A lot happened in second grade. JFK had already been shot, but was still daily news. Even as a child, I knew the world was reeling. My sisters were already gaga over the Beatles; I was playing with my Thumbalina. It was the year after I kissed a boy, and the year before I was introduced to new cultures through Mrs. Wong, my third grade teacher.
In second grade, one of my class mates, the funniest kid in school, drowned in a boating accident. In second grade, Mrs. Cook was still allowed to hug us, and if we needed a hug, she would give it.
Mrs. Cook was the only teacher to have a husband (that we knew of). He dropped her off at school each morning, and if he was slightly late, and we were slightly early, we might catch a glimpse of him, which was like learning that movie stars use the bathroom. Very exciting stuff. Aside from this couple, we assumed all teachers were something akin to spinsters, although we we did not yet know the meaning of the word.
Mrs. Cook was a heavy-set woman, which I characterized as “having authority” unlike my previous two teachers, who appeared anorexic and even a little sickly at times. You spend your time in a room packed with snot-nosed little children who have yet to master the art of the Kleenex, I guess that’s the risk you take.
Every day started with playtime while the class got settled in. I have it in my mind that everyone enjoyed their own little activity day after day, but perhaps that’s another trick of the memory. I always chose the board with pegs. Later in life I would be given a similar board with pegs for post brain surgery cognitive rehab. It wasn’t’ funny.
Earlier, in Kindergarten, I gravitated towards towards the kitchenette, and would try to chorale some innocent bystander, often a boy standing idle in center of a flurry of activity, to play husband and wife with me.
The next year, in first grade, I kissed the boy who was staw-hander-outer for the day. I remember the nothingness in my brain distinctly. I didn’t think he was particularly cute or not cute, I didn’t especially like him, or not. He was just sitting making his way up and down the rows of seats and I thought he might like it if gave him a peck on the cheek. Surprisingly, he did not.
The resulting brew-haha ended with some fairly drastic action, including the teacher taking over the passing out of the straws. Those little jobs offered a tiny taste of freedom, were the introduction to an adult activity currently known as “sucking up,”and I loved them. When none of us could get up and walk around any longer, to my little sensitive heart, it seemed like the last straw.
Back to second grade, it was the best, because you didn’t have to learn times-tables until the next year. Those scary times tables haunted me from a young age, as my sisters tried to help me get a head start.
After pegboard time we would walk down a hall that had bright yellow and black fall-out shelter signs. I knew those signs were for the adults, but they, too were inherently scary.
My father went out a lot dressed nicely. Sometimes he took along his Tall Cedars hat, although mercifully he never left the house wearing it. We laughed and compared it to the hats they wore at the Royal Order of the Buffalo Lodge meetings held on the Flintstones.
On one particular evening he went out and didn’t come back until the next day. I heard him talking to mom about what to tell me. They decided not to approach the subject, and after what seemed like days I realized that my classmate, my funny, light-hearted William, had drowned. Early childhood memories play tricks on you, but I am quite positive nobody actually told me. I understood that he would not be coming back. Around that time, Mrs. Cook gave out a few extra hugs.
I guess what is making me think so much about these early years is that my grandson is pulling himself up now. His first year is going by so fast, and I know it won’t seem like long before he is walking down his own hallways with the equivalent of fall-out shelter signs hanging over his head.
Nana sends little angels to watch over you.