Day 4: The 31 Letters Project – “One Extraordinary Moment”

The 31 Letters Project is a magical way to excite your children about literacy.

The 31 Letters Project is a month’s-worth of letters about YOU, sent to your own children (or grandchildren, nieces, nephews, special friends) through the mail.  It’s that simple on the outside.  On the inside, your letters will delight children enough for them to read and re-read… and read again.  It’s this kind of excitement about WORDS that gets kids excited about READING, WRITING, SPEAKING.

Jump into 31 Letters any time. There will be 31 prompts, or topics, presented during each of the 31 days of March… but skip around if you so choose.  It’s the letters that matter, and the special time it takes to write them and to mail them.  It’s all about promoting reading skills through family ties.

Day 1 of 31 Letters is about your favorite or most special toy from childhoodDay 2 of 31 Letters is about a childhood journeyDay 3 of 31 Letters is about a childhood experience with an animal(s).

Today, Day 4 of 31 Letters is about extraordinary moments. We bumped into 18th century Japanese poet and painter Yosa Buson on January 4th…  Day 4 of 365 Days of Literacy for Kids. In Buson’s poem, we are given an extraordinary moment, locked in time, that we may have otherwise overlooked:

On the temple bell
Settles–and is sleeping–
A butterfly.


Find a moment from your childhood that has settled into your heart.  An extraordinary moment.  You may have this moment sitting on the top of your brain… or it may take a little time to dig it out.  Write about it, as a gift to your children, to show them how simple moments can be so very meaningful.

Here is my letter to my grandchildren today (I have already hand-written it and dropped it in the mail!):

Dear _________________ (name of grandchildren),

Hi, my little darlings!  Today, my letter is going to be about a moment that I will always remember.  It’s a moment that lives in my heart.

I was 9 years old.  I was in 4th grade.  I had just moved with my family to New Hampshire from California, so I was “the new girl” in school.  This was kind of hard because I had left lots of friends in California and I felt a little lost in my new, very big school.

My elementary school in California was all one level and very spread out.  All of the doors to the classrooms went directly outside because the climate was nice.  All of the kids walked outside to go the gym, the cafeteria, the offices, the nurse, and even to the bathrooms.  All the kids in my neighborhood walked to school together. On the playground, my friends and I most always played jacks and marbles…  and all of the kids loved tetherball.

Tetherball is game for two players, but there were lots of tetherball poles and balls on the playground so lots of kids could play games at the same time.  Tetherball consists of a metal pole from which a ball (about the size of a soccer ball) is hung by a long rope. The two players stand on opposite sides of the pole and each one hits the ball, trying to wrap the rope around the pole.  You win the game when you wind the ball around the pole and the other player has no more rope.

I played tetherball almost every day, and I got pretty good at it.

My new school in New Hampshire was very, very different.  It was a big, brick structure with 3 floors.  Everything was inside… the gym, cafeteria, offices, nurse, bathrooms.  And I took a bus to school. We were inside from the minute we got to school until the minute we left.  The only time we went outside was for recess.

The first day at my new school, I didn’t know anybody but my cousin Debbie… but she was in 3rd grade and she had her own friends.  I wandered out to the playground all by myself, looking for the tetherball poles.  I thought I could make friends if I played tetherball with the other kids.  There weren’t any tetherball poles.  Instead, lots of the girls in my class were hanging and swinging from the horizontal bars.  There were 3 bars, all different heights, but all connected to each other.  They were silver.  I noticed that the girls wore shorts under their skirts so they could swing and play without anyone seeing their… yes, underwear!  Back in those days, girls had to wear skirts or dresses to school.  Pants and shorts were absolutely not allowed.  (It would be my senior year of high school before girls were allowed to wear pants to school!)

All I wanted to do that day was call my Mom and ask her to bring me a pair of shorts to wear under my dress.  But recess was over by then.

That night I told my Mom about the girls and the horizontal bars and the shorts… and she said I could wear shorts under my dress the next day.

The next day, I went to the horizontal bars at recess.  I stood a little bit away and watched.  Those girls were so good at swinging and hanging and twirling from the bars.  The best trick was sitting on top of the highest bar, holding on with your hands, and falling backwards so fast that you could swing yourself all the way around, back to the top… and do it again. The girls swung so fast that their hair stood straight up for what seemed like forever.

I wanted to do what those girls were doing.  So much.

That’s when an extraordinary moment happened in my life.

One girl asked me if I wanted to play with them.

All at once, I felt settled in my new school, in my new state, in my new life.  All because of one girl.

There is a poem I love.  It’s about a temple bell.  It goes like this:

On the temple bell
Settles–and is sleeping–
A butterfly.

I love this poem because it is about one moment that maybe nobody else would ever notice, but it means so much to the butterfly as she settles.

That girl gave me a moment like that.  A settling moment.  I hope we give other people moments like that…

I tried to do some horizontal bar tricks that day.  I didn’t do too well.  I was too scared to fall backwards.  But I tried every day with my new friends.  I don’t remember how many days I tried.  Maybe weeks.

But one day… one day… I held on, fell backwards as fast as I could and felt myself swinging ALL THE WAY back up.  I felt my hair standing straight up.  I felt my body swinging UP.  I knew I was doing something that meant so much to me.  It may seem simple to someone else, but that giant swing meant that I was part of this group of girls who wore shorts under their skirts.  Yes, I had settled into my new school, my new state, my new life.

All because of that one girl at that one extraordinary moment.

I love you and I’m very happy that all of my moments have lead me right to you!

Love forever and ever,
Grandma Couto

P.S.  I never saw a tetherball pole on any playground again.  Maybe we can find one and I’ll teach you how to play!  But I still have some of my childhood marbles.  I guess I save things…


MAIL TIDBIT of the Day:  In 1961, when I was 9 years old, a first class postage stamp cost 4 cents.

Day 4: The 31 Letters Project – “One Extraordinary Moment” was last modified: March 4th, 2011 by Sharon Couto
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Day 4: The 31 Letters Project – “One Extraordinary Moment” was last modified: March 4th, 2011 by Sharon Couto