Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Miss Woronoski

Miss Wornoski and her 31 little readers
That's me on the far right, second row.
With my eyes shut.
I love to read.
It started very early.
Grade one.
Miss Woronoski taught me.
I don't remember the mechanics of learning.
Only the sudden explosion of knowledge that came with recognizing series of letters strung together.
Miss Woronoski had a list of words on a large flip chart. And each of us in the class was taken, publicly, through it. I remember her pointing to each word with a long, slender stick and the victim participant having to then read it out.
A word about the stick. It was about three feet long, with a soft, squishy, plastic, cone-shaped tip. Tons of fun to play with when the teacher wasn't in the room.
Ahem . . .
Day by day, she worked her way around the room. Closer and closer to me.
Who would have guessed that panic was one of the subjects taught in the first grade?
Well, it was.
If I would have studied the chart, I would have realized that I could read every word on it.
But I didn't. I just glanced at it briefly with silent 'deer-in-the-headlights' terror.
Thus started a pattern in my life that has served me far too well.
But I digress . . .
Finally, it was my turn. Miss Woronoski looked at me. “Diane.”
Everything I had ever known simply . . . fled. Taking my blood and body temperature with it.
A now-frozen lump, I turned slowly and stared at her.
“Its your turn, dear,” she said softly.
Her words might as well have been: Ready! Aim! Fire!
I was about to die.
I swallowed.
And nodded.
The pointer was raised.
I watched as it moved.
Sooo slowly.
Tapped on the first word.
“And,” I said, shakily.
Next word.
Next. Ooh, a toughie.
And so it went.
Pointer . . . pointed.
I said the word.
Pointer moved on.
I was doing it!
The panic started to ebb.
With only one slight hesitation, on the unbelievably difficult word, 'house', I was done.
Faster than anyone.
Miss Woronoski smiled. “Very well done, Diane,” she said.
I had done it!
Celebrations were in order.
“Diane, sit down.”
She handed me my first. Real. Book. “Here, dear, read this,” she said.
And she moved on to the next student.
I stared at the book she had given me.
The Little White House.
There was a picture of a boy riding a horse on the cover.
We were instant friends.
I opened it and, for the first time began to read a story to myself.
Riveting tales of Tom, Betty and Susan as they:
  1. Helped their parents
  2. Got presents
  3. Rode Pony
  4. Played with Flip
The magic had begun.

There is a codicil . . .
My Husby and I were on a book-signing tour through the US.
We stopped at a tiny little restaurant in tiny-er Dell, Montana, called the Calf-A.
Exceptional food, especially the roast beef.
And pie to die for.
Sorry. Moving on . . .
The restaurant was housed in what had been the little country school.
The blackboards and even some of the pictures and furniture were still there.
On a shelf was a stack of old text books.
While waiting for my order, I wandered over and looked at them.
And there, right in the middle was my book.
My first book.
Just as I remembered it.
I dragged it out and hurried back to our table.
“Look!” I shoved it under my Husby's nose. “Look! It's my first book!
I sat down and opened the cover.
Instantly, I was transported back to my sunny classroom at Milk River Elementary.
To my seat beside the windows.
Right in front of the teacher's desk.
I could smell the chalk dust.
And see Miss Woronoski taking yet another student through her chart of words.
I had nearly read The Little White House through by the time our meal arrived.
Not a statement on how long it took to be served.
But rather on how quickly I could now read.
Thank you, Miss Woronoski.
You changed my life.


  1. I love this, Diane! I wish every child could have a Miss Woronoski to help them learn to read. The world is so much more accessible when you have good reading skills. That book cover is familiar to me but the one I recall first reading was My Little Red Story Book. My mental picture of that book includes my classroom, the exact desk where I was sitting, and my awesome teacher, Mrs. Miller!

  2. The magic of words. I could read before grade one (not that I'm bragging you understand) because my Mom read to me every night and I guess it just seeped in by osmosis (or something). Our primary reader was all about Dick and Jane.

  3. I am with Delores here. I cannot remember not reading. And am so very grateful to my early teachers. Indeed to all teachers, because I am still learning.

  4. I love this post. I had a lot of adults who read to me as a toddler and with their help taught myself to read when I was three, but I can relate to the panic of being called on in class. The first book I actually read by myself was one called I See a Kitty. I think I can still recite it by heart. After I learned to read, the adults in my life kept me well stocked with books I loved until I was old enough to walk to the library by myself.

  5. That school picture. Third from the left, second row from the bottom? That girl is me! Or my twin. I had the same haircut the same dress. I didn't have the same teacher, but that didn't matter - I self taught myself to read, and my first grade teacher took that spark, cupped it in her hand, and blew it into a blaze. There is nothing as precious as a good teacher. I loved this post!

  6. Like Delores, I learned seemingly by osmosis as I absorbed the lessons my mum desperately tried to teach my older sister and remember being a bit upset when I finally made it to grade one and was handed the exact same book, which I had already been reading from every time my sister put it down.

  7. You brought back so many memories Diane - the class picture for a start! We had Dick and Dora books that sound just like yours - helping and getting into little adventures. Such a lovely trip down memory lane!

  8. Oh my goodness! How perfect! Those early days of reading really do shape us.

  9. What a wonderful story! I hope I can help shape my 4-year old son into a lover of books and reading. He doesn't seem to be interested which is very sad for me. My 1 year old daughter on the other hand, is always pretending to be reading. I try to read her a story for the book she looks at and won't let me. She wants to "read" it herself.


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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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