Curbside Musings: c. 1979 MG MGB – How Associations Are Formed

c. 1979 MG MGB. Downtown Chicago, Illinois; Thursday, July 7, 2022

I had recently compared a ’97 Olds Achieva with my experience of having attended a gifted elementary school from grades two through six.  My early education began, however, in a parochial school in the Lutheran church my family attended.  Including myself, my kindergarten class had eleven children in it – eventually twelve, with a mid-year addition.  My teacher, Mrs. Savings, drove a little MG convertible.  Just two days before my Achieva essay had run last month, I was inside that same church back in Flint for a mostly unplanned visit and Sunday morning worship for the first time in decades.  Being inside those walls again brought back so many memories dating back to my early childhood in the late ’70s.

c. 1979 MG MGB. Downtown Chicago, Illinois; Thursday, July 7, 2022

Mrs. Savings was pretty, approachable, had a friendly smile, and long, brown hair.  This was in the era of country music icon Crystal Gayle and her lengthy, brunette tresses worn in a style that many women emulated.  My teacher had an easygoing affability that I remember had calmed my fears of transitioning into a classroom with newly-made acquaintances and having to learn things, versus the freeform structure of preschool and merely doing activities.  That same classroom on the lower level of the church building was also where I attended Sunday school.  One month ago, I looked at the stairs leading up to the building’s entrance and pondered just how much smaller they looked to my adult eyes.

My kindergarten and Sunday school classroom is on the left. North Flint, Michigan; Sunday, March 3, 2024.

My former kindergarten and Sunday school classroom is on the left.

One day, she had drawn small circles on the chalkboard in a horizontal row, spaced about a foot apart from each other, and a volunteer was called up to connect them with curved lines to match a card she was holding.  I suppose our motor skills and ability to follow directions were being tested that day.  A few of us struggled in front of the classroom before one of us finally got it (not me).  To stand outside that classroom door last month made me also recall what it felt like to walk down the hallway to the cafeteria for milk and cookies.

Joe Dennis' kindergarten class photo.

My kindergarten class photo.

Mrs. Savings was sweet, but she didn’t play.  There was one time I was roughhousing with one of the other kids and inadvertently hurt him, or so he said.  Perhaps this was inevitable.  Boys will wrestle, and I did so all the time at home with my two brothers.  She asked me if I had injured my classmate “on accident” or “on purpose”.  I knew what “on accident” was, but I wasn’t used to the phrase “on purpose” and honestly didn’t know what it meant at the time.  It must have been the young test-taker-in-training in me, but I went with “on purpose” because I thought it sounded more interesting.  I immediately got in trouble.

The infamous bathroom. North Flint, Michigan; Sunday, March 3, 2024

The scene of the infamous mouth-soap incident.

On another occasion, I had told this kid Michael to “shut up”, and since those were bad words (again, Lutheran parochial school), Mrs. Savings pulled me by my arm into the boys’ bathroom and washed my mouth out with soap.  I’ll never forget her serious, focused expression as she tapped her hand vigorously beneath the wall-mounted dispenser before rubbing her soapy hands inside my mouth on all sides.  It doesn’t matter how pleasant or fruity liquid soap smells.  It will always taste terrible.

Aside from those incidents, I really liked Mrs. Savings and wanted her to like me, too.  And the above incident wasn’t abuse.  She was a kind teacher and person acting within the disciplinary parameters of what was acceptable and, quite frankly, expected at the time.  I knew my teacher cared about me.  I bear no emotional scars from this.

c. 1979 MG MGB. Downtown Chicago, Illinois; Thursday, July 7, 2022

Mrs. Savings’ car was the only little MG roadster I had gotten close to up to that point.  This was Flint, Michigan in the late 1970s.  Not only were non-GM cars not that common (of course, my parents had Chrysler products, having purchased three, consecutive Plymouths from a college student of my dad’s who also worked as a salesman), but imports were super-rare.  Here’s where things get a bit murky in my memory of Mrs. Savings and her little sports car.  It would be probably a few more years before I realized that the MGB and Midget were actually completely different cars.

c. 1979 MG MGB. Downtown Chicago, Illinois; Thursday, July 7, 2022

I’ve written before about how the taillamp lenses shared by the Ford Pinto and Maverick had thrown off the young me, but in the case of the MGB and Midget of the late ’70s, not only did they share the same taillamp lenses, but both also had thick front and rear bumpers of black rubber, and both were really tiny cars compared to the Cutlasses and Monte Carlos everyone else seemed to be driving.  All this is to say that I can’t say for certain whether Mrs. Savings drove an MGB like our featured car, or a Midget.  What I can tell you is that the sight of either one of those cars will immediately remind me of a teacher I haven’t seen in over forty years.

In the Lutheran church sanctuary. North Flint, Michigan; Sunday, March 3, 2024

While sitting in the church’s beautiful sanctuary and refamiliarizing myself with the scenes depicted on its intricate stained glass, it occurred to me that there was yet another connection between this church and school and my first teacher’s car.  The shape of the taillamp lenses, when viewed straight-on, looks like that of a stained glass window.  Later models, with their red and amber sections, look even more like stained glass.

MG taillamp lens against the exterior masonry of my former church and school building.

Also like the church, the MGB had become something of an institution, with a production run spanning nineteen whole model years, with close to 387,700 roadsters and 125,600 fastback GTs produced between 1962 and 1980.  (MG Midget production totaled just shy of 224,400 units from between 1961 and ’79.)  I was unable to identify the model year of our yellow example, but it’s at least a ’75, a year which brought a ride height increased by an inch and a half, in addition to the black bumpers, from a visual standpoint.  With a top speed of 90 miles per hour and needing almost eighteen seconds to hit sixty miles per hour, the later editions of the MGB roadster weren’t exactly sporting.  At the same time, I feel like a little MG roadster fit the personality of my friendly, peppy kindergarten teacher perfectly.

c. 1979 MG MGB. Downtown Chicago, Illinois; Thursday, July 7, 2022

Where was she going to go in a hurry, anyway?  She needed to keep that car to the 55 mph highway speed limit in force during the tenure of President Carter, so as not to have her long hair whip around into her face and impede her vision as she drove.  Mrs. Savings, wherever you are today, thank you for being a great first teacher, for explaining the difference between “on purpose” and “on accident” (even if after the fact), and for teaching me that words like “shut up” can hurt.  And please don’t worry about the soap incident – I have since and voluntarily done shots of liquor that tasted far worse before giving all of that up over four years ago.  The school may have since closed, but I was thankful to have been able to go back to stand outside that classroom door one more time.  Maybe more milk and cookies are in order.

Downtown Chicago, Illinois; Thursday, July 7, 2022; and
North Flint, Michigan; Sunday, March 3, 2024.