First Failures

Mound Elementary had many great qualities and truly did bestow upon me a good, or at least decent enough, education.  During my grade school years my instructors designed an array of purposeful and effective lessons and kept us all more or less in line behaviorally speaking.

That said, there did exist the outlier, the occasional, “Are you serious? We’re actually doing this?  Wait.  School is for education, right?”  Okay, so perhaps as an elementary school student I didn’t have quite the sarcasm I now possess, but nonetheless was left confused and mildly annoyed at the waste of my precious time.

One such instance occurred several weeks into my Kindergarten year.  I liked school so far.  I found it interesting, educational, and purposeful.  Pleased with my schooling experience thus far, I walked into Room 2, took my seat and prepared for another enriching day of enlightenment.

My teacher, in her Sunday School dress and Grandmother sweater walked to each table and dropped off the morning’s work.  It looked like this:

Fresh off the xerox, the purple ink was slightly smeary.  Surely this mysterious paper must be part of some intricate science experiment!  Typically our morning worksheet was simple, straight-forward, and self-explanatory.  But this – oh this was something different, special!  I eagerly sat in my navy blue chair, wearing my sailboat dress with matching bow, awaiting instruction from my teacher, the bearer of all knowledge.

She spoke: “Good morning class!  Today, for your morning work you will need to take out your scissors.  This is a cutting assessment.  Use your scissors and neatly cut each line on the paper.”  She went on to explain not to stop cutting too soon nor cut too far and other obvious things.

“This certainly must be a joke,” I thought silently to myself, “It must, must, must be a joke.”

I waited for Mrs. Finch to let us in on it, tell us she was kidding, to start laughing at what a foolish assignment this was.  None of these things happened.  Instead, every kid in the room began rummaging around their school boxes for what I could only assume to be a pair of scissors.  Sitting there dumbfounded, and mildly offended, I realized I was now the only student doing nothing; everyone else was meticulously cutting away.

Not wanting to appear noncompliant, I obediently removed my blue fiskars from my school box.  I ferociously began to work in what was perhaps the most hasty cutting job Room 2 had ever witnessed.  I haphazardly guided my scissors across each line.  The last started and the first finished, I marched over to the book corner where I read a lovely story with beautiful illustrations in what was clearly a much more effective use of my time. I received what was nearly my lowest mark of the year, only to be rivaled by the time I received an “unsatisfactory” in skipping.


Food for the Hungry

Reflecting on Kindergarten and the many memories it entails, one specific story keeps coming to the forefront of my mind.  I think that this is my own memory, but maybe it’s just borrowed.  Perhaps it is simply one of the stories you have been told over and over and over again that you start to internalize it, and slowly start to mistake it for your own.

Dad always had a soft spot for people in his life; not just people so much as humanity.  There was a man we often saw around town. He had long, tangled hair and was clad in many tattered layers of heavily worn clothing.  He stood on the corner of state route 725 where cars exited interstate 675.

I remember the first time I saw him.  We were driving home from West Virginia, and there he was, standing there, cardboard sign in hand.  It read, “Will work for food.”  I was confused by this and did not understand.  Food came from your refrigerator and cabinets and pantry, and when you ran out you simply went down the road to the local grocery and picked up some more off the shelves of Cub Foods. Armed with this vast background knowledge I had acquired through my five years of life, this strange man holding this strange sign didn’t settle well into my brain.

But life continued as it always does and on occasion we would see him out, holding his weather-worn sign.  One day we saw him while I was out with my sister and dad.  I’m not sure what was so different about this specific day, but on our way to Burger King we once again passed this man.

When we arrived at the drive-thru, Dad ordered one meal more than what our family required.  This, he informed us, was for the hungry man who stood on the corner.  After getting our food we turned out onto the road and headed back in the direction from which we came.  I felt proud of my dad for such a kind deed, and even quickly forgave him when he reached for the wrong cup and took a sip out of the drink which belonged to the man we were doing this act of kindness for.

We pulled the truck to the side of the road and rolled down the window.  Dad handed him the meal.

“Hey partner,” Dad started.  Dad was always calling people ‘partner’, only it came out much more like, ‘pardner’.  I’m not sure why this was, but I always thought it a perfectly normal thing to say.

