I spent many weekend afternoons as a kid finding something to do while the adults visited (usually my parents and grandparents on either my mom’s or dad’s sides). Their conversations would interest me for about four minutes, and then I would leave to find something else to do: walk around outside, play with the dog, look through photo albums, pet the cats. Watching TV was out of the question since both sets of grandparents had only one set, and turning it on would have interrupted their conversations. As a result, I became quite adept at keeping busy until it was time to go.
So, one afternoon at my father’s parents’ house west of Rich Hill, Missouri, I improvised by playing school in a small passageway just off the main living area. This room contained a door to the backyard, a deep freezer on one wall and a large, faded National Geographic Map of the World tacked to the opposite wall. I would stand in the narrow walkway and pretend to be an esteemed teacher of world geography.
I would lecture my imaginary students about China, Argentina, Australia, pointing out those locations with a ball point pen I had retrieved from my mother’s purse before the bell. I would show my attentive students how Kansas really was in the middle of the United States. I would show them that Hawaii is way, way over there.
Eventually, I became distracted from my playing and my mind would wander off into the map and wonder about the big world beyond. Staring at that map, I would study the locations of countries and oceans. I would marvel at how the Soviet Union covered twelve time zones. I remember looking at Greenland and thinking it must be a beautiful place, with expansive, verdant pastures and backyards dotted with kids bundled up in coats and hats and gloves, chasing each other with icicles. I was certain it was a magical, mysterious place.
After contemplating the map for a short while, I would return to my imaginary class and quiz my students with questions. As I called on someone in the back row to locate Namibia, I would overhear my parents and grandparents talking in the front room about chances of rain, when the corn would top out, the recently spread asphalt on the main road, and other such news.
Occasionally, one of the grownups on the other side of the door would laugh, set down a glass, or rise from a recliner by pulling on the noisy side lever. That sound would mean the adults were finally winding up their conversations. In my mind, I would announce to the little room, “Class is over, everyone.” Then I would quietly exit the passageway and rejoin the family for the drive home.