Mr Grim asks me to help Joe who somehow didn’t learn long division-with-remainders way back when you’re supposed to. He’s been home-schooled up until this year and, although he can do the “mad minute” drill-and-practice basic division facts sheets in less than a minute, long division is a quagmire for him. This is a problem (pun intended!!) because Joe is going to need it in order to understand our pre-algebra topics such as integer arithmetic, simplifying expressions, and solving equations.
What happens next occurred the morning after Pop told me we were not going to the Preliminary Hearing. I was in turmoil, so much so at first I didn’t think I could push this turmoil aside to focus on Joe.
Suddenly Mom shows up in the Way-Back seat of my memory, or whatever this magic thing is that happens to me now. And I get a crystalline recollection of how she taught me long division:
My teacher’s introductory long-division-with-remainders-lesson was as clear as mud. The whiteboard was a mash-up of arrows and tiny numbers and cross-outs. Her “magic” erase marker ran low on ink early on, causing the digits to get fainter and fainter. And the squeaking! It was deafening. I admit that this squeaky marker distracted me from the lesson. Is the squeakiness from static friction being broken and reestablished as she scribbles more and more feverishly? I wondered. Maybe the solvent in the marker tip isn’t working or mixing with the ink so it doesn’t lubricate it enough? Also distracting me was the teacher’s constant calling to us over her shoulder that this was our grand “journey into long division with remainders!” To make matters worse—this is hard to believe because I’m relatively short for my class now—I was the tallest girl in my class that year. (I hope I haven’t had my last growth spurt; you only have 4 in a lifetime.) My tallness kept me in the back row behind a hefty boy. I couldn’t see very well.
When I get home that day I tell Mom Long division with remainders! I don’t get it!!
No problem, Isabel. She pats the couch cushion next to her and says, Come, sit. I’ll show you a trick.
She flips to an empty page in her notebook, licks the tip of her pencil, and writes “Dad. Makes. Scrumptious. Brownies.” Remember this sentence she tells me, while underlining the first letter of each word. These first letters will remind you what to do in what order. D for Divide. M for Multiply. S for subtract, and B for bring down. (It’s called a mnemonic.) Watch.
Dromedaries are the main mode of transportation in the desert. (Mom loved exotic places.) They get very thirsty. She pauses to sketch a little pool of water surrounded by Dromedaries and palm trees. At the oasis, this one-humped animal drinks twenty-six gallons of water in ten minutes, how many gallons can it drink in one minute? This is important for a Dromedary’s driver to know, just in case he needs to jump on his steed after only a minute of drinking. She points to the words. Dad. Makes. Scrumptious. Brownies. Divide. Multiply. Subtract. Bring down. She jots the numbers after each word. Answer? 2.6 gallons.
She writes out another problem. She hands me the pencil. Here. You do it. And she sits back and watches me, nodding.
I write D.M.S.B on the top of the page, lick my pencil tip, and use it to journey into long division with remainders.
I shake my head to get me out of this Way-Back seat memory into the Front-Seat of my classroom and Joe.
Ahem. Joe. I know a trick that’ll help you. It’s called a mnemonic. I pat the chair next to me. Come sit. He moves over, I begin.
I lick the tip of my pencil and write “Dad Makes Scrumptious Brownies.” Remember this sentence, Joe.
While I underline D M S and B, Mom’s words flow into my head as if through invisible Bose Open Earbuds (The MSNBC ad says you can talk with your friends or hear traffic while at the same time listening to music if you use them. Dad used to watch a little Morning Joe before school. This is how I know some current culture.)
These first letters remind you what to do in what order. D for Divide. M for Multiply. S for subtract, and B for bring down. Watch.
Dromedaries are the main mode of transportation in the desert. They get very thirsty. I pause to sketch a little pool of water surrounded by some one-humped desert creatures and palm trees. At the oasis…
I become Mom. The same script, word for word. Even my voice dips deeper like hers used to when she was being ultra-patient.
My student looks back and forth between me and the paper, putting two and two together, if you know what I mean. Mr. Grim is listening from where he’s perched, helping another student nearby. So, let’s do another one together, okay?
A caravan of six Dromedaries is carrying 348 pounds of exotic rice to Egypt. (I do six stick-figure Dromedaries with bags draped in front of their one hump. As I sketch, to keep it informal, I tell Joe Dromedaries are the Arabian, short-haired camels that withstand the heat better than their two-humped cousins, the Bactrian camels.) The rice has been divided equally. Each animal carries the same amount of rice. What size is each load? I tilt the paper towards him.
Joe licks his pencil tip, gets a grip, and writes out 348 divided by 6. He whispers Dad and divides 34 into 6; makes and multiplies 5 times 6; scrumptious and subtracts 30 from 36; brownies and brings down the 8. He stares at the 48 and says Dad Makes Scrumptious Brownies, and starts the process again. I watch and nod. He writes 58 and looks up, grinning.
We do a few more. Joe’s launched. He thanks me. Mr. Grim thanks me. And I thank Mom.
(sketches by my friend Ryan)