It seems like the first things you learn when you start school become the bedrock upon which all future learning rests. Maybe Robert Fulghum was right when he wrote, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Paper, pencils, desks, etc. are things you will use all your life. Learning to read and write are foundational to all future communication.
That’s why it was so hard on me in Miss Montgomery’s 1st grade class at Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga, TN. I had trouble with the concept of writing one answer on the first line of my paper, then going to the line just below it to answer the next question. Stacking things in this order made no sense to me; I wanted to write in a “run on” style, I suppose. Thankfully, Miss Montgomery had also introduced me to one of the greatest tools in all of schooldom: the eraser!
Erasers are the greatest, aren’t they? You can make a mistake, a misjudgment, a miscalculation of some kind . . . then make it as if it WAS NEVER THERE! You simply rub the mark that needs to be expunged and presto – it is gone forever, never existed, totally eradicated.
Well . . . not always totally, right? Sometimes I found that a residue remained. Like a scar from the previous pencil mark . . . and often, an indentation in the paper itself caused by the force of the pencil as it was pushed onto the paper. But for general observation – gone. Right? What a great tool!
As I got older in school we began to use ink pens. Hmmmm. I wondered how mistakes could be remedied with that more indelible instrument. Then voila! They started to make ball point ink pens with white erasers on top. That’s right! Saved again! Errors vanquished. Mistakes excised. Simply cut out of existence. What could be better?
Of course, the erasing wasn’t perfect. You could still often see a shadow of what had been there before. And the surface of the paper was a bit torn, defaced, ragged. But the main evidence of your error would not be very visible, at least not without close inspection. For all practical appearances . . . it was as if nothing amiss had ever happened.
Except, that is . . . when I had to rub really hard on the paper. Especially if the ink had had time to dry. Because then I would scrub harder to get out the ink stain and invariably . . . the paper would tear. Doggone it!
I learned early on in the 2nd grade (especially after one traumatic visit to Principal Johnson’s office) that you certainly don’t want anything bad to go on “your permanent record.” To me that was kind of like putting indelible ink on your paper: it would never come off! And I’d made enough mistakes already in my short life to know I didn’t want THAT!
Now, as I approach 69 years of age this fall, I look back over my life and see LOTS and LOTS of things I’d love to use that eraser to erase. Trouble is, they aren’t on paper. They’re on my Permanent Record. Oh, I have a pardon for those things BTW. And that is priceless. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still ramifications, consequences, lasting results from my previous words, actions, and inactions.
Erasers are great, aren’t they? And in grammar school they can be quite useful as one learns. But if we take them with us into adulthood the stakes grow higher. Ultimately, torn pages from our tireless efforts to expunge our guilt will result in more than just an effacement of wood pulp.
“Now we have computers,” one might say. Nobody much uses paper anymore. “And if you make a mistake . . . you just hit delete.”
But . . . a history remains in that machine. Doesn’t it?