You really need to have a touch of silver in your hair to understand this small essay. To say things are different now than in the 50s…60s is a gross understatement. And nowhere that I can think of is this more apparent than in the time-honored tradition of Show & Tell.
I understand that in some school systems now, pointing your index finger and raising your thumb and saying “bang,” like in cowboys and Indians, is considered grounds for expulsion. If that had been the case…way back when, I guarantee you no one over 50 would have made it past third grade.
I remember my first memorable candidate for Show & Tell was when I brought a brown bag with…not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but a pregnant garter snake. That week the second grade class learned that garter snakes are born live and can move with amazing speed. Mrs. Quinn wisely suggested we keep the family in the classroom so we could all learn.
Other topics for Show and Tell were more…problematic. My dad was a freelance writer and traveled to unpronounceable places for stories, only to return with really cool stuff! One spring morning, I brought in a 50-caliber machine gun cartridge from WWII. They’re bigger than you’d think, about the size a large wiener and look very serious. I also remember the look in Mrs. Quinn’s eyes. Her eyes could go from thoughtful to glazed in a second and a half. I showed her the tiny hole drilled out at the base of the shell to prove it wouldn’t blow up the classroom, and that morning I gave a two-minute dissertation on how our 50-caliber shells took down Messerschmits and Jap Zeros in the war and were a good thing.
Later, I brought in a WWII hand grenade, which Mrs. Quinn chose to confiscate, till the end of the day, at which point I brought it back home in a paper bag. BTW, the grenade also had a tiny hole in it which somehow proved it wouldn’t blow up a bus. Just this moment, I’m wondering what a second-grade Stephen King used to take to school.
Note: Through all of this, there was a line in the sand. The boys brought in gross and scary stuff. The girls brought in flowers they’d picked, a pot holder they’d made at camp, a butterfly they’d found or a pretty picture. I guess they were more mature than we were. But the boys always got antsy when the girls were showing a daffodil or a pansy.
And… it wasn’t all horrific. I made a radio from scratch: a hunk of plywood, a cardboard toilet paper roll, a large safety pin, some graphite from a #2 pencil, some really skinny wire around the toilet paper roll and…voila!! a radio! Who’d a thunk?????. Oh, you also needed a set of good earphones to hear anything, and you connected it to the school radiator for a ground. No batteries though, and I remember some of the boys taking notes…what kinda wire and how much, etc. etc.
Profitable Show & Tell: Brought in a cat in a liquor carton. I remember it was orange and deeply resented being in a box. No one wanted me to open it…particularly Mrs. Quinn, and I didn’t. But later that day, I sold it to a girl for a buck and it went home on her bus.
Just a Weird Show and Tell: Somewhere along the line, Dad brought home an actual blow gun from South America. It was long and hard to hold. There was a little satchel of what felt like cotton, which you wrapped around long bamboo splinters to make an arrow. And….there was a vial of curare, which Dad explained contained enough poison to take out everyone on Drakestown Road. I brought in the blowgun and the arrows…left the curare home. Strangely, no one in the class wanted me to demonstrate it.
On other occasions, I did more telling and less showing: The best and easiest and most effective way to make a stink bomb is easy: Get a teaspoon of candle wax, and a teaspoon of sulfur. Heat it gently with a match or a candle and wait a minute or two. The smell is about as bad as five cows farting at the same time. I remember lots of questions on that one.
Or upper level nuances of improving fireworks…which I’ve learned over the years, are known by every boy and man on the planet. Time fuse for an M-80? “Borrow” one of Dad’s Marlboros or Mom’s Virginia Slims. Light it up. Take a puff to make sure it’s lit and then stick the green fuse of the M-80 in about half-way down. Five minutes later…boom. I have as yet, never met a grown man in any state or country who didn’t know how to do this.
Where am I going with this? Possibly more than anything in my life, those Show & Tell sessions hard-wired some portion of my brain. I’ve written over 20 novels and created all kinds of weird, abstract impressionistic, whimsical sculptures over the years, and actually been able to buy food! pay a mortgage! buy cars and stuff and have fun along the way.
As I’ve alluded, we’re just now finishing up Moon Dancer, our 60-ft black schooner overlooking our sculpture field. Took the first tentative nighttime picture of it the other night. Shooting in the dark is a bugger, but you get the idea. Still showing and telling after all these years.
Thanks Mrs. Quinn and all the other teachers I had who didn’t call the cops or send me to the principal’s office.
P.S. After I write these things, Pamela comes over and edits them into readability, usually over a cup of coffee. Today, she casually…accidentally, shared her first Show & Tell. She was nine years old and her mom had bought her, her first bra. She’s not sure why…she was a skinny little ballerina in training. But that didn’t stop her from wearing it in to Show and Tell and describing it in great detail. Still wondering how Pam and I have lasted this long?