Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Spider's Web--and Raspberries too

The school year of 1978-1979 was a defining time for me. I was in second grade at a school that no longer exists in Newhall, West Virginia. Corporal punishment in the schools hadn't yet been outlawed in West Virginia, and wouldn't be until 1994. I had a teacher who was particularly liberal with her use of the ping-pong paddle, and would sometimes hold sessions where she'd tell us to tattle on each other, and then would paddle the guilty parties in front of the whole class. She paddled me once-- I was sitting at my desk, daydreaming, and I didn't hear her tell me to get out my spelling book. When my mom complained to the school superintendent, he told her, "The system can be hard for sensitive children like your daughter."*

During that year, I went from loving school to dreading it. I coped by looking forward to the time when I could go home and read. I also played with my brothers and my dolls, but stories were what kept me going. One evening, on NPR, I heard a program on the radio called "The Spider's Web." It was a program that featured children's books read by one or more narrators. These were the words to the theme song**:

There's a web like a spider's web
Made of silver light and shadows
Spun by the moon in my room at night
It's a web made to catch a dream
Hold it tight 'til I awaken
As if to tell me my dream is all right

I started to listen to the program every night, and would get snippy if anyone tried to talk to me during that half-hour. During that hard second grade year, I was introduced to books like The Phantom Tollbooth, Strawberry Girl, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Daughter of the Moon, and The Wind in the Willows (though that was the one book I didn't like it at the time).

I also heard an original story called "Raspberries," by Jay O'Callahan. The story was about a baker named Simon who had fallen on hard times after his business partner ran off with the profits. Simon's life changes for the better when he finds magical raspberries that make the eater leap up in the air and sing out, "Raspberries!" I loved that story. I forgot who had told it, and later on, went looking for it thinking that it was a folktale.*** Even though I had only heard the story once, I talked about it quite a bit, and often sang out "Raspberries!" then fall into fits of giggles.

I don't know when "The Spider's Web" went off the air, because we moved from West Virginia to Maryland, and I stopped listening to the radio so much. Some time later, Rabbit Ears Radio showed up. Now, audiobooks for children are in great proliferation, and perhaps there isn't the need anymore for these old radio programs. I am grateful that "The Spider's Web" was there when I needed it most.

*10 pm Update: My mom said she actually called the superintendant because I was upset over another child being paddled. I think my own paddling must have come later in the year.

**Author is unknown to me-- let me know if you know, so I can provide proper attribution. I found a recording of the song on iTunes by a band called The Holt Twins.

***During my first year as a librarian, I finally found a copy of the story on cassette through the newly-launched Fortunately, Jay O'Callahan has a website now, and you can order the story
here if you are interested.


TadMack said...

Man. A few years and a bunch of states apart, we had the same first grade. We were supposed to put our heads down, and I was daydreaming and fiddling in my desk, so Mrs. R. pulled my hair and pulled my head out of my desk and pushed my face down. It was fairly gently? But I told my mother that the teacher had pulled my hair. Because she had.

Oh, yes, the system can be hard.

I heard a lot of stories on the radio, too, but it was a SF station that played the audio Sesame Street -- which was something I thought my Mom just rigged up with foil on the radio antennae. I had NO idea they actually broadcast that, and I always felt like I was getting away with something.

Good thing our moms had radios!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

TadMack: Isn't it interesting how events with strong emotions attached to them stay with us as vividly as when they first happened? (Though, as my update indicates, I melded two different events together.)

I didn't know they did Sesame Street as audio, either. I'm glad the radio station did that.

blogapotamus said...

I think corporal punishment was still in force when my parents started teaching. They hated using it as a punishment, but when they didn't, parents actually COMPLAINED. Can you imagine complaining because your child's teacher DIDN'T spank your child?

When my father was in school, he had a totally unhinged teacher who smacked him so hard once that he fell out of his seat. Why? Because the boy behind him had been talking.

Praire Home Companion was my savior when I was small and afraid of the dark. :)

goddess of clarity said...

You have such a great memory for details! I tend to mush lots of things together in my memories, and there are certain years I probably couldn't tell you a thing about.

I *do* remember the nuns having a thing for violence as a kid. I got hit over the head with a math book once in fourth grade by Sister James Marie for losing my math homework (that for me was the kicker; I'd actually done the bloody assignment but I just couldn't find it!)

Mysteries were always the escape for me, starting with Nancy Drew before quickly graduating to my mom's Agatha Christie collection. Even as an eight-year-old, I loved the idea that there was a correct answer to every problem, if you could just correctly interpret the facts.

Lone Star Ma said...

My second grade nun was very nice, but my third grade nun was a terror. Mainly in the emotional sense, though. They did get corporal on us, but not extremely often and never to me. I was very well-behaved until about 7th grade and then they were so shocked at my pent-up bile that they didn't know how to respond. My mom used to offer to send me to other schools, but for some reason, I didn't want to switch. except for that one nun, I did feel loved by the nuns, although I was really scared of them and mad at them, too.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I've been thinking about this story (these stories) all day. I was in second grade the same year, but I had a completely different school experience. I didn't like Wind in the Willows either, though I'm glad you had it and other books to keep you company that hard year.

jules said...

That's a great story. My teachers weren't so mean, but I could have used that when I was little. I mean, who couldn't?

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Blogapotamus: I can't understand it. I can see parents wanting other people's children to get thwacked.... I'm glad you had Prairie Home Companion.

Goddess: Was there any follow-up by parents, or was it just 'one of those things?' Being punished unjustly is one of the worst things for a child. You definitely don't forget it, and it brings to light the larger injustices of the world. I never delved into mysteries, but I can certainly understand loving the poetry of things fitting together.

LSM: I'm glad you had a good experience with nuns in the school. Yeah, pent-up bile coming from a young teenage girl who used to be sweetness and light-- that sounds familiar.

Anamaria: I really think Wind in the Willows is not a children's book, but rather a book for grownups that children can like, either in parts or as a whole. It's a book with a wide emotional landscape that doesn't follow a strict linear narrative. After Toad gets thrown into prison, the other animals go on for several chapters before returning to Toad. That just doesn't happen in children's books!

Jules: I'm always glad to hear of teachers who "weren't so mean" and even really good ones. I had a number of good ones, but the dramatic is what makes for stories, you know? I still remember my Algebra teacher fondly, and I did terribly in Algebra. And yes, we all can use good stories.

I really appreciate reading all your comments. Please continue to leave them as you feel inspired.

CLM said...

I too listened to the Spider's Web. The narrator was Frances Shrand. I remember Tom's Midnight Garden and The Black Cauldron.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

CLM: Yes! Someone else remembers the Spider's Web. Thank you. I didn't hear either Tom's Midnight Garden or The Black Cauldron when they were on, but I'm sure I would have loved listening to them.

Jennifer said...

My siblings (and mom) and I were big fans of The Spider's Web. Our all-time favorite was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book which inspired probably hundreds of drawings and spin-off stories of our own. We didn't have a TV, and The Spider's Web was a favorite entertainment. I wish NPR had a library of the exact recordings, so I could get them for my own children.

Saints and Spinners said...

Jennifer: Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I remember well the Wolves of Willougby Chase, and the chilly sound effects of the wind.