Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Memories Of The Month

I've urged readers to start a book of memories by the month. Before you know it, you'll have a dozen memory pieces all set to be assembled into a notebook or a bound copy. What a gift for your family. If you close your eyes and travel back in time to your school days, you'll be surprised at what pops up. Think about February and what it meant in the place you lived. I find that one memory only triggers another. My effort for February school days is below. I've titled it Hearts and Heroes.

Hearts and Heroes
By Nancy Julien Kopp

After the exhilaration of the Christmas season in the 40’s and 50’s, January brought us little in Chicago but frigid days and icy sidewalks. Thirty-one days of snow piling up, indoor recess, and head colds passed around our classroom left us longing for some excitement.

As soon as our teacher turned the page of the big calendar on the classroom wall to February, the dreary days disappeared, and we had something to look forward to. In every grade, February 12th was celebrated. We attended Lincoln School, named for our sixteenth president. In those days, the state of Illinois recognized this great statesman with speeches in the state capitol, stories in the newspapers and on the radio, even running essay contests about Honest Abe for school children. At our school, we had Lincoln’s birthday as a holiday every other year. In the alternate years, we were given the day off on George Washington’s birthday, the 22nd of February.

Our teachers decorated bulletin boards with the red, white, and blue patriotic colors and information about the two men. One year we all cut out silhouettes of both Lincoln and Washington and placed them on the windows and walls of our classroom. Seeing them every day imprinted their likeness on my mind forever. As we got into the intermediate grades, we read about these two revered presidents. First, we learned the stories of their boyhoods. What a fascinating tale George, his axe and the cherry tree made. Hadn’t we all been confronted by a parent when we’d done something we shouldn’t have? And didn’t we learn something about truthfulness with this story? Who could forget the story of Abe Lincoln studying borrowed books by the light of the fire? Or the long, long walk he took to return a penny to a storekeeper who’d returned too much change to him.

We learned about their achievements as adults, the experiences that led them both to the highest honor in the land. We studied the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, always keeping the roles of these two men in mind. What a way to show us what could be achieved when we saw that a boy who cut down a cherry tree became the Father of our country. We gloried in details about the men, like Washington’s false teeth made of wood. Lots of the stories we’ve since learned were proven to be only “stories” passed down through the years. It doesn’t matter to me now, if they were all true or only partially true. The important thing was that the stories taught me a great deal about these two men, about life, and about my country.

Valentines Day was sandwiched between the presidents’ birthdays. We cut out hearts, we drew hearts, we colored hearts. We wrote our names in hearts, and as we got older, we paired our names in a heart with the name of the object of our affections. Whoever he may have been that week! How I loved the decorated boxes lined up in each classroom that served as our mailbox. What excitement to watch our classmates slip their valentines into the boxes, one by one. We opened our valentines while we munched on frosted cupcakes or heart-shaped sugar cookies and sipped red punch.

The shortest month of the year provided knowledge and entertainment and took our minds off the cold, snowy days of winter.  


  1. Lovely memories Nancy, and I found so many similarities in my own memory bank. How well I remember the silhouettes of the presidents cut out of black construction paper. Thanks for spurring me on to continue to write. You are an inspiration.

  2. You could write so much about your grandson, Cole. It would be a good record for him to have when he's an adult. Do give it some thought, Gigi.

  3. Loved the story. It brought back so many memories I haven't thought about in years. I remember decorating valentine boxes. They usually started out as a shoe box with a hole cut in the lid. You have prompted me to write another story for my memoir (?) Now I'm unsure whether to call it a memoir or autobiography. I'll go read your latest post and see if it clears up my confusion.

  4. Check next Monday's post, BJ. Shoebox and valentines will come into play.