The First Boy I Slept With

The floor was hard and the mat was lumpy

Robert was the first boy I ever slept with. We shared a nap mat in kindergarten. I was 5 years old. I remember the room (in the lower NW corner of the building) and the wooden blocks. Not much else. Joan Hartman was the teacher. I know because dad saved all my report cards. Looks like following directions like a good little soldier was a problem in its infancy.

After nap time those little shortbread cookies in the shape of a daisy and a small carton of milk were doled out. We only were given one cookie. It was never enough.

Robert played a much larger role in my life later. Check the studious young man with glasses in the previous blog.

He lived next to the school and was not supposed to ride his bike the 3 blocks to my house. But he was gallant and would come over anyway to help me learn how to ride his little two-wheeler. I didn’t have any bike yet and I ached for the freedom.

In first grade I had my little blue cotton hanky with the pink flowers tapped over my mouth, and as I recall, spent a fair amount of time in the coatroom. I can only guess what drove Miss Shirley Troyer to remove my charming and witty self from the classroom. A hint might be found on my second grade report card: “Gail does not like to be told what to do.” Upon reflection, Gail still does not like to be told what to do, but I like to think I’ve learned to manage it with some diplomatic graciousness. I think dad’s comments on the report card reflect mom’s and dad’s general ‘hands off’ approach to my education, unless I went to them with a specific question. They always had time to answer any questions.

First grade was where I learned the most important bit of information I was ever to learn in my entire educational career; it came from dad.

We were taught to read by using flash cards with the vocabulary words printed on them in super large font. Phonics had been abandoned at the time. We would pull our little chairs around in a circle by the door, the teacher would hold up the cards and we would chorus the word; sight reading they called it. These words would then be in the little Dick and Jane readers we’d use later.

Not much plot. Dick nor Jane ever got dirty

Usually I could remember the words with no problem; then came ‘big’ and ‘little’. “It does not make sense,” I wailed in frustration to dad. “ ‘Big’ is a little word, and ‘little’ is a big word. “Don’t worry, Gail,” he consoled me, “Everything is easy, once you know how. You will spend the rest of your life figuring out how.”

This bit of wisdom has stood by me through many rough educational patches: Spanish, chemistry, FORTRAN, and statistics, as well as numerous non-academic challenges; Twitter for example. For a college anatomy class scheduled at 7:00am, I discovered, I simply wasn’t that invested in figuring out how, and willing to live with the consequences. If that class had been at 1:30 in the afternoon I may be a retired brain surgeon. OK, probably not.

I learned to write in 2nd grade, but Mrs. Hattie Harp instructed us in cursive writing in 3rd grade. We had wooden desks with holes in the upper right hand corner for the bottles of ink to sit in. Metal nib pens were dipped in the ink. No ballpoints. We would practice first with pencil then move to the ink. The pressure was intense. Cursive writing was taught by writing each letter in large flowing lines, over and over, and over and over.

Two events stand out in my 3rd grade reminisces. Miss Harp noticed I was having trouble seeing the blackboard so mom took me to see the optometrist. Walking outside for the first time with my new glasses, I was astonished to discover that the birds flew to the tops of the trees.

The second was taking a coin to school to put towards the purchase of a war bond. Can’t say much else about it, except I did receive a couple bonds. Mom or Dad probably gave me the the dime or quarter to buy the stamp, but at six or seven years my blossoming desire for financial independence leveraged the pile of newspapers that dad kept in the garage into a little hard cash.

In the summer I would get permission to take the newspapers to the trash man. After telling mom were I was going, I would pile my little red wagon as high as I could (usually some would topple off and I’d have to pick them up on the way) and walked the wagon about six blocks to some kind of little recycling place. It had a platform to pull the wagon onto and the man would weigh it and give me some money. I’d pull the empty wagon back home with cash in my pocket. I didn’t always make it past the little market with the candy. Much to my husband’s consternation, having my own money was ingrained from this early heady experience. I like earning it. I like spending it without explanation.

4th and 5th grades are a blur of late bells, time spent in the principal’s office (she had a couch under the windows at one end) and the blond 6th grade girl who was assigned monitor of the girls’ bathroom.

There were three stalls in the girls bathroom. The last stall was for teachers, only. I took a quick look in it one day to see what made it so special. Looked just like the others to me.

I suppose taking turns must have been a problem, because Mrs. Diener assigned monitors for the bathrooms during recess. I don’t know anything about the boys side, I don’t recall ever venturing into the boys bathroom, but this blond girl relished her responsibility. She would stand outside with her arm across the doorway making certain one person at a time got in. My nose came to the bend in her elbow. I can see this girl clearly, her name escapes me. Her empowered attitude and beautiful blonde hair remain clear.

Clarence Leichty was my 5th and 6th grade teacher. The first male teacher I had. I recall him as slender and with dark hair. I don’t remember learning anything from him. What I remember is that he read to the class. The book that was so impressive was about a young African boy. I was enthralled. I don’t recall the title of the book nor the author, but the story was seductively exotic. Travel and adventure were in my bones.

Enough of this formal early education. Summers were far more interesting.