When you’re in the fourth grade even the kids in the seventh grade are old. Students in the high school are old enough to be full-on adults. But it is safe to say that Miss Gladys Caulkins, my fourth grade teacher, would be considered old – even to my parents (my parents were not old… they were my parents, and for me, without perception of age).
Who knows? Miss Caulkins could have been considered old before WWII! Carefully combed white hair, wire rimmed glasses, a thin cardigan over a lace collared blouse, dark mid-calf skirt and sensible stacked heel shoes. Could she be termed a spinster? Someone who only experienced a brief flicker of that love connection that somehow was sadly extinguished, never to be rekindled?
But this is undeniable. Miss Caulkins had an abiding love for birds. Something she picked up in college? Maybe traced back to her childhood? Regardless, it became her mission to extend our learning beyond the required “Three R’s” and to imbue in us a love for our feathered friends. Birds were her love.
Our class went on bird walks. Who doesn’t want to get out of a classroom?
But then there was the half year project to draw a bird in pastel. This activity was coordinated with the art teacher who came to our room to help in this endeavor. But it was Miss Caulkins who was there as critical overseer to correct our choice of feather color, posture of the bird, and selection of background (my bald eagle was on a nest, perched on a cliff ledge overlooking an expanse of sea).
Her attention to detail was with the foreknowledge that our poster-sized pastels would be on display in Cushing Auditorium for the upper classes to see.
Miss Caulkins invested so much in this bird enterprise… and perhaps feeling the accumulating stress of pushing a group of 4th graders to artistic heights that she emerged from behind her Edwardian rectitude when I asked, “Miss Caulkins, maybe I can put a wig on my bald eagle?”
To which the ever proper, lace collared Miss Caulkins returned, “Jimmy Winston, this world doesn’t need another smart ass.”