Dot Beck’s Kindergarten was the first place I felt smart.
As an example, Mrs. Beck’s husband Cecil would come by the school from time to time. One day he asked my class, “Does anyone know what year it is?”
I wasn’t sure, but I raised my hand and offered, “1971.”
“That’s exactly right, Michael,” he said. (He called me “Michael” instead of “Mike.”) It felt good to be exactly right.
At Dot Beck’s we had some kind of musical program in the spring. It took place in Harding’s American Heritage auditorium, and it was a big deal.
Mrs. Beck asked us if there were any special songs we wanted to sing. Well, I didn’t even have to think about it. My favorite TV show was Daniel Boone, so I told Mrs. Beck I’d like to sing the song from Daniel Boone, and she said, “Why sure.” So, with the help of my sister Cindy, I tape-recorded the song and gave the tape to Mrs. Beck, and she learned the whole thing on her guitar. And I was supposed to sing the song from “Daniel Boone was a man, yes a big man. With an eye like an eagle and as tall as a mountain was he …” right to the very end by myself. Solo. But I was super-nervous about it, so I got Mrs. Beck to recruit my best friend Scott to sing a duet.
On the day of the show, Scott and I stood on stage and sang (mostly him) the Daniel Boone theme song which was followed by rowdy applause from all the parents and families attending. (Of course, everyone got rowdy applause.) And after the show, my brother came up to me and said, “You picked your nose through the whole song,” and I said, “Really?” because I hadn’t even realized it.
And just the idea that I could choose my own song and wear a coonskin cap and even pick my nose if I wanted to and that I had the complete support and approval of Mrs. Beck in all of this … well, that felt pretty empowering to a 6-year-old.
On another spring day we had an Easter egg hunt in Harding Park, and I didn’t find a single egg. Not a one. And one of the teachers took me back out and pointed me in the right direction and, what do you know, there was an egg right there.
Sometimes you just need someone to point you in the right direction.
I only remember getting in trouble once.
We were given a white sheet of paper and some black paint and instructed to “draw a picture.” So 2 or 3 of us decided to try our hand at abstract art and just painted the whole thing black. Solid black. Messy black. And our teacher for that day (not Mrs. Beck) wasn’t too keen on this, so I quickly drew another more conventional piece.
My teacher ended up hanging my second drawing on the wall (which you can see it in the picture above – Stick Man Standing by Flower under Banner).
Sometimes I decided to wear a “cape” to school. I think it was an homage to Superman, but maybe it was just my dashing side coming out. My cape, by the way, was a towel fastened around my neck with a safety pin. And all the teachers just nodded and smiled and acted like it was perfectly fine.
Which, of course, it was.
Thank you, Mrs. Beck.