When we reached the 7th and 8th grade level, we were faced with obligatory introductory science classes, whether we were so inclined or not.
We met in the same room where the upper-level chemistry classes congregated on opposite days from us, there in the lower level of the Education Building on the University of Missouri campus. It was a long, narrow room, with spacious windows facing south that gave us a fairly good view of Conley Avenue. We were technically below ground, and looked out upon a dry moat, with a three-foot stone wall 15 or so feet beyond, and the street above. But we could still see the cars and bicycles going back and forth, and the university students rushing to and ambling from, class.
On the opposite side of the room from these windows were floor-to-ceiling cabinets, artfully-crafted cherry wood furniture creations, with glass doors above and drawers below. At the front of the room stood the teacher’s formidable work station, behind which was a large blackboard that was at times blocked by a large pull-down poster illustrating, block by block, the periodic table, and which seemed to us at the time like Mandarin Chinese.
On either side of a large center aisle were several student desk/work stations, four in each row. These work areas featured two desk units on each side, with a black Formica-like top, shared sink and Bunsen burner in between. The room always had an odor that for me seemed to be a combination of alcohol and fish — probably from the considerable number of frogs previously sacrificed at the hands of many potential biologists-in-waiting.
Our primary teacher, a man, was a rather grim fellow. A good teacher, it seemed to us that he was dealing with some inner demons that made themselves known via his inability to smile or lighten up from time to time. Tall, slim and always well-dressed, there was still something disheveled about him. One of the student teachers, however, was a great guy who came with a strange surname, which we made fun of repeatedly, a ribbing he accepted good-naturedly.
A big, slow-talking country boy from Western Missouri, his last name was “Laffoon.” Not taking the time to wonder then about the origination of his last name (probably French or Belgian) we adopted the practice of calling him “Lampoon”, “Harpoon”, “Mattoon” (as in Illinois) and other knee-slappers. We were, however, not totally without respect; these creative versions of our teacher’s surname were always preceded by “Mister.”
But something much more developmental than an introduction to science and the further mastering of the friendly taunting of our student teachers came from our time in this room. Our intro to science came early in the day, if not the first class of the morning, and most of us were full of untapped energy at that hour, ready for discovery.
Due to a scheduling conflict of some kind, we always had at least 10 minutes to mingle about and communicate prior to the start of class. And in these budding early-morning conversations, we began relating to each other the dreams that we had experienced the night before. I’m sure that when this practice began, everything was on the up-and-up, but as the idea grew upon itself, we began fabricating our nocturnal thoughts, especially if relating what had careened around inside our brains the night before to a girl.
These little “stories” were of course an early form of flirting, but also served as a psychological outlet for exposing our feelings, and letting our imaginations soar. They were so popular, what began with a one boy-one girl start-up eventually included about 10 couples. Once the teacher arrived we were forced to settle down, shut up, and return to our seats, but many times these little ‘dream stories’ continued, via notes sent back and forth. Harmless in nature, this innocent little practice provided a positive kick to our respective personalities, providing another step toward the long and daunting road to maturity.
We also had some incredible water fights in that room, making good use of the sinks and water spigots (that worked!) sitting right there for us to make full use of – but that’s another story.