I don’t have many other things from this time in my life. For some reason, this book has always followed me around. It documents some of my early explorations in reading and writing. Although I was never the greatest or most disciplined student, all the exercises in this book have been completed and by and large I did quite well.
My name on the cover strikes me as being very unusual. Back in those days, I was known as Gene, not Eugene. My first wife (I know that sounds bad; it reminds me of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”) Marguerite is solely responsible for the Gene to Eugene transformation but that didn’t happen until I was in university.
As for . . . Hmmm. Another mystery. The only person ever to call me that – and I’m sincerely hoping it stays this way – is my sister, Sharon. She still does, in birthday cards and Christmas cards and occasionally on the phone. But no one else has ever called me Iggy.
I can only conclude that my name was written on the cover long after the time that I was actually working in this book, which according to extensive research (Wikipedia) would have been in Grade 3, which I believe was in 1963.
This Think-and-Do Book, it tells us on the cover, was meant to accompany The New More Streets and Roads, which was a reader we had back then, putting us firmly into Dick and Jane land. I would reckon that most people in Canada around my age learned to read and write thanks to Dick and Jane.
And of course Spot, who, my research tells me, began his literary existence back in the 1930’s as a cat, but morphed into a dog sometime in the ‘50’s. The things you learn!
Those of you who are up on your pedagogical theory will know that by the late 60’s, Dick and Jane and their tight, white little world came under very serious scrutiny by educators who were worried that such books served the white middle class patriarchy, and what we were really being taught was how to be good tight white little citizens who could presumably read and write well enough to keep the whole thing going for another generation.
I’m not sure that I totally agree with that. I can’t remember the content of those readers back then beyond the famous “See Dick run” and all that nonsense. But I have to admit that the books would not exactly have captured the imagination of anyone from a different culture, with other than white skin, or any of the little girls with aspirations beyond growing up to be decorative.
Looking at this book today, I am reminded of what a different time it was and just how different things were back then. In grade 3, we would come a little early to play on the playground which was segregated with the boys on the boy’s side, the girls on the girl’s side. And ne’er the twain shall meet. Until we got inside, go figure.
Once inside the classroom, our day began by saying the Lord’s Prayer followed by the singing of God Save the Queen. Thus purified in the eyes of God and the Queen we were ready to get down and tackle the 3 R’s and all the rest of it. But God (or the Queen) help you if you were caught whispering to a friend or if you needed to pee. Things really were strict back then. The principal was armed with a strap and he wasn’t afraid to use it.
The school I am referring to here specifically is Albert School in the old north end of Regina, Saskatchewan. The beautiful old brick building that I went to was torn down a number of years ago and they put up an ugly modern thing in its place.
Beyond that, the neighbourhood underwent a profound change in character when our First Nations people moved in, and just as quickly the white working class people moved out.
It has since been described by Maclean’s Magazine as the worst neighbourhood in Canada, which is no small accomplishment. Very little is said about this. Regina and other prairie cities continue to have huge racial issues that never seem to be resolved.
When I returned to Regina in the late 80’s after living and going to school in Toronto, I taught for a while at what was then the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, now the First Nations University of Canada. Some of my friends from the old north end didn’t understand. They felt, some of them, that I had betrayed them. The lines here are drawn very deep. It’s obviously a very complex situation.
But when I look back at the old neighbourhood now, it all seems rather dreamy and bucolic.
In many ways, it was a good place to come from, but I don’t know that I’d want to go back now.
Looking back to 1963, I amazed at all the great music that came out that year. Here’s a sampling . . .
Thanks for reading!