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A life lesson learned at age 5

It was September 1927. That was a long time ago, but I remember the events of that month very well. I was 5 years old, and it was time for me to start kindergarten in the St. Louis public schools.

My playmates _ Fred, Russell and Junior _ had gone to kindergarten the year before and enjoyed it, but I didn't think I would. I was the only child in the family, and I was coddled by my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I went with my mother to the Washington Irving School the day after Labor Day.

After a short conference with the two women who taught kindergarten, Jessie Harper and Jessie Taylor, I was assigned to Miss Taylor's unit.

At 2:30 p.m. it was recess. This also was when I was knocked down in the brick schoolyard by a seventh-grader named Earl. The shove broke my right arm. I do not remember too much about Earl except that he must not have been too bright because he was wearing a black-and-white mackinaw _ a heavy coat _ in the summer.

After setting my arm and putting a cast on it, our doctor recommended that my mother keep me home the rest of the week while I got over the shock of being knocked down and got used to the cast.

The next Monday I returned to school and went for three days. On Wednesday night, however, I was awakened by my maternal grandmother and uncle who had come to take me home with them because my mother had gone to the hospital to have a baby. They lived in another part of the city, and it was too far to take me to school; as a result, I missed another seven days.

I eventually returned to school, but a few days later a devastating tornado swept through north St. Louis. Two girls were killed in a nearby school. Other people in the area were injured, and there was considerable property damage.

My school had broken windows and was closed for a few days. By this time, I decided I had had enough of schooling. It was still September, and already I had suffered a broken arm, gotten a baby sister I didn't especially want and gone through a bad storm.

When my mother took me to school, I would take short cuts home and be sitting on the back steps when she returned. This continued for several days in spite of spankings, lectures and threats.

One day, my father, a disabled World War I veteran, was home. With his razor strop in hand, he walked me to school, telling me that if I even looked back toward home, he was going to use the strop on my rear end. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, so I stayed in school that day _ and stayed and stayed.

As a student I:

Attended two Navy schools while in the service _ one in Indiana, the other in Ohio.

Received my bachelor's degree in education from Harris Teachers College in St. Louis.

Received my master's degree from Washington University, St. Louis.

Did post-graduate work at Washington University.

Received my certification in guidance and counseling from Washington University.

Took creative writing classes at St. Petersburg Junior College.

Took Bible courses from Moody Bible Institute.

Took a course at Heritage Village to become docent at the county park.

With all this schooling, I ended up being an educator in St. Louis and Pinellas County for 40 years. I worked in elementary and senior high schools, helped start a community college in St. Louis/St. Louis County and held various positions in adult education. I have also served my church for 17 years as lay pastor and still am a docent at Heritage Village.

Dad is no longer around to take me to the schoolhouse door, but he helped me find it on my own.

Mel Erlinger, 82, is a retired educator, writer and minister.

Let's hear it for:

Lilian Olsen Classen for a delightful story about commitment and parents' love; and Ruth H. Allen for a story about adventure and the power of dreams in "Are we having fun yet?"