“Here you go,” he continued, handing him the bag, “Sorry, but I did accidentally take a sip out of your drink,” he explained as he handed over the cup.

I’m not even sure if this man spoke any words at all, but the next thing I recall he was throwing the cup of Coke back in Dad’s face.  The dark liquid flew through the air in the midst of the cubes of ice splattering down the side of the truck.

Everything beyond the moment is a bit fuzzy in my brain.  I imagine my father didn’t say a word, and somberly drove off, perhaps muttering to himself under his breath, or, perhaps not.

Dead Fish & Day Care

For the majority of my life, I was fortunate enough to have one parent or the other around frequently enough to avoid all forms of child care. However, Mom conquered the near impossible and earned a college degree while raising three children, therefore some sort of child care was inevitable. Thus second grade was the year of AM Day Care. Now, admittedly, I was at first excited at the prospect of this. Apparently, I thought that this would be cool. Seven year old children are strange; I suppose it had some type of social appeal. I went, I believe, for two days a week in the morning before school.

I suppose it went alright at first.  At least, I think I liked it. I remember eating dry cereal and playing downstairs in the facility. There was a fifth grade girl who befriended me, but I thought she was a bit strange and fat. She wore these clunky black platform shoes with a buckle across her foot that her chubby little ankles hung out over. I thought such a shoe was not only unnecessary, but rather repulsive and decided I did not care for her. I remember riding in the van to school from the Three Bears Day Care and listening to country music on the radio.

You start walking your way, I’ll start walking mine, we’ll meet in the meadow and we’ll both be fine.

Yes. Sing-a-longs occurred. To this day I have no clue what song this is.  I remember that I liked that one the best. I had never really heard country music before.

But then things began to turn less than ideal as things often do. Let’s just say the lovely women of Three Bears were not so wonderful or lovely.  In fact I feel quite certain they maintained a deep rooted loathing of children. In addition to this wonderful attribute, they also vastly underestimated a seven year old child’s observation skills.  Either they were extraordinarily foolish, or I was exceptionally brilliant. In hindsight, I’m going to go with the former.

Their favorite game they taught us was one called, “Dead Fish”. In case the title isn’t sufficient, allow me enlighten you. It worked like this: lay on the floor, and pretend you’re a dead fish.  Still.  Silent. They especially liked to make us play this one if we were being too loud, or getting on their nerves with our basic needs or silly things of that nature. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? (Parents, I hope you’re whipping out some paper so you can take notes for effective child-rearing techniques). I myself didn’t find this so entertaining. To the contrary, I found it rather degrading even though I didn’t know the word for it yet.

Already disenchanted with these women, whom I imagine were middle-aged, overweight, and in general were lacking in the personal hygiene department, I really was not impressed by the manner in which they physically handled children.  Judging by their actions, the best manner in which to handle an upset young person is to pick them up by their arms and toss them into the timeout corner. I guess I missed that day in my behavoir management courses while in college.

Needless to say, with my astute powers of observation, combined with my desire to engage in conversation I disclosed all of this information to my mother. (Good ol’ mom.) A meeting was promptly set up between the faculty and my parents. While I do not recall the verdict of said meeting I do remember that I was swiftly removed from the center. Thus ended my childhood experience in day care.

Flawless Plans

It was the perfect plan, some would agrue flawless.  Here is how it would go: Kathryn and myself (typically referred to as Partners in Crime) would meet up with Jack at seven am.  The tardy bell would ring at promptly 7:09.  We would pile into Kathryn’s Cavalier, affectionately referred to as The Purple Bomb, and arrive at Bob Evan’s no later than 7:30 that lovely Thursday morning.  This would give us plenty of time to order and eat our breakfast before slinking back into the high school by 8:47 just as first period ended, leaving us precisely enough time to slip Mrs. Johansen her order of biscuits and gravy in return for her not marking us absent.  It was perfection.  Nothing could go wrong.

We were terribly mistaken.

The plan started out just as we anticipated.  I had stayed the night with Kathryn and we woke up and went to meet Jack.  As we drove down Byers road, the sounds of our summer ’03 CD mix filled the car with a nostalgic longing for summer.  The moment of truth was now upon us; the high school was coming into view.  I detected a brief hesitation from Kathryn before continuing to press down on the accelerator and we sped past 1860 Belvo.   A fleeting nervous feeling flitted down my spine for a brief instant.  However it didn’t last too long, and Nelly’s rap interrupted my worried thoughts.

