The Calculator

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This coming week many young people will be heading back to school. The beginning of a new educational year. Their parents have been busy getting school supplies, school clothes, and other necessary items for their children.

I remember always looking forward to returning to school. I love learning. I enjoyed the classroom where I excelled. The classroom was a place where I could be myself, not worry about upsetting my mother. I may not do things right at home for my mother, but in school I was free from her constant disapproval. My father was always proud of my academic achievements.

I did not have many friends in school, actually only one or two the entire time in high school, and they graduated before I did. My last two years of high school, I was alone during lunch time. But it did not matter if I had friends or not, I had books, knowledge and learning.

The purchase of school clothes was simple, three pants, four shirts, undergarment, and a package of socks. When I started junior high, a P.E. uniform was required. These clothes had to last all year long. I would not get any other clothes until the following school year, with the exception of Christmas. At Christmas we all got a new package of socks, and if I was blessed a new shirt.

School supplies were the bare minimum for the year. The first day of school was just a pencil and notebook. I was to write down all the required notebooks and supplies from each class. The following weekend we would go shopping for the supplies. I remember my sophomore year, I was required to have a certain calculator to use in chemistry and geometry. My mother said “no, that is too expensive.” (Later I learned this was a lie.) So, for chemistry and geometry, I took scratch paper from home to solve complex mathematical equations with a pencil and my mind. Just before Christmas, I received a letter from my chemistry teacher to give to my parents. All school correspondence to my parents was seen first by my father. The letter stated that I need the calculator for class, it was required. I was called into the room my father used as a home office, door closed with my father and mother inside.

Now what is a child supposed to do? My father would not tolerate any untruth from me, and I am a terrible liar and poker player. My mother would be mad at me if I told the truth. I also knew that the truth would cause an argument between my parents. My father asked the question I knew was going to be said, “Why did you not tell us you needed this calculator?” Looking at the ground, not daring to look at either parent, I replied my mother’s words that it was too expensive. “How much does it cost?” my father asked. Keeping my eyes staring at the floor I replied with the cost. My father dismissed me, after I closed the door the argument began. That Christmas, in my stocking was the calculator, the only gift I received that Christmas.

Home was a difficult place. While I got along great with my father, I was always in turmoil with my mother. School was the place to get away from my mother.

Every year when school is beginning to start and I see children and parents purchasing school supplies, this memory comes forward. Yes, I became very good at chemical equations rounding the answer to five places behind the decimal. I was able to do the calculations as fast as the older students with their calculators. I used a lot of scratch paper, a forest worth. And every year, as I watch children and parents get school supplies, I hope a child does not have to go through what I did for a calculator.

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