Tuesday, January 29, 2008

School Daze

Mrs. Beecher's Fifth Grade Class
William Penn Elementary 1959-60
(Sheri is on second row from back; second from right)

The fifth grade was a watershed year for me. The first day of school I realized I didn't know any of the girls in my class. During class time I felt okay about myself, but when the bell rang for recess, everyone ran off with friends and I went outside by myself. This was the first time in my childhood I realized I didn't have a friend.

I stood at the corner of the school building watching the kids play kick ball, four squares, jump rope, jacks and tether ball. I was too timid to ask anyone if I could play. I stood and watched for most of the recess. Then suddenly, Julie and Carolyn ran up to me and asked if I wanted to swing with them. From that day forward, I had a best friend. Julie lived just up the street from me; we rode the bus to William Penn together, walked to Olympus Junior and Olympus High together and remained friends through college.

In Mrs. Beecher's class, Kathy, Renee, Patty and Marty were the cute, smart, popular girls. However, it didn't matter anymore. I had a friend, someone to play with at recess.

Julie and I were both Tom Boys and wearing a dress to school everyday limited our play. The dresses made us act like prissy, little ladies. Neither of us wanted that, but at least we managed to survive the playground equipment without exposing our underwear.

Fifth grade was the first year I became aware of L. J., a tall, blond, blue-eyed, handsome young man, who didn't act like other ten-year-old boys. It was rumored he was reading Mein Kampf and Rise and Fall of the Third Reich--in the fifth grade! I had no idea what those books were about and couldn't have read them if I wanted to. I knew he must be really, really smart. Turns out L. J. had skipped a grade (he was only nine). He was very mature for his age and of course, most the girls in the class had a mad crash on him. My mother was Room-Mother along with L. J.'s mom. I learned L. J.'s mom had dated my dad before she met Mr. J. and before my mom met dad. Regrettably, my crash on L. J. continued long past 5th grade, but he never reciprocated.

One day at recess, when the "childish" boys were chasing the girls and making them squeal, L. J. was nonchalantly shooting basketballs with M. S. Julie and I wanted to shoot hoops, too. M. S. told us to go away. L. J. remained aloof. Julie and I became frustrated at his arrogance. She grabbed one of his arms and I tried to grab the other one. Unfortunately, I grabbed only his shirt and as I pulled one way and Julie pulled the other, we heard a huge rip. I had torn L.'s shirt. Now he would hate me forever! When recess ended, I was justifiably chastised by Mrs. Beecher. I wrote a note of apology to L. and Mrs. J. That evening at home, we received a phone call from Mrs. J. and I heard my mother promising to pay to replace the shirt. I was not only humiliated in front of my class, but also in front of my family!

In fifth grade, we started dancing one-on-one with boys. Ugh! We were taught the waltz and fox trot. It was a horrible experience for most of us. We also learned round dances and square dances such as the Virginia Reel and Turkey-in-the-Straw which were more fun. All the boys wanted to have Kathy, Renee, Patty and Marty as partners. Most of the girls wanted L. J. or M. S. We received a lesson about not always getting what you want!

During this time, a new elementary school was being built closer to my home. I wanted to "graduate" from William Penn and hoped the new school wouldn't be done in time. I started Sixth grade at William Penn and mid-year was transferred to Crestview. It was a sad day for those of us who had to leave William Penn and our classmates behind. Our last day at William Penn, the 6th grade held a Sayonara dance with old-fashioned "dance cards." L. J. signed my card for a waltz and I was shocked and nervous. We started to dance and suddenly L. stopped. Did I have bad breathe? Was I too sweaty? Finally he said to me, "Sheri, would you please let me lead!" It astonished me so much I never forgot the moment. When we became officers together in high school, I teased him about it. He didn't laugh. He still wanted to lead.

Those of us who were leaving for the new elementary school, had made small autograph books for our friends to sign. Most of the kids just signed their names and something like "Good luck at the new school" or "I will miss you." I only remember one autograph. It was from M.S. He wrote, "I like you except for you hair." Ouch, that really hurt. I didn't like his hair either, but didn't tell him it was too greasy. His jab hit home. I didn't like my hair and he didn't have to rub salt in the wound. I think of that comment every time I have a bad hair day, which is often.

Sadly, for some of us, those childhood insults, even when said in jest, come back to haunt us and cause us to doubt ourselves.

No comments: