy’s blog regarding “underwear” I was instantly jolted back in time to a memory that jogged my heart.

When our daughter, Andrea, was attending WTAMU she worked part time at In His Hands Preschool at the United Methodist Church in Canyon. Her group was studying the alphabet and each day was devoted to a different letter. One day the class read U and the accompanying image had to do with underwear. Of course the kids hooted and snickered. They didn’t know why, they just knew it was funny.

I have no idea what the symbol for V was the next day, but I remember quite clearly that the letter for W represented Washington…George to be exact. The kids didn’t really care as much for this visualization as they did the underwear until Andrea connected it locally. She asked them if they knew what color George Washington’s hair was. Of course they all thought it was white, representing his age as well as the powdered wigs they saw in the picture books. Andrea informed them that the actual color of his hair was closer to a strawberry red and she could prove it.

Our daughter had been volunteering as a Girl Scout at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum for several years. She knew that the archives housed a lock of George Washington’s hair along with a letter of authenticity and also the provenance.

Andrea arranged with the preschool and the museum for a field trip to check out not only this, but some of the other treasures housed there. I don’t know how many kids remember this almost twenty years later, but doubtless there are some who can connect the trip to the museum to Washington himself.

Andrea has led hundreds of tours in her teaching career since then. Just like any other teacher she loves to recall bits and pieces of those who have touched her life, brightened her heart, and strengthened her path. And with her years in Girl Scouts she has become creative in using any item as a teaching tool.

We again used the story of Washington’s lock of hair when Andrea asked us, her parents, to come speak to her class at Stipes Elementary in Irving Texas as part of her Flat Stanley project. (She is now at the Sally Elliot Elementary School). After years of volunteering at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum we knew the history of our area and loved to share our heritage. My husband and I were in our costumes from the 1890’s and encouraged to talk about pioneer life in the panhandle of Texas.

To our delight several other classes came to hear us speak, and it was wonderful to have input from Margie Stipes. We learned from her the true meaning of a “Baptist Pallet.” Stipes Elementary was named after Margie and John Stipes. They were both long standing members of the school board and influential in supporting teachers and schools.

But back to our visit…that year celebrated the 275th year of Washington’s birth, and I presented Mrs. Stipes and principal Marty French a George Washington dollar coin along with the story from the museum about his lock of hair and a picture of Flat Stanley showing it off.

This past Monday we celebrated Presidents Day commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. When this holiday rolls around every year I remember the time that our daughter who was going to college to become a teacher arranged a field trip of young children to visit our local museum to see a lock of history.

Andrea was able to take a letter of the alphabet and give it meaning and make it tangible. She made it just as real for the kids as the image of the U in underwear. Like every teacher from time immemorial she helped those students to take this symbol and make a word, and then connect it to an idea, and turn it into a story.

Isn’t this what we as writers try to do?

Several years ago I found a quote from George Washington on the back of a medal presented from the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge that I think says it all.

“Impress on the mind of every man from the first to the lowest…the importance of the cause and what it is they are contending for.”

Sharon Stevens