I'd never make it as a grade-school teacher. I couldn't keep my hands off the kids.
Maybe forty of them had questions yesterday, one after another, some of them goofy ("No, that's not a buffalo, buffaloes aren't that big, are they?") and most of them not ("where did Indians get their guns?").
"Now just look here at these things," I'd say in one corner of the exhibit, and hands would go up immediately, hands I grabbed even though all the kids were doing was asking questions. Earnest questions, too. My goodness, earnest in spades. Forty deadly serious third-graders. In a flash, hands up all over.
They came in flights, maybe ten in a team, visiting each of the sections of the museum, and they simply could not grab information fast enough. They'd probably drive me plain nuts down the road somewhere, but for twenty minutes a flight yesterday afternoon, to them every word I uttered was memorable. Seriously. There were no headaches, no distracted kids, no wanderers. Not one kid was naughty. I didn't see a hand-held screen all afternoon. I'm not making this up. Yesterday, a plain old county museum was, for a few shining moments, a taste of heaven. Not one bored kid all afternoon. It happened, I swear it.
I couldn't help wondering if I'd missed my calling altogether; but then, I know I wouldn't have lasted in a third-grade classroom because I couldn't keep my hands off those towheads. For a few precious moments they were all my grandkids.
Is memorization coming back to grade school classrooms? Three times their teachers chimed in with set responses, a series of theses about Native American life that the whole bunch of them repeated in earnest chorus together. One of the buffalo skins is a story of a battle between the Crow and Sioux, a battle that took life. There's blood and weapons and Indian men fighting on foot and horseback. Someone, way back when illustrated the story on a buffalo hide.
"It's a history book," I told them when they wondered what on earth covered the whole wall in front of them. "These pictures on this buffalo hide tell the story. It's just like a book."
I'd no sooner said it than the teacher started chanting a mantra, an explanation of what amounted to oral history, a couple of sentences all those kids knew and repeated with her. "Native Americans passed their stories on by telling. . ." I don't know how it went, but they all did--they had it memorized.
A wigwam right there in the middle is made of canvas, not buffalo hides. It's just now approaching a century old because the museum claims it was used in 1926 at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Little Big Horn or Greasy Grass. Along that teepee's seams and around its entrance hang commemorative horsehair wisps, beaded decorations, thin little pony tails, you might say.
Some kids wanted to know what those little accessories were, so I told them.
But 150 years ago, those little wispy things would likely have been something other than horsehair. I looked up at the teacher. "Do they know about scalps?" I asked.
She shook her head, made it perfectly clear that they didn't and that she'd greatly prefer I didn't go there. I didn't.
You want to touch those kids, want to hold 'em, want to love 'em, and you probably don't want them to grow up. When you're in the middle of a crowd of happy third-graders, you want them to hold on tight to their innocence, don't you?
They're a blessing, and this morning I'm thankful for them all.
You couldn't keep your hands off either, I'm sure. There's still so much of life ahead.