December 11, 2020

Shirley was right; school wasn’t so bad

That morning I’d gotten up earlier than usual, pulled on a pair of bib overalls and fastened the galluses over a blue chambray shirt. Then I’d gone to the kitchen for a bowl of Wheaties with sliced bananas, a dash of sugar sprinkled over each slice, and covered in thick cream.
          It was my first day of school. I’d wanted to start school the year before but wasn’t old enough. Now I was having mixed feelings. One minute I couldn’t wait for school to start; the next minute I’d try to think how to put it off. For days, I’d been asking my mother, my father, the woman next door, the girl across the street—anybody who’d listen—to tell me what it was like to go to school. 
          But the day had finally arrived for me to find out for myself. I shoveled the Wheaties down like a starving pig, occasionally chewing a slice of banana before swallowing it. At the kitchen sink, I slowed down long enough to pump some water into a washpan and splash a little on my face to erase the milk mustache with one hand and slick down a cowlick with the other one.
          Then I ran out the door to meet the girl across the street as she walked out of her front door. She was in the sixth grade.
          “What’ll I have to do today, Shirley?” I asked as we walked down the road toward the one-room schoolhouse. 
          I don’t remember her being specific about anything. But she might as well have told me that Miss (Leona) Race carried a blacksnake whip like Lash LaRue and would pop out one of your eyes if you ever crossed her. I was too frightened for it to have made any difference. 
          “But what’ll I do today?” I asked again, looking at the school with one eye and watching Shirley’s face with the other one.
          When she answered, I asked if the teacher would whip anyone. 
          “Of course she will,” Shirley said. “She’s a teacher. But you don’t have to worry about it. All you have to do is to mind what she says and do your work. She only whips you if you’re bad.”
          “What if I have to go to the toilet?” I asked, feeling much more like going to the toilet than going to school.
          She smiled, and held up one finger and said, “Hold up one finger if you have to do No. 1 and two fingers if you have to do No. 2.”
          It all seemed so simple.
          “Is school hard?” I asked, firing another question as the schoolhouse threatened to swallow us before she could answer. “I don’t know how to write.”
          Shirley, bless her heart, sighed and took a long breath before she patiently explained that was why I was going to school.          
          “You’ll get some books, and you’ll color in you colorin’ books,” she said. “Maybe read a little. Nothing hard. First grade is easy.” 
          “Heck, I can’t read,” I said.
          “That’s why you’re goin’ to school,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
          I did worry about it, and my knees knocked together as we made the final assualt, and we walked through the schoolhouse door. 
          Miss Race looked up and said, “Hello, just show him where the first grade sits, Shirley.’”  
          From there on, I don’t remember a thing about that day and not much about the year. Oh, I remember trying to read to my mother about Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot running around. And I remember having trouble with the word “run.” Mother told me so many times that every time I’d hesitate, my younger sister would say, “Run.” 
          Other than that, school wasn’t a problem. Miss Race was a nice teacher, particularly considering the fact that she taught all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse. 
          Most of the time I liked school that year. I did wonder if I’d ever grow up and get out of  school. The only world I knew was just outside the window. And I wanted to see what was going on beyond where I could see. 
          So I’d daydream and think about the world beyond the window. It’s undoubtedly an experiece that kids everywhere share, whether they went to a one-room country school or a school in the heart of the city. 
          When I’m reminded of mine, I stare out the window and smile as I recall walking to school with Shirley that morning. She was right. School wasn’t so bad then.