I had barely started the mile run from our little one-room farm schoolhouse to our tenant-farmer shack when I was getting out of breath, more from excitement than from exhaustion. My teacher had given me permission to go to the outhouse, but I was only 5, and I was lonesome for my mother.
The one-lane dirt road leading home was but a few feet to the right of the outhouse and the horse shed. In no time I switched my course to the dirt road and home, but what I noticed at that moment filled me with terror. There were chicken hawks circling in the sky at some distance down the road, and nothing but the dry prairies of northeastern Colorado all round me!
I knew such hawks picked up chickens from the yard, because whenever they were near, Mom rounded up the chickens into the henhouse. But would they also pick up a little girl like me? I was scared! I wasn't sure. I was breathing harder and harder as I tried to run as fast as I could, but the old hawks seemed to be coming closer. I began to panic. What if they picked me up like a chicken and fed me to their young? Horrible thought. There was not room for any other thoughts. On! On! I must reach my mother.
Finally I saw the windmill and our shack behind it. I was out of breath as my little foot at last stomped on the eight-inch-high wooden platform leading to the kitchen entrance. The door was open on this warm September day, and my mother heard me.
She rushed out in shock and I popped into her arms! "What's the matter? What happened?"
Quite sheepishly, I stammered out between gasps that I didn't want to be in school, followed at once by the question that was most urgent to me at that moment: "Do chicken hawks (puff, puff) pick up (puff, puff) little girls (puff, puff) in their big claws" - I stammered at the thought - "and eat them up?"
I think my mother was so completely taken off guard at such a question that she didn't laugh, but immediately destroyed my nightmare with a tenderly reassuring, "No! They're too small. You're too big. They could never lift you."
What a relief! I was now able to eat the egg sandwich she gave me. I was not punished or compelled to return to school, so I became bolder. The next year I was 6, went to school for two days, and dropped out. Year 7 was an encore of year 6, without being punished! Being a small and frail child may have helped me.
At 8 I was ready. I went to school willingly with my two older sisters, and I knew how to print, do cursive writing, and to count and read. Consequently, in a school of 15 students, with no other child in the first or second grade, I was allowed to proceed at my own pace. I was ready to run. I covered Grades 1 and 2 at age 8, and the following year, Grades 3 and 4, catching up with the average student who reaches Grade 5 at age 10.
Without the fear of being eaten by chicken hawks, I succeeded in getting my first elementary school teaching job at age 18 with a simple high school diploma. After 10 years of instructing grade-school children, I moved on with a master's degree into high school for 19 years. Facing a few "hawks" not of the chicken variety, I cleared a PhD and became a college professor for my last 21 years in a classroom.
My greatest satisfaction now is the fact that I was able to teach for 50 years, with total dedication and passionate love for my work. After those early years of shunning school, I made a complete turnaround. Even now, 18 years after retirement, I still cling to teaching by tutoring during the day and dreaming of a classroom at night.
Whenever I hit a snag, my memory immediately plays for me the indelible tones of my mother's reassuring voice: "No! They're too small. You're too big. They could never lift you!"