Farmhouse Notes: Remembering Decorah School and Mrs. Norstrant By Ann Marie Craig

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Jan. 22, 2017 – West Bend, WI – One of the perks of substitute teaching is getting to poke my nose into nooks and crannies in the schools which I visit for a day or two each week.

Nosey-poking into a familiar room a few weeks ago gave me a reason to call my mother. Raise your hand if Mrs. Norstrant was your kindergarten teacher at Decorah School. If it was a hundred-gazillion years ago, you may have been my classmate!

Walking through the familiar front door and turning right to go through the door across from the office was like stepping through a looking glass. I was five again – or six – and the view through the classroom doorway had not changed much.

A big, colorful alphabet marched around the room above my head, the windows let in lots of light, and one wall was still all cupboards of dark wood; the low sink to the left of the door and the shelves above it were in the same place. In my imagination, those shelves held two trays of cookies that looked like clowns.

 

To me, kindergarten was a grand place. Each fat crayon had a flat side so it would not roll away, and there was an awful lot of colored paper for projects. We sat on the floor in a circle for stories, we played Squirrel in the Tree, and drew pictures of birds. We ate graham crackers and drank milk from glass bottles, and sang songs accompanied by Mrs. Norstrant on the piano. We walked in two straight lines on the sidewalk, up the rise which seemed like a steep hill, and through the crackling leaves to Ziegler Park to play in the fall sunshine. We sang The Leaf Song – I still remember the words to that song, do you?

In the winter we had a circus and I was the elephant. I can still feel the stiff paper head over mine, painted gray with big ears that flopped as I lumbered around the circle in front of the mothers who came to our show; my clasped hands and straight arms created the trunk that moved side to side. We sang Jumbo Elephant – I still remember the words to that song too, do you?

Our art teacher was a man whose name I do not remember. He would wear pants that were just a tad too short and his white ankle socks did not quite match his dark pants or his penny loafers.

In spring the Easter Bunny visited us, and he was quite tall. His white furry body seemingly had a drop seat in the back and you could see bright green pants underneath with big white polka dots on them and white ankle socks showed above his furry feet. We sang Here Comes Peter Cottontail – Yup, I still remember that one too. How about you?

One weekend in October my mother made her very first school birthday treats. I was the oldest you see, and while there were five of us under the age of six at home, she found time to bake and create (with my dubious help) the cutest birthday treats I had ever seen.

She made round sugar cookies, then topped them with a big, fat marshmallow on which she had added two raisin eyes and a tiny piece of candied cherry for a nose. The final treat was a brightly colored gumdrop hat, and I can still see the trays of them on our gray Formica and steel kitchen table.

I didn’t have to ride the bus to school on Monday. Since I was an afternoon kindergartner and my dad came home for lunch, he took me and the trays of cookies to school that day. We walked into the classroom, but no one was there.

We looked in the hall, but Mrs. Norstrant was not there. Hmmmm. My dad put the trays of cookies on the shelves by the sink and left for work.

You might not know it now, but I was a very quiet mouse in school, and quite shy. We sat in a circle on the floor and Mrs. Norstrant started our afternoon off with a story and a song and a talk about the day of the week. It was quite some time before she noticed the cookies and asked, “Who brought the cute cookies?” Of course I did not answer. She asked again. Silence. She asked again. Then I burst into tears – because I didn’t want everybody to sing to me and I didn’t want the symbolic ritual birthday spanking. Yup – not really a spanking, but I didn’t want to be in the spotlight just the same. Sigh.

How to make your own clown cookies:

Materials:

Sugar cookies cut into exciting shapes, such as stars, flowers, or circles. Make your own or purchase your favorite flat cookie.

marshmallows or doughnut holes covered with powdered sugar plus extra powdered sugar

colored sugar – we used orange/ tiny, colored nonpareils

mini cupcake/candy papers

gumdrops in the traditional shape

soft candy rings (like gumdrop consistency; I used peach rings)

raisins, cut into halves or smaller, or dried currants

red candy-covered chocolate pieces such as M&Ms

white frosting

eager children to help you

Notes: Since marshmallows and gumdrops are of smaller sizes than they were a hundred-gazillion years ago, we found the doughnut holes easier to work with for the head. If they are not quite round, carefully shave the doughnut with a paring knife into a round shape and dip in powdered sugar to coat white. You will also need to work the base of the gumdrop, stretching it into more of a hat shape before beginning.

To assemble:

Make the head:

Swirl about a ½ inch circle of frosting on opposite sides of the doughnut and dip each frosting swirl into colored sugar. If you are using a marshmallow, swirl the frosting onto each rounded end. The log-shaped body of the marshmallow will become the face.

Attach the raisin eyes and red nose to the head with dots of frosting. You might need to scrape a little powdered sugar off to get the frosting to stick properly.

Attach the gumdrop to the top of the head with frosting. Wipe away any excess around the base of the hat if you wish.

Frost the cookie and sprinkle with nonpareils or colored sugar as desired. Set it aside temporarily.

Frost one side of the soft candy ring and gently press into the cupcake paper, then gently press the cupcake paper with the ring inside of it onto the cookie. Frost the bottom of the doughnut clown head and gently press it onto the candy ring. You have made a clown!

Admire them! Take photos of them and post them in the comments section below! Eat them!

Photo of Decorah School courtesy Steve Lindley.

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