3rd grade grammar lessons and why apostrophes still make me smile…

I’m the one in the middle with the Bob Dylan look who is still wondering why ships get apostrophes.

I loved my 3rd grade teacher, more than any other teacher I had in elementary school.  I loved her kind face, her gentle manner and the way her eyes would smile before her mouth would even catch on.  But what I loved the most about Mrs. Faires, was the way she talked.  Her words came out slowly and syrupy almost like she was reluctant to let go of them. I held onto her every word, even the ones I couldn’t understand due to her strong southern accent. She made our unusual circumstances of being housed in a cramped and crowded temporary trailer, more of an adventure than a hinderance, and even though elbows knocked when we did our lessons and I was seated to the sweatiest boy in the 3rd grade, I wouldn’t have changed one thing.  We were the only class in the entire school who learned cursive writing, long division and  the tales of Sacagawea all within the confines of an aluminum box.  Unfortunately, all of the cozy love went out the louvered window when the lesson on apostrophes began.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept of ownership and apostrophe placement, it was that, unknowingly, I didn’t understand my Alabama-bred teacher’s accent, ironically, the one thing I loved about her more than anything else.  When she gave the explanation of ownership, what I heard was “on a ship,” which to this Kansas girl, who could count on zero hands how many times she had actually seen a ship, had to wonder if ships were really important  enough to warrant their own grammatical symbol in a sentence.  

After hearing Mrs. Faires’s explanation on apostrophes and possession, my conclusions were to use an apostrophe when whomever or whatever was ON A SHIP, or showed “ON A SHIP” as was explained, yet what did “shows on a ship” even mean, short of the visual of people on board a large water vessel.  This seemed easy enough until the worksheets were handed out with nary a mention of ships or boats or even water for that matter.

My 8 year-old self, who usually did well in school, was discouraged when worksheet after worksheet was returned to me with an embarrassing amount of red ink on them.  No one else seemed to be struggling with the placement of the flying commas but me, so I kept my frustrations to myself and kept searching, for the ship in the sentence.  More than once, Mrs. Faires would call me up to her desk and explain, yet again, the “on a ship” concept to me  and I would once again share my frustrations of not understanding what “on a ship” had to do with most of the sentences (while unknowingly mimicking her accent.)

I eventually shared my frustrations with my Mom, who knew nothing of the situation as the red-marked papers never made their way home.  Not surprising,   she cracked the code, as moms often do and reported her findings to my teacher.  That accent, the one that had me hanging onto every syllable,  had become the culprit to my biggest 3rd grade frustration.  

Years later, when in Jr. High, I had a Brazilian algebra teacher who spoke with a such a strong accent that most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about, which given that it was Algebra, could have happened without the accent.  I have to wonder if I had had a teacher I could have understood, would I feel more comfortable with the x’s and y’s to this day?  Thankfully, my stumble with apostrophes in the 3rd grade didn’t ruin me for writing like my incomprehension of a Brazilian accent did with me for Algebra.    Still, after 56 some years, I have to thank Mrs. Faires for bringing a smile to my face when I confidently place ownership apostrophes on the needed words,  whether or not a ship is present.

2 Replies to “3rd grade grammar lessons and why apostrophes still make me smile…”

  1. Loved this story. Too bad those papers weren’t sent home sooner!
    I grew up and lived in Chicago for 30 years after which I lived in Central Arkansas for 10 years. It was an adjustment for sure but more so had I been further South.
    “On a ship” now stuck in my mind!

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