Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Take It From Me ...

There is something that has bothered me for a long time but I have never told anyone about it until now.

First I should share how that my mother tried her best to train me in the right ways to live life. I still remember some of the rules she taught me back in the late 1930s while we were living in Beauxart Gardens, a small settlement across the highway from Nederland.

Some of those early rules were: Always say, “Thank you or you are welcome.” Always say, “Yes, ma’am or no, ma’am” and “yes, sir or no, sir.” “Always open the door for ladies.” “Never run through the crowd at church when old folks are standing around visiting.” “Don’t play in the street.” “Don’t go into the chicken yard by yourself and especially don’t play with the king snake that lives in our chicken house. He keeps the bad snakes away.” “Always tell the truth” and “never take anything that does not belong to you.”

There was an additional rule my mother taught me that seemed to hold special importance. She said, “Don’t ever borrow anything from anyone but if you do, be sure that you return it immediately to the rightful owner.”

A few years later, my family moved to Beaumont and we lived on Pipkin Street in South Park. I started school at J. L. Giles Elementary in 1941 when I was five years old. Then I skipped the second grade because our school district implemented the twelfth grade system. This resulted in my beginning third grade at the ripe old age of six years.

Mrs. Saxon was my third-grade teacher. She was a wonderful lady and I fell in love with her the first day of school. But almost immediately a problem developed. Mrs. Saxon began teaching us arithmetic. We started by learning how to subtract one number from another number.

I felt really competent about adding one number to another. Mrs. Ruth Hill had done a fantastic job of teaching us addition in the first grade but I began to wonder, “What’s the point in learning how to add then turn right around and learning how to subtract?”

But the real problem came up when Mrs. Saxon told us that, “Sometimes you have to borrow one number from the next in order for subtraction to work out.” She would explain subtraction problems such as the following:

“OK class, let’s subtract 4 from 20. You will notice that we cannot subtract 4 from 0 so we will borrow 1 from the 2. That will make the 2 into a 1 and also will cause the 0 to become 10. Now we can subtract 4 from 10 and that leaves us with 6. But then we still have the 1 left over that started out being a 2 before we borrowed 1 from it to make the 0 into 10. So let’s bring down that remaining 1 and place it beside the 6. Now you can easily see that 20 minus 4 is 16. Are there any questions?”

The class sat in stunned silence. Then I spoke up. “Mrs. Saxon, we borrowed a 1 from that 2 and we never returned it. My mother told me always to return anything I ever borrowed.” Mrs. Saxon explained that in this case, borrowing and not returning was OK because we were just solving an arithmetic problem.

I went home and told my mother that Mrs. Saxon was teaching us to borrow numbers and not give them back. My mother said that Mrs. Saxon was right and that it was fine to borrow and not return when you are subtracting.

You know, that still bothers me just a little bit.

Winston Hamby


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