Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Birthdays and a hectograph

Taking off my catcher’s hat for a moment and putting on the mom hat. Yesterday was my birthday and my daughter flew in from New Mexico to surprise me. Shock me, actually. What a fun day and it’s still going, until her return flight Thursday.

Birthday celebrations were much calmer in the Pilot Mountain School days. Only one person out of the hundred or so I’ve interviewed has even mentioned birthdays. On her eighth birthday, her third grade teacher gave every other student in the room a paper with an outline of a cake. Each child colored and decorated the cake and wrote birthday wishes. At the end of the day the teacher stapled the birthday cakes together in a booklet and gave her to keep. Keep, as in over sixty years keep.

Thirty children in the class. Thirty birthdays. Do the math. That’s a lot of birthday cake pictures and papers. But wait, there’s more to this story.

Producing a picture of a birthday cake wasn’t as easy as today with laser printers at the touch of a finger. The teachers didn’t have a mimeograph machine either, the old put it on a barrel and roll it around over the paper. Think further back.

Think hectograph, gelatin duplicator. Think shallow pan of goo. So the teacher draws the birthday cake onto the master copy with a pen of a special ink with aniline dyes. (Thank you wikipedia for the details and the picture.) She places it over the goo pan, presses it down until the ink soaks into the goo in the pattern she has drawn. She removes the master and places a sheet of paper on the goo, presses it, removes it and starts over on the next sheet. Thirty times. Math test? Same process. Social studies work sheets? Same process.

Precious time taken up to make copies of birthday cakes for each child. What a gift.

Catch of the day,



  1. Yes, precious gift to each child. ANd you received a precious gift yesterday with your daughter's surprise visit. Happy Belated birthday!

  2. Happy Birthday (belated)!

    So wonderful your daughter surprised you.

    (And my luggage was delivered to me yesterday --Yayyyy! :-D )

  3. What a fantastic surprise for you! And happy late birthday.

  4. Happy Birthday to a Sister Scorpio! I know your daughter's visit was the best birthday gift ever. Have a great year.

  5. Thanks for the well wishes everyone. We celebrated for several days and sure had fun. Just think how long I'll celebrate when I finish and publish this project!