My Dad Gave All of My Elementary School Teachers Nicknames

The power of nicknames has helped me remember my childhood

Lee G. Hornbrook
Apr 14, 2020 · 5 min read
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

For years, I was the trivia champ in my family and in most of my friend circles. I had several editions of Trivial Pursuit and could run the board with barely a sweat. My headful of trivia only gained steam during grad school as I read more and more, but I started to develop holes in my knowledge. The more I learned, the less I knew.

For the better part of a year, I’ve been working on several memoir projects and realizing just how corrupt my memory is. I’ve learned all about different kinds of memory, more than just short-term and long-term. I have forgotten or distorted so much. But one thing I have noticed is that my memory from elementary school is largely intact. When I think about junior high, with its 6 classes per day, my memory gets fuzzier. My memory of elementary school is helped because my dad nicknamed all of my elementary school teachers.

I went to Rinaldi Elementary School in Granada Hills, the north part of the San Fernando Valley, a K to 6th grade school, less than a mile’s walk from my house. My friends and I walked our residential streets, or rode our bikes, until we got to a big field where the power lines crossed. We usually cut across the field, though later, the power lines were moved to put in the 118 Freeway. At that point, the construction area was off limits, except that we would sneak in and ride dirt bikes through the entire construction zone.

My brother and sisters went to Rinaldi before me — I was 7 years later — and they had all the same teachers that I had. But I was the only one to go all the way through. So my dad was familiar with most of these teachers.

In kindergarten. I had Mrs. Ward. Or according to my dad, “Mrs. Montgomery Ward.”

We shopped at Monkey Wards quite a bit, so it was an easy name to remember.

In 1st grade, I had Mrs. Reynolds, my first African-American teacher. Or “Mrs. Reynolds Wrap,” a popular brand of foil at the time and to this day.

In 2nd grade, I had Mrs. Silver, the teacher I liked the least. The television show The Lone Ranger was popular at the time, so my dad called her “Mrs. Hi-Ho Silver … Away!” Silver was the name of The Lone Ranger’s horse.

I didn’t like Mrs. Silver’s class, so one day, I cut school in 2nd grade after lunch with my neighbor, Donnie, who was one year younger than me. Donnie was the neighborhood delinquent. We faked an injury on the playground — we told the school nurse that I fell and hit my tooth against Donnie’s ankle. I had to get an icky tasting dental drop, and my friend had to put a painful ice pack on his ankle. After lunch, the nurse cleared us to return to class. We thought we were going to get sent home. So instead of going back to class, we ran the other way out of the school, took the slowest way home possible, trying to time it so we’d be home when school let out. By the time we were near our street, many parents and adults were roaming the streets calling our names, looking for us. They finally found us hiding in the back of Donnie’s garage. My grandmother pulled me home by my ear and sat me in the hallway on a chair with just two bananas for my afternoon snack. I sat for almost 3 hours, crying, waiting for my dad to get home. I was punished with yard work over the weekend with my dad who talked to me calmly about the importance of school. The next school day, my teacher could do nothing more than to scowl at me. I guess I got an early start at cutting school and got it out of my system. I never made a habit of it.

In 3rd grade, I had Mrs. Lewis, who had bright red hair done up like a beehive or a cylindrical column, the color that I imagined Lucy’s was on I Love Lucy reruns. My dad fondly called her “Mrs. Lewis and Clark.”

I excelled at mathematics in Mrs. Lewis’s class. I would finish my 100 problem worksheets faster than anyone, especially multiplication tables. I also started getting in trouble in 3rd grade. After a couple of yellow slips, I had to have a parent-teacher conference. I was given a test and it was determined that I was bored and an honors student. I was placed in an honors class that met once a week with the other honors students.

For 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, we had split classes, 4th and 5th graders, and 5th and 6th graders. There were three classes each day, and we rotated every couple hours for a new teacher.

In 4th grade, I had three teachers — Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Story, and Mr. Sorenson. That’s “Mrs. Lewis and Clark,” “Mrs. Storybook” and Mr. Sorenson. Mr. Sorenson was the only teacher who didn’t get a nickname. That name stumped my dad. He was also the only male teacher I had in elementary school.

In 5th grade, I had Mrs. Story, Mrs. Hatfield, and Mrs. Frank. That’s “Mrs. Storybook,” “Mrs. Hatfield and McCoy,” and “Mrs. Frankenfurter.”

In 6th grade, I had Mrs. Frank (as homeroom teacher), Mrs. Hatfield, and Mrs. Olivier. That’s “Mrs. Frankenfurter,” “Mrs. Hatfield and McCoy,” and “Mrs. Laurence Olivier.”

Mrs. Olivier was our drama teacher, and I was the lead in the school Christmas play. My mom had access to a copier and typists, so she reproduced the scripts for the entire class for free to help out the school. Because of that, Mrs. Olivier gave me the choice of parts to play. I scanned the script and chose the lead role in the play — Wee Willie Winkie.

The San Fernando Valley was home to many Hollywood stars through the years, and I had my brush with them as any Valley Dude might. My co-star in the school play was the daughter of Gavin McLeod, the actor who played Captain Stubing on The Love Boat and Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Before our opening Christmas production, Mr. McLeod thrilled the packed audience with a reading of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Mrs. Frank gave me my first B — for reading! and I was one of the best readers in the class (but I had not done enough extra credit reading through the school year — hey! I liked playing baseball — I was so upset).

I had many more teachers in junior high and high school, of course, when I was much more awake to the world. But I remember very few of their names. My memory of elementary school, though, is deeply ingrained, thanks in part to my dad’s creative naming scheme.

Lee G. Hornbrook taught college English for 25 years in every time zone in the continental United States. He has lived on a sailboat and writes about film and movies, literature, baseball, and growing up in the San Fernando Valley. He edits the Medium publication Valley Dude and is at work on a memoir. Find him on Twitter @awordpleaseblog and at his personal blog A Word, Please.

Valley Dude

Memoir, movies, and magic of (like, you know) growing up in the San Fernando Valley

Lee G. Hornbrook

Written by

Writer, Editor. Vegan, Sailor, Non-conformist. Former college writing teacher. **I Write. Mostly Words. Every Day.** https://awordplease.blog

Valley Dude

Valley Dude is a collection of essays of memoir, movies, the art and craft of writing, and much more from growing up in the San Fernando Valley and living and loving from coast to coast.

Lee G. Hornbrook

Written by

Writer, Editor. Vegan, Sailor, Non-conformist. Former college writing teacher. **I Write. Mostly Words. Every Day.** https://awordplease.blog

Valley Dude

Valley Dude is a collection of essays of memoir, movies, the art and craft of writing, and much more from growing up in the San Fernando Valley and living and loving from coast to coast.

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