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.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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