Well here it is, September 4th, day four of a seven-day challenge, and I’ve only given you one post. Is anyone surprised I’m behind on my own challenge? Probably not. Is anyone disappointed? …probably not.
Day 3 – First Grade.
My first grade teacher was Mrs. Donelly. …or Donnely? Donnelly, perhaps? I have no idea how to spell it, which is actually ironic, since I recall the OTHER first grade teacher coming over to our class room one day specifically to ask her, how she spelled her last name, because he’d put it on his classes spelling list. I, however… who actually had her as a teacher, never learned to spell her name. Basically it was some kind of mash-up of “Don Henley”.
I recall a lot of first grade events. In fact I find as I sit here that I’m remembering more and more. (This is likely to be a very long-winded post!)
First grade was my first experience with a bully. There was a little skinny prick with black hair, beady brown eyes, and a sharp nose named Shawn (or Sean, maybe?) Wiener. Of all the last names a bully could have… He pronounced it “Wine – er”. The lesser of two evils I suppose. I don’t know what his home life was like, but I have to assume it was abusive, because for someone to be as rude and malicious as he was, it’d have to be.
He had a voice that almost sounded hoarse. Like the kind of voice that when I hear these days I can’t help but clear my throat.
Anyway, I was the sort of kid who just wanted to have fun, and be happy. I always smiled, and wanted everyone else to smile too. I had no idea how to deal with this kind of thing. One of my few things I would go back in time and change is letting people walk on me like he did. I’d love to go back in time and shove him up his own ass.
There was one day I was walking home from school. It just so happened that his route home was almost exactly the same as mine. He found a strip of rubber, that I THINK was a refrigerator gasket, or perhaps some piece of rubber that cars used to have along the side, to prevent door dings. It was perhaps four feet long, and maybe an inch thick. He used it like a whip.
It was raining that day, and I had my always-in-style yellow vinyl rain coat on. The strip of rubber deflected harmlessly off of it, and I didn’t feel a thing, so I ignored him. We walked for perhaps a mile like this, him behind me whipping me like a mule, and me pretending he wasn’t there.
A car slowed down as they passed us, and a teenager hung his head out the window. “Don’t let him do that! Punch his lights out!” Shawn said “I can do that!” and he hit me in the back. “There! That was easy!”
I remember being shocked at how little I felt it. I thought my rain coat was pretty amazing! Of course, looking back, I probably had about twenty pounds on the kid. He was scrawny. I was rather NOT.
The car left, I’m sure with some passenger shaking his head, and I went on ignoring him. *Thwhip!**Thwhip!**Thwhip!*
Until one particular thwip that came up just a little higher than all the rest, came around and snapped me right in the eye. I howled, and he ran off. I remember seeing him running off, acid-washed pegged-leg jeans, navy blue jacket floating out behind him like a cape.
My mother called the school, Shawn was taken out of class the next day, and was gone for a couple of days. I think he got his ass beat at home. Good enough.
Our class room and Mr. Reilly’s classroom were separated by an accordion-style partition. Every now and again, they’d pull it back and we’d have this gigantic room to play in for a while.
Mr. Reilly was tough, so I was afraid of him. However, he had guinea pigs. Long story short, during one of these double class room free-for-alls, I and another kid (who was also a bit of an asshole… I mean, also like Shawn, not also like me) broke the water bottle giving the guinea pigs a “shower”. We got in a whole heap of trouble.
Mr. Reilly taught the WHOLE first grade math. We learned about “The Greedy Duck” who always wanted the biggest serving of food! So when he could have either two donuts, or instead choose four donuts, he’d always choose four! (i.e. 2<4 ) . However, I didn’t come away from that lesson with the intended information. I never really understood that “<” was “Less Than” and “>” was “Greater Than”. I understood it in principle, but not when it came to the grammar of the equation. I knew that 2<4 meant that two was less than four, and 4>2 meant that four was greater than two… But it wasn’t until years later that I realized people were actually reading the equation… In other words, I didn’t know < was ACTUALLY CALLED a “Less than” much the way a ” : ” is called a colon. I didn’t know < and > even HAD names until like freshman year in high school. Just never put it together.
My father was a very numbers-oriented person. He was a machinist / technician at MIT’s Magnet lab. He could do trig like nobody’s business. He taught me to use a slide rule in the early 90’s. (Not that I remember now…). He hated the way I was taught math. (Hell, I hated the way I was taught math… I hate math!) We were taught that if one number was subtracted from a number of lesser value, then the answer was 0. In other words… 4-7=0.
My father did my math homework with me once, and the problem was 3 – 7 = ? . He made me put -4, and he told me that if I was told it was incorrect, to ask Mr. Reilly to prove it. So I did. Mr. Reilly pursed his lips, sighed, then rolled his eyes. “Okay,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the one to have to teach this to you guys… But there’s a whole world of numbers on the other side of the 0.” He wrote 0 to 10 on the board… and then wrote -1 to -10 on the other side of the 0. “The DARK side…” To this day, when I see a negative number, I think of Darth Vader.
One of our class “themes” at one point was descriptive words… Which I now know as adjectives and adverbs, but I didn’t learn that until 3rd grade… We sat around the “rug” in a circle on our chairs, and we passed around an apple. We were told to take a bite, and then describe the apple. Alarms went off in my head… What about germs!? What about talking with my mouth full?! …”Eh,” I figured. My teacher told me to do it, it must be ok! The apple came and went, and it stopped a Jarrett Simon, who held up a finger while he chewed. The teacher remarked on his good manners. Bah! I was tricked! I had good manners too, I was just thrown off! Mislead by a trusted advisor!
She once sent a letter home with me to give to my mother. I don’t think it was a letter of praise, I seem to recall it was some kind of notification of a problem I had or something like that. My mother sent the letter back, corrected in red ink. Apparently there were spelling mistakes all over it. This came up in conversation as recently as a few years ago, but I can’t recall exactly what it was that she’d misspelled. Might have been “Here” vs. “Hear” or something like that.
The last big thing I remember about first grade was that now and then, Treva Krantz, the school’s Vice Principal would substitute for Mrs. Donnelly from time to time. This was not ok. I was dealthy afraid of her. She was older, possibly in her 60s? I’m not sure if this is accurate or not, but I seem to remember her always in a denim or possibly navy linen, long dress, some kind of button down dress shirt, from the sleeves of which she’d product tissues, and a button down sweater. She had short dark gray hair, and thick glasses she wore with a lanyard. She was a hard old lady, or at least that’s how I remember it. There was just something about her that scared the you know what outta me. I cried when she subbed.
Many years later my mother told me that I was afraid of her because on my first day of pre-K, as we walked into the school, Ms. Krantz was twisting some kid’s arm behind his back, and marching him along to her office. I don’t remember this, but I did see her do it again, six or seven years later.
Interestingly, I just googled her and apparently she passed away in March of 2011… I also learned how to spell my Kindergarten teacher’s name from that same obituary: “For 47 years, the beloved partner and life-long friend of Barbara LaPotin.”
First grade in a nut shell: I was taught to share food and shun personal hygiene, and that anything to the left of the zero was in league with the sith lord.
Day 4: Second Grade:
My second grade teacher was Rose Christiansen. She was Filipino, and she could walk with a gigantic basket balanced perfectly on her head! I thought that was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. She didn’t wobble, she didn’t tip… it was like an extension of her head. I was amazed.
We had the opportunity to dissect piglets in her class. I don’t know why, or how, or what… Doesn’t make a lot of sense what with being seven years old and all. Not to mention it was Brookline, which is full of liberals and hippies, and such. It’s also mostly Jewish too, yet here we were, seven year-olds, dissecting piglets. (not so kosher).
I remember when they (the infamous “they”! I don’t remember WHO, but….) came in with white 5-gallon buckets. “Do you want to participate Matthew, or will you get sick to your stomach?” I remember feeling like that comment was just a little bit barbed… She must have had talks about me with Shawn Wiener. I must have had “Wuss” tattooed on my forehead. Anyway, I decided not to participate. Interpret that however you like.
Fridays in June we always went to the high school pool, “The Tank”, it was called. So I came equipped with a change of clothes. I remember walking through the cafe, and she started shouting, “Matthew!” I turned around. “You dropped your underpants!” There on the floor were my aqua-blue briefs.
Alright, so at this point, I’ve been sitting here for a couple of hours, and with each paragraph I write, another dozen or so memories flood in. I think I need to cut this short. I’ll try to get another two days done tomorrow, and I’ll be caught up…
And if you know me, you realize that what I really just said is “I just might post once again this week….”
Whenever I get around to it, I’ll be back with more back to school challenge, in one form or another!