When I was in the second grade, my family moved to a very small town in Oklahoma (population: 200). And I spent the second half of the school year in a freezing building that lumped two grades into each classroom, possibly to save money on teachers. Or maybe that’s all the room they had. My stepsister was in the third/fourth grade classroom and they had to wear mittens because of the big hole in the middle of the floor that blew in cold air, so I guess I had it easy. My younger sister was in kindergarten, and I’m sure she didn’t know what to think.
I had come from a school at which I only had to share the room and teacher with other second graders, and my main goal in life was to progress in my reading enough to make it to the big red book. The red book was the hardest one we had. And now, I had class with first graders, and the teacher tried very hard to manage to teach both grades at the same time, but that would be difficult under the best circumstances, and we didn’t have heat or a chalkboard and honestly, the kids were pretty rowdy. Also, there was no big red book.
I spent my days as the teacher’s helper. I would go around the class and help the younger kids with their math and grade papers and I don’t remember that I really learned anything new, although that school did introduce me to beets. I was shocked and horrified to find this lump of red on my plate, bleeding into my perfectly good mashed potatoes and roll.
The kids introduced me to schoolyard songs too. You know, “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout.” I didn’t knowwhat pinochle was, but I sure didn’t want it played on my snout. We were also partial to the one about fighting with spitwads, gum, and clay for longer recesses and things.
We lived in the woods, and to amuse ourselves we would:
- Turn over rocks and look for scorpions. When we found one we would taunt it with sticks so its tail flailed about in the air.
- Try to catch lizards in Coke bottles. Once, I grabbed a fairly large one by its middle and it turned right around and sunk its mouth into my hand. And refused to let go. I was shaking my arm, trying to get him off, and he just dug in. Another time, I was trying to corner a lizard and get him to run into my bottle and I slipped on a rock and smashed the bottle into bits. A piece of glass flew into my knee and blood started gushing out. I didn’t want to tell my mom because I was sure I would get in trouble, so I just stayed out until the bleeding was easy to hide. I still have the scar.
- Ride the top of a nearby oil well. It was a little like riding a horse, except that it was somewhat tricky climbing up there, what with all the moving parts that could smash your fingers and toes off, and once you got up there, you realized it was pretty high, and there wasn’t much to hold on to.
- Slowly inch our way onto on icy pond and try to be the one who got the farthest out. It was a delicate balance between being chicken and staying where the ice was solid and being stupid and breaking through.
Somehow, I survived.
The kids in the house nearest us had the following pets: a tarantula, two ferrets, a dog, a horse, a pony, chickens, one rooster. Sometimes, we would ride the pony and I pretended it was fun, although we rode him bare back and we only knew how to make him trot. We would go to their house and listen to The Rose on their record player. The older girl had a KISS record, but I knew, because my mom had told me so, that KISS worshipped satan, so I always made her turn it off. She explained to us once about sex using play-doh for the relevant body parts.
The kids in the next nearest house were also a bad influence, because their mom was an aerobics instructor, and aerobics was this new, racy thing that featured both dancing and rock music, so obviously of the devil, just like KISS. Also, the parents watched Dallas, which we were not allowed to watch. Everytime I was at their house, I felt like I was doing something wrong.
But kids are hard to come by in town with a population of 200, so we muddled through with our Satanist friends. When I started third grade, my parents transferred us to a Christian school.