2013.02.27 Lucille's school of pain

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

In last week's column I pulled the name Larry Fredendall out of my head and I'm still surprised. That was 40 years ago. I've never seen the guy since.

A lot of recollections remain from the two and a third months I spent in Saginaw after college. I started thinking about that time recently after I received an e-mail from Jessica at Little People's Place preschool in Morenci. She needed to advertise for a part-time teacher. I have the experience, I told her, but not the time.

My Saginaw years involved working for the Saginaw County Child Development Center—a collection of preschool rooms spread across the poorer areas of the city. For the most part, I was the white face among most of the teachers, aides and kids.

I remember how I dressed for the job interview: blue jeans with holes in the knees. I suppose this was my reasoning: I'm not hiding anything; here's what you're going to get. And if you don't like it, I'll find something else. 

I wasn't all that sold on the job and there were other possibilities. My rough appearance didn't bother Nels, the director, apparently. He was pleased to have me join forces. Maybe he saw through the patched jeans and determined the person underneath was OK. Whatever the case, I soon moved to Saginaw, setting up temporary quarters at the YMCA. 

I remember the day I moved into a rooming house. Winter had already begun and I had nothing but my bicycle for transportation. It took about five, 20-block bicycle trips through the snow to get settled into my new home with Carl, the bus driver, and Smokey Joe, the taxi driver. Carl was a Toledo native and a good guy. Smokey was something else. He would come home very drunk and start loudly talking to the walls of his room as though they were all good friends. "Hello, walls. How ya doin', walls?"

I bicycled to work except when the snow was too deep, and then I had the fun of walking through the neighborhoods with loose German shepherds. I'm glad this was long before pit bulls were the dog of choice.

Saginaw was a rough place in the 1970s. It managed to surpass Detroit as Michigan's murder capital and I was really hoping to avoid becoming a statistic. I thought about that often as I walked through the neighborhood and stood out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Occasionally a shepherd would rush me and nibble on my mitten a little, threatening to give me more than just a sore thumb. This was a little too much for me, so I bought Connie Ries's old Volkswagen Beetle and drove to work—except when it was too cold and the battery would die and then I bicycled through the below-zero morning.

There were a lot of adventures in Saginaw and that included the classroom. I read this morning that the organization I worked for ended its existence in 1998. I'm sure that was long after Nels retired. The system of schools is described as "a pioneer in early childhood education. As an innovator of several groundbreaking projects for preschoolers and their parents, the agency successfully operated numerous programs."

I started off working in a large class in a church basement with at least three other adults. Elaine was a real sweetheart, a grandmotherly type who loved the kids. Big Fat Lucille was a demon who helped send many preschoolers on the road to messed up lives. 

Lucille was adept at giving a fake, cheesy smile that soon turned into a burning show of force. She was all about control and she disciplined these three- and four-year-olds by bending back a finger until they submitted. 

Somewhere in the house there's a stack of five or six journals titled "Saginawed" and there are many words about Lucille. I've never read those journals a second time and maybe I never will, but I would enjoy reading the account of the big preschool party for which I actually bought some new clothes. Nobody could believe it was me when I walked down those stairs. Little Demetrius kept saying over and over, "You be sharp, Mr. David! You be sharp!"

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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