We stepped into the restaurant.  At first, I nearly expected every adult within a twenty foot radius to pull out their cell phone and immediately call a truancy officer to come and arrest us.  He then, undoubtedly, would take us to jail where would inevitably rot in a forgotten cell reserved for children who commit the heinous act of skipping even one class of one school day.

But as it turned out, no one seemed to take notice of this trio of teenagers out and about on a Spring morning.  We ordered our meals in peace, and the South Western Omelet’s melted cheese never tasted so delicious.  Innocent me, sitting there taking in my small act of defiance.  As well as Kathrn, too, sitting there in her Springfield High School hooded sweatshirt.  Not to mention the high school guidance counselors sitting on the wall opposite of our booth.

Flashing red signals went off like a firework exploding in my brain.  All of the peace that delicious omelet brought to me was now no where to be found.  I was in a state of silent, utter panic.  Lest I forget, Kathryn sitting there in her SHS apparel with the giant Viking plastered across the front in case you didn’t bother reading the print.

“Kathryn!  Take that sweatshirt off!” I whisper-yelled, “Now!”

Fumbling foolishly, she scrambled awkwardly out of her sweatshirt, but to no avail: underneath we found nothing but her Springfield Swim Team t-shirt.  My mouth dropped and my heart sunk as my eyes made the connection to my brain which processed the gravity of our predicament.  Luck was not on our side.  Kathryn sheepishly slid down low into the booth, but whether out of shame or fear I was unsure.  A sick feeling returned to my stomach as it began to tie up in knots.  I was thoroughly convinced that we would be caught and I was all too aware that there was nothing that could be done.

We immediately asked our server for the bill, and I’m quite positive that I’ve never had to wait such an eternity for check.  As I stared at my watch, I painfully counted the seconds which seemed to stretch on into a vast infinity.  Eventually our bill came and we paid and tipped our waiter.  Quickly, we made a quasi-nonchalant dash-walk back to The Purple Bomb and we were on our way.  The lighthearted feeling that was present that morning was now replaced with a somber tone hanging on our shoulders as we headed back to school.  Nelly’s rap still sounded through the speakers, but it didn’t bring the sing-a-long it had merely hours before.

And then… silence.

“Hey, turn that back on,” Jack called up from the back seat.

“I didn’t turn it off!” Kathryn protested.

“Well, what happened then?” I inquired.

We exchanged quizzical glances as we approached the four way stop at Byers and Gebhart Church.  An eerie feeling crept upon us and the silence felt unnatural.  With slight apprehension, Kathryn pressed down on the accelerator after completing her stop.  Our weight shifted back in our seats as the car began to move forward, but began was all it did as the car slowly came to a halt in the middle of the intersection.

“Cut the engine and try again,” Jack feebly suggested.

In what we all felt to be a hopeless effort, Kathryn gently turned back the key.  A short pause ensued before she tried again.  The engine made a weak sputtering noise that sounded like some sort of dying animal taking its last breath before it gave out.

“Er… why don’t you try it one more time,” I suggested, a slight shake in my voice.

With no success, we sat in heavy silence after a second failed attempt.  An unspoken, “What now?” filled the space between us.  The Purple Bomb sat idle in the intersection of the four way stop.

Just when we thought all was lost, we had hit rock bottom, and there was nothing more left to lose, it began to rain.  Not just rain.  No light April shower to bring us lovely May flowers, but a downpour: a monsoon in midwest America.

As Jack and I stared out the car window watching the rain drops dancing down the glass, a sinking feeling ripple down from my heart to the bottom of my stomach.  I felt sick.  It was hopeless.  We played the silent game of who could last the longest and not verbalize the only obvious solution to our predicament.

Jack finally caved, “Well, are you going to call him, or should we just sit in the intersection a little more?”

Kathryn’s hand had a subtle tremor as she pulled out her phone, which matched her voice as she spoke to her father.  Kathryn retorted a brief account of our story, which was followed by a prolonged silence that seemed to correlate to the forlorn look on her face.  She said her goodbye and the sound of her phone closing resonated in my ears and signified the finality of our defeat.  Our short hours of rebellion had come to a close.  It was time to return to school.