When I moved to Flint, Michigan, I was a country kid from the hills who had never eaten pizza. I had never been served at a restaurant or ordered food at McDonalds. I had never worn a store-bought dress or ridden a city bus. I had never watched a television show. And at school, that’s what seemed to matter most.
Television was big in 1963. Most people watched shows in black and white, but the families of cool kids had color sets. And everyone knew who had what. Furthermore, they knew I had neither.
So when they talked about Bewitched and Andy Griffith and I Spy, I had nothing to say. That was bad enough, but what I dreaded most was their talk about the new Beverly Hillbillies. This was a show about a family who struck oil back in the mountains and then moved to the city without knowing city ways.
After watching a few episodes at a friend’s house, I could tell this show poked fun at mountain ways. Did my new city friends, I wondered, think my grandma still back in the hills was like Granny on the show—sour, sharp-tongued, and always reachin’ for a gun?
As a kid, I didn’t like steeling myself for the next joke about Granny. It wasn’t fun having nothing to say about Peyton Place and missing innuendos about The Dick Van Dyke Show. But years later, remembering these embarrassing moments helped me teach.
When I welcomed students from Japan and Ukraine and Australia and Mexico into my classroom, when kids from the Deep South heard shouts of laughter the first time they called me ma’am, when those from homes without books struggled to read good literature—when all these students stood in front of me, I tried to remember the out-of-place, pigtailed girl in a long skirt who had never eaten pizza or watched a television show.