Saturday, October 18, 2008

Those Who Can't Teach -- Sgt. Mom -- -- "It's perfectly clear... why can't you see that?! Are you stupid or something?!!" I could have told him that. After all, my brother JP and I survived Dad trying to teach us to tell time. I don't know why Dad fixed on that particular skill. He decided it was a Useful Skill, and it was his duty to pass it to JP and I, about the time when both of us were in grade school. Our younger sister Pippy was spared these exercises, on account of her relative youth, frail health, and tendency to throw up, when stressed. He even got this awful cardboard mechanical teaching aid, a heavy pasteboard clock face with plastic hands that were geared so you could move the minute hand, and it would incrementally move the hour hand. It was an Object of Torture. Given a choice I would have burned the damned thing and danced around the bonfire sky clad. Dad would decide that a lesson was in order. He would produce the clock training aide, summon JP and I to attend, while Mom would retreat to the kitchen and grimly pour herself another glass of Chablis. "OK, what time is this?" (Clock hands set, little hand at eight, large hand at 20 minutes past) "Mmmm... Eight twenty..." I would make an educated guess, and JP and I would breath a sigh of relief, although we would know the inevitable outcome of this session. It was only delayed, not averted. Dad moved the hands to half past eight. Another intellectual hurdle."What time is it now?" "Eight... sixty." JP looked at the horrid little training aid, and made a stab at logical progression."No! What time is it?!!" We were doomed. Exasperation was building up to the full fury of the explosion. "Eight... eight...""Eight what? It's right in front of you, what are the hands pointing to?" "Eight... and six..." I would start bravely, voice quavering. "How many minutes does that mean?" I would look at the horrible cardboard clock face, and my mind would be a total blank. Terror at the inevitable explosion was the only thing in my mind. Dad's baffled fury at our almost total incomprehension of the concept was a constant to be relied upon. From my perspective, every rational thought was driven instantly from my mind: instant intellectual paralysis was achieved. It was inevitable: we would give the fourth or fifth wrong answer, and Dad would explode. "Eight... eight..." I would fish desperately for inspiration, for a miracle, for knowledge, for an angel to swoop down and whisper the answer into my ear."Eight what?" Dad's hand smacked down on the chair arm, " Can't you see it, it's right in front of you?!!"JP and I would dissolve into tears. End of exercise, end of the Inquisition until next time. The end result of the whole thing was that I didn't really learn to tell time until I finished grade school and went on to Mt. Gleason Junior High, with classes ending on a scheduled time, with a short "passing period" before the next class. Then it all fell together, and made logical sense. The mystery was unveiled, the clock face no longer an instrument of torture: I could tell time. I did swear the most solemn vow that Dad would not be the one to teach me to drive a car. Mom says he tried, but only once and I was in tears before we even got out of the driveway. I don't think that was me, it must have been Pippy--- wild horses would not have dragged me behind the wheel of a car with Dad being the instructor. I had a regular job by that time; I hired a professional instructor. She had nerves of steel, and a calm, gentle demeanor, and I only needed eight hours of lessons.

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