Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Back in the USA

Being up here in Mapleton, Maine, has brought back another memory of a trip out here.  This time I was teaching first grade in Wisconsin.  I shared a huge room in the Library-Media Center, with a reading specialist and another first grade class.  It was back in the 70s, so the thing to do back then was to teach without walls interfering with your ability to span the curriculum across acres of kids so no one could pay attention.

Although there were no walls, teachers spent hours making sure they had the right furniture to create walls and pathways for other classes to weave through their room on the way back from Specialists.
My student teaching was done in a school in Hampden, Maine, that had 4 third grades in one huge room with room dividers that could be slid back to open 2, 3 or 4 rooms up to share a lesson.  It was a strange time, the 70’s.

The teacher I shared my space with in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, was young, as was I.  I had been married for 5 years, and she had been married for almost a year.  We had a great time teaching together, laughing, talking, supporting each other in our failures and applauding each other’s successes.  We worked very well together, and it really didn’t matter that we could hear every word the other spoke as we taught our two classes side by side.  It actually helped in some ways.  We’d be reminded of things we wanted to remember to do or say.  We could watch the other class if we needed a bathroom break.  We could reassure with a look to the other, if we wondered if we were being either too harsh or too easy on a student.  I remember nodding approval to her as she spoke to a student about some inappropriate behavior.  We just had a good way of communicating and helping each other even without words many times.

At the end of the school year, I wanted to go home and visit my parents and in-laws in Maine.  My husband’s job couldn’t give him any time off, so I talked my teacher friend into driving the 1600 miles to Maine.  I decided that going through Canada, as my husband and I had done before, would be the easiest way to go.  That way we would come in at the north to see my in-laws first. We’d come into Maine that way and then travel downstate to my parents’ home.   Then we’d return to Wisconsin through the states.

We set out for our journey, packing backpacks with clothes and the usual necessities.  Then we packed a basket with some snacks, and plastic bags of instant coffee, sugar and creamer.  That way we could stay awake for the 24 hours it would take to make the journey. 

This was before you needed a passport, or birth certificate to get across the border.  You had to stop at a check point on the border and declare why you were traveling and show your driver’s license.  Then you crossed the border, and tah-dah, you were in.

We traveled through Michigan and then took a route through Canada up to Northern Maine.  We would have taken the route through Sault Ste Marie, but my husband and I had done that one before, and there really was a long stretch there where there was nothing.  No restaurants, no motels, no gas stations.  Well, there were some of those places, theoretically.  Or at least that’s what their hand painted signs said they were.

So we didn’t go that way.  Two women traveling alone, before cellphones, it wasn’t a great thing to do.  So we traveled to Detroit and crossed over to Canada there.

We drove and drove and drove.  We came to the Canadian/US border to get back into the United States well after midnight.  We were very tired, and getting slap-happy, as it was exciting to find ourselves within a couple of hours of being at our journey’s end.

Their was only one guard at the US Border that we could see.  He looked at us and assessed the situation.  He asked where we were going, and then were we going to meet any one here.  That seemed a funny question to ask us, so we laughed and told him where we were going to see my in-laws in Mapleton, and no we weren’t meeting anyone here at the border.  He asked us to get out of the car, and we obliged.  No sooner had we gotten out of the car, than a young man appeared out of the darkness and walked up to us.   He asked if we would give him a ride.  We said "No".  He walked back into the night, and we never saw him again.  When he was gone, we began giggling again at the coincidence of being asked if we were meeting someone, and then someone appearing as if we were waiting for him.

At that point, the Border patrol officer began pulling our car apart.  Every item we owned was removed from the car.  Backpacks were emptied.  Because, as I said, we were tired and getting giddy, we sat down on the curb in view of the Border Patrol, and started to giggle even harder, as we remembered the basket of snacks,  and bags of coffee, sugar and creamer on the floor of the back seat.  What would he think of those plastic baggies of white powder neatly tucked under the coffee?  We laughed even more, until we realized we could be here for quite a long time while they tested both us and the sugar and creamer.  After all, it was in the days of drugs crossing the northern borders of Maine...oh, dear!  What were we thinking?  But we still couldn’t help but laugh at the circumstances, and what they would say when they found out the white powders were for coffee highs.

Suddenly, in the middle of his pawing through our purses, he stopped.
He came up to us, and asked, “Are you both teachers?”
We looked surprised, I’m sure, as in unison we chortled, “Yes!”
“How did you know?”  I asked him.
“Lots of pens.  Lots of pens and pencils in your purses.  More than other people.”

He had concluded his search and found us to be harmless, young teachers.  Although he didn’t help us repack, we got to return to the USA, and got to keep our sugar and creamer, and our pens and pencils.


  1. I'll read your post later, but just got your message about the poetry. Hurrah-& best wishes to you. You are so good, I know it'll go well. This is fun!!

  2. Ha! Hilarious! What a great teacher story. Yes, we are a very specific species, aren't we. You're a great story-teller; you have the quality of bringing the reader in via action, description, and dialogue that I'm trying to get my kids to master! Nice job! :)

  3. This was a great story. I was in elementary school in the 70's and your post brought back a vivid memory of the 3rd grade teacher next door to my classroom opening the heavy divider between our classrooms and mouthing "bathroom break" to my teacher. My desk was right next to the curtain and it scared me to death. I also used to sit there and wonder if my teacher would notice if I quietly opened the divider and slipped through the other side. :) The part of your story where the man came out of the darkness at the border gave me the creeps. I am glad he just slipped back into the darkness.

  4. What a wild and wacky ride! I would have been having a heart attack at the border and you laughed all the way through it. I just love that! Thank you for sharing this. :)

  5. I loved this story. Especially the part about the pens. It's funny the little things people notice that identifies us. I did my student teaching in a building with that type configuration. You are a great storyteller.

  6. What an experience to remember. The fact that you were identified as teachers by the number of pens in your purse is funny. You are very skillful in keeping your reader engaged form the start to the end.

  7. “Lots of pens. Lots of pens and pencils in your purses. More than other people.”
    That's it - the give away! Glad he found those pencils and pens and let you go.

  8. Lots of pens! Ha! This is hysterical! I remember the 70's too. I don't think post-its had been invented, but that would have been a great giveaway too. What a great story. It is nice to read poems about places I know. Well done Donna and thanks for your wonderful comments on my posts.

  9. I so remember that time period. As kids we had to be good when we got to Canadian border. My mom was born in Toronto. But once my brothers were silly and the inspector kept us for hours as they went through our car. My mom and dad were so pissed.
    Interesting time to be growing up, right?

  10. What a fun journey it was to read this slice! I love being taken away from the here and now every time I read your words! I love the line about the pens--it's so true!

  11. Hello.
    I don't mean to be a poo brain. I really want to read your story. But I struggle with your typeface :( It is hard for me to read.

    1. Here you go, poo brain...HA! I like that. Just kidding. I'm switching my font just for everyone. What sense is there to writing something and having it unreadable? Thanks for your help. There are probably other poo...I mean... other people out there who can't read it either, so they are going to want to thank you, like I do!

  12. The rationale behind his realizing you were teachers made me smile.

  13. It was a crazy time, but easy to go across borders! I'm glad you made it, not sure what he wanted except to keep awake himself. Your story is very alive, Donna, & kept me wondering what would happen next line by line. Thanks for the happy and funny ending. I guess I do have a lot of pens & pencils in my handbag.


Drop some breadcrumbs! Let me know you were here!