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Learning ArithmeticPosted Friday, December 21, 2012, at 1:51 PM
Looking back at my early school days, I now realize that I was not what you would call an exceptionally bright student. Anyway, by the time I was 8 years old, I was in the second grade, and I could count to 100. Up until that time, I had to take my shoes off any time I wanted to count above 10.
When I was in the third grade, my teacher said that I should start learning to add, subtract, divide, and multiply. In other words, I should start learning arithmetic. I told the teacher that this sure sounded like a mighty big undertaking to start all this at one time, so she said that we would just start out with addition. As an example, she said that 2 + 2 = 4.
I didn't argue with her, but just to make sure that she was right, I went by the apple tree on my way home from school that afternoon and picked a pocket full of apples. When I got home I put two apples on one end of the table. Then I put two more apples on the table and, sure enough, that made four. While I wasn't looking, my little brother ate one of my apples, and that just left three. I told my teacher about this, and she said that I had not only learned addition, I had also learned a problem in subtraction. My little brother also learned that one large green apple equals one big stomachache.
The next day, my teacher said that, not only did 2 + 2 = 4, she said that 2 x 2 = 4, and I thinks to myself, this is going to be easy, so I moved right on, up to 3 + 3 = 6, and 3 x 3 = 6, - 4 + 4 = 8 and 4 x 4 = 8, but my teacher told me it didn't work that way, so there I was, back to taking off my shoes again.
Anyway, I finally got lined out on arithmetic, and every thing was going real good, until my tenth birthday. I went to school on that day, and the teacher told me that I should go home immediately. She said that all those red spots on my face indicated that I was coming down with the measles. However, she changed her mind about sending me home when I told her that my mother had decided that it was time for me to start learning how to eat my beans and taters with a fork.
I was moving right along. When I was 18, I was in high school, and there I got into algebra and geometry. Among other problems I was asked to solve, there was one where I could measure the distance across a river without ever going over to the other side. I finally figured out how to do this, but, like using the apples to make sure that 2 + 2 = 4, I had to swim Castor River five times to convince myself that this theory was correct.
I have always heard that mathematics is an exact science, and that any mathematical problem can be solved if the basic elements of the equations are known. This may be true, however, there was one experience in my life that caused me to have some doubts regarding this theory, and I am hoping that one of my better-educated readers will help me solve this problem.
It all started one day while I was out squirrel hunting. My old dog, "Ky-Rucus" treed a squirrel in a big elm tree. This tree was hollow from the ground to the top, and there were two knot-holes in the side of this tree. One of these holes was about 20 feet from the ground and the other one was about 20 feet higher up. When I got to the tree and before I could shoot this squirrel, he ran into the hole closest to the ground, and very soon stuck his head out the hole farther up the tree. Then he came back down the tree and stuck his head out the lower hole.
This squirrel kept moving from one hole to the other, so I looked at my watch and noted that it took him 16 seconds to move from the top hole, down to the lower hole. The next time, it took him 14 seconds, then 12 seconds, then 10 seconds, and this time when he stuck his head out the hole I shot him, which deprived me of my only chance to solve this very perplexing problem.
Since this squirrel was moving from one hole to the other and gaining two seconds every time he made the trip, I have always wondered how many trips this squirrel would have had to make, before he would have his head sticking out of both of these holes at the same time.
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Paul Corbin is a 100-year-old historian, humorist, and amateur archaeologist from Advance, Mo. He grew up in the Greenbrier area west of Advance, where he attended Stepp School on the banks of Cato Slough and the Castor River, important waterways throughout his life. In an age when many area residents did not go to high school, the young Corbin made the decision to walk the five miles to Zalma, graduating in 1933. Throughout his life, he was an enterprising businessman, selling Watkins products from house to house throughout a large area - and later opening a variety store in Advance. He and his wife Geneva traveled throughout the United States, even following the route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled. His knowledge of Native American culture is extensive, and he has donated a sizeable collection of his artifacts to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center and the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill. Throughout the years, he has submitted articles to TBY, the North Stoddard Countian, the Ozark Mountaineer, and several other Missouri publications. He has also written two books - "Reflections in Missouri Mud," and "Fragments of my Feeble Mind." The first one is out of print.