Frank Imbragulio’s Schooldays______________
The 7th Grade
Sometime between the third and sixth grades, Josephine gave me the first camera I ever owned. It was a Kodak Brownie, and cost a whole dollar. I could not have been prouder had she given me the moon! It took little pictures (eight to each tiny roll of film-, which I seem to remember costing a quarter. Then when they were developed I had to beg for another quarter). I remember only my oldest sister, Rosie, as having the only other camera in the entire family. Hers, sadly, had its lens scratched soon after she got it, and the pictures always had lines on them, caused by these blemishes. So I was always very careful with my precious Kodak, I still have it, and when I last used it, was in perfect condition. I began photographing everything and everybody, and my photograph albums are so great a number that they literally fill one of my closets now. Quite a few pictures from my childhood are there. This brings to mind the reason for my telling about my very first experiments with the art of photography. One of my relics is a picture of three of our grade school teachers in Richton: one of these just happened to be the best teacher I had in my five years of public-schooling, Her name was Miss Lodell Rasberry, and I owe a lot to her awe-inspiring lessons.
Like most teachers back then, very few women who became teachers ever married. She was no exception. (Mrs. Sumrall, one of the other teachers in the picture, was the wife of the school’s Superintendent at the time).
Right from day one, I fell under the spell of this elderly lady. One of the things that impressed me the most was her uncanny ability to add almost as rapidly as a computer does now! And she taught those of us who were willing to work for it, the same ability.
She made no bones about the fact that I was her favorite student. She even told me that she had reached retirement age the previous year, but had requested that she be allowed one more year so that she could teach me.
When, near the end of that year, Miss Hill told me at one of my piano lessons, that since I had memorized so many pieces, she was going to let me give my first solo recital. This was not a regular recital by any means: it was presented after school in the room where we had public school music each week. Therefore seating was limited, and Miss Rasberry sat there, nodding approvingly at every thing I played (there were not any pieces more than three or four minutes, with the exception of Scarlatti’s famous Sonatina in C Major.) Josephine typed the programs that were handed out, and I even had two girls who played a duet to add a little variety. Other than the Scarlatti, I did a nice John Thompson of Schubert’s “Serenade”, and ended with my regular recital piece, the “Menuetto” from Haydn’s Sonata in E Major. That was the first experience I had with the rhythm, 2 against 3. Once I got it, I never had any more trouble; but the bane of my existence has been trying to teach my students how to play and count it correctly. George figured out a perfect solution: but most give up without even trying.
The rest of my program eludes me after all these years (and I am too lazy to go to my plethora of scrap books to find the “Josephine created” program.
Imagine my surprise and genuine gratitude when Miss Rasberry came forward as I was taking my bow, and presented me with a beautiful bouquet of red carnations! She said, “I am so proud of you today, and I look forward to hearing you play in Carnegie Hall one day!”
She certainly had higher ambitions than I did, but wasn’t that sweet?
I have to tell you the one thing this paragon of virtue did that really disappointed me: As I mentioned before, the schools in Richton and Ellisville were heavily into the Baptist religion. I was used to this and had come to accept it as part of being a Mississippian. One morning, during our daily “Prayer Meeting” we were requested to put our heads down on our desks and to close our eyes. Then Miss Lodell asked, “How many of you have not been saved?” I began to feel nauseous.
I knew I had been baptized as an infant, did not eat meat on Fridays or Holy Days, believed in God and tried to be as good as I could. Helen had taught me the “Lord’s Prayer”, “Hail, Mary”, the “Apostle’s Creed”, and the Act of Contrition, to add to “Now I lay me down to sleep” she had taught me almost as soon as I learned to talk. I said all of these each night before dropping off to sleep; but was I saved? Somehow it made me feel like food that should have been thrown away. We did not attend Mass on Sundays, because Daddy had to keep his market open until noon (which the mayor allowed, since he had such a large family to support, and in those deep depressions years, the dew dollars he took in on Sunday mornings made a huge difference). So I did not raise my hand.
She assured us that she would pray for those who were not “Saved” and asked the other of the elite group of “Heaven Bound” Christians pray for us sinners.
That had been early in that school year. Months later, as we neared the end of the year, Miss Rasberry announced one Monday morning, that she had some tragic news to relate. One of our classmates had been killed over the weekend, in a car wreck. Then she almost destroyed my love and admiration of her by asking us to join her in prayer, because this student had been one of those who had not been saved.
She meant well, I am sure. But I never got over the sick disappointment I felt at the time.