Ms. Cain’s Class, Let’s Line UP

Ms. Cain was my 6th grade Social Studies and English teacher in Fort Knox, Kentucky. She was strictly-business and gave no shortcuts. When it was time to return to class from recess and/or lunch, Ms. Hamilton, a school monitor, with the flick of a yardstick would literally shout, “Miss Cain’s class, LET’S LINE UP!” It became such a caricature of a moment that we silly kids would laugh every time (I still do, when I think about it). Those moments before and during her class stay with me, as Ms. Cain was an excellent teacher. She remains to this day a very important figure in my love for history.

In addition to assigning homework and giving subsequent tests about the states and capitals, having us learn prepositions in alphabetical order (about above across after along among by…), Ms. Cain shared the most fascinating details about history during class.

She talked about Anna Anderson/Anastasia? and the saga of the Romanov family and the disastrous Rasputin during our studies on WWI. She detailed that the imperial Romanov daughters had jewels sewn into their corsets, and while they were being shot, the bullets bounced off of them, leading the soldiers to believe that they were divinely protected. Orders were orders and divine or no, the bayonet did what the bullets would/could not do.

Intense for middle-school students? A bit. Riveting and inspiring? Absolutely.

Ms. Cain also talked about Timbuktu being a center of learning. Timbuktu is an ancient and fabled city located in Mali, Africa. I love that Timbuktu was explained to us and not left as some abstract Western construct of being some far off exotic mirage.

Another story from history that Ms. Cain shared was the story of the poise that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy displayed during the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Ms. Cain detailed that the First Lady continued to wear her Chanel pink suit, stained with the blood of her slain husband, even as Vice-President Johnson was sworn-in. Ms. Cain told us that Mrs. Kennedy said, “Let them see..”

These were powerful and poignant images, and I hung on to every word. Even as a child, I understood the importance of knowing the details of history. The facts add up to a larger theme that we really can learn from. This remains true today.

As we learned about WWII, Ms. Cain told our class about how the Nazi regime used children in school to tell on their parents, resulting in the parents being arrested. I couldn’t imagine such a horrible situation, and yet, there are mechanisms in our current world that operate in a similar fashion, when you really consider it.

I wonder if Ms. Cain considered that her sharing and teachings would resound with her students in such a way as they do with me.

As we gather all of the details about our family history and arrange them into meaningful themes to share with others and to understand ourselves, let’s think about how we can inspire others to learn-just by sharing a story that connects to history.

Thank you, Ms. Cain! Let’s line UP.

The Genealogy Situation Room

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