Erin

Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Chasing Turkeys in the Country Club

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Erin is cornered in the Great White North this year, and is hosting a party to teach the People of Other Lands the true meaning of American Thanksgiving (with Tofurky!).  In honor of her party and the upcoming holiday, I thought a post reminding her of Thanksgiving via the Unnamed Religious Private School would be apropos. 

I’ve had to mull this post over a few times, because this is the first time that I’ll be posting a memory that’s very scattered.  It doesn’t exist in my brain as a narrative, but rather as a bunch of scattered, disparate parts that might actually come from a series of years rather than a single event.  So rather than fudging anything resembling linear narrative, I will provide you with a series of remembered events, which may or may not be connected to one another.

 Erin has already mentioned the Thanksgiving Play, and my memories of this are much the same as hers.  I’m certain that the plot of the play was “Pilgrims set out for America.  Pilgrims land and are extremely righteous, but in order to teach them a lesson God sends them a Very Harsh Winter.  Some people get sick.  Some people even die!  Helpful Indians (played by dark-haired children such as myself) help them grow crops.  Helpful Indians join Pilgrims at First Thanksiving, where the women cook the meal while the men teach the Indians about Jesus.  The Indians readily accept Jesus despite what must have been some really difficult translation barriers.  Everyone is happy, and thus thankful, despite all the bodies still lying around from the Very Harsh Winter.  (I believe that one year we actually did have some kids play sick people, and I think one of them stayed on stage longer than he was supposed to, thus giving the impression that the neglected dead were still lounging about during the festivities.)

 Thanksgiving is always a troublesome holiday at religious schools, because it’s the only holiday (besides Halloween, which is OFF LIMITS) that isn’t specifically referenced in scriptures.  When teachers talked to us about the “true meaning” of Christmas, they inevitably spent several days pouring over the birth of Christ with us.  The meaning of Easter was similarly divined through readings of the Crucifixion.  But the Pilgrims aren’t technically IN the Bible (as much as our teachers might have wanted them to be), and so somehow we escaped with having a fairly secular time at Thanksgiving.  We made the traditional Hand-Turkey crafts and lists of things we were thankful for.  And I can’t imagine that our play was that much more culturally insensitive than anyone else’s.  The myths of Thanksgiving are a pretty ingrained part of American childhoods, public- and private-schooled alike.  (This makes me wonder what kids who grow up on Reservations think of the holiday.)  We also did additional crafts projects to eat up the time that would normally have been dedicated to something less secular, like a scripture reading.  The year we did the play, we created our own set (featuring a giant cave!) out of papier mache. 

A few years later (I think), someone must have made the decision that crafts were not adequate to teach us about the meaning of Thanksgiving.  Because that year, we were sent to the M family’s house to learn about all of the chores and tasks that go into planning a True American Thanksgiving.

Regular readers of this blog are already familiar with the Family M.  They are the family that includes Melissa and her twisted sisters, along with their theatrical mother and the father who donned tiny bathrobes.  Erin has already mentioned that they were the family who attempted to provide our class with “culture”, carting us all to plays and Junior League events.  This year their role as cultural attaches was extended somewhat, as they taught us the proper way to plan a Thanksgiving feast.  One morning the week before Thanksgiving break, we all hopped in cars driven by chaperoning parents and took a field trip to the country club, where Mrs. M greeted us at the door to her stately mansion and informed us we would learn how to be real ladies and gentlemen this Thanksgiving.

Did I mention that we were all wearing Pilgrim and/or Indian outfits?  We were requested to come in costume as members of the first Thanksgiving.  Most of us just used our costumes from the annual play, meaning that I was dressed in my felt Indian vest and headband, complete with feathers and two long pigtail braids.  So a group of mostly Pilgrims and a few select Indians stormed the mansion door, still uncertain what, exactly, we were going to learn.

This is where my memory gets splotchier than I would like.  I am certain that a day at the house of M must have been beyond hilarious, but I can’t get a clear picture of what, exactly, we did once we were there.  I know that a major portion of our “lesson” involved cooking and cleaning.  Mrs. M had arranged for us to prepare specific T-day dishes – potato salad, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green been casserole.  And she also taught us the importance of having a clean house; some of us were assigned to polish various furnishings and mop the hardwood floors in preparation for our feast.  (I feel that I must commend the school here, as this lesson was surprisingly gender neutral.  As far as I can remember, the boys were assigned to cook and clean right alongside the girls.)

What I remember most vividly, though, is the moment when Mrs. M and our teacher gathered us all together and talked about the importance of remembering the first Thanksgiving as we set about preparing our own feasts.  The Pilgrims, they reminded us, had not only to cook and to clean, but also to hunt, fish, and gather.  They lived off the land, and the preparation of any feast involved the hard legwork of the hunter.  (I would swear too that when we cooked the meal, Mrs. M made the preparations as primitive as possible, leaving out the use of electric appliances wherever feasible.  But this might be a misremembrance.)  Thus, on this day we were going to learn how hard it was to hunt a turkey.

I have no idea why someone in the country club had turkeys.  But someone did.  Specifically, he was a grouchy old man who shouted a lot and didn’t seem all that happy about having us on his property.  He had a pretty extensive plot of land that included foul of all kinds, cows, and I think even a pig or two.  Now that I’m older I look back on him and wonder if he was one of those old men who thinks the government is coming for his money one day and keeps a small farm-like plot just in case someone steals all his worldly goods.  But whatever the reason, he had animals, and we needed those animals in order to learn about the First Thanksgiving.

Mrs. M showed us around the “farm,” explaining how each animal would have served the Pilgrims in the creation of their feast.  (Cows?  In early America?  I’m not so sure about that one.  But they probably didn’t eat sweet potato casserole with marshmallows either, so I guess I shouldn’t expect this even to have been historically accurate.)  We learned that any and all food came from plants and animals, not from the grocery store.

But the capper of the event was when the grouchy old man stepped in to tell us how hard it was to catch a turkey.  If we were learning about the hardships of the early days, it was important to understand that nature was difficult to tame, and that most wild animals didn’t just walk right into the path of your rifle.  As he made his point, he walked towards a small fence at he back of the property, threw open a gate, and set free three enormous turkeys to run about the yard.  He claimed that they were “wild turkeys,” although I think that adjective becomes moot once an animal is kept in a pen in your yard.  But either way, the man was taken with the majesty of the turkey (just like Ben Franklin!) and wanted us to understand how hard a bird it was to bag.  “Just try to catch those turkeys,”  he challenged.

And with that, 20 elementary school kids dressed as Pilgrims and Indians took off after 3 big birds, scrambling across the acreage, bumping into unsuspecting cows and pigs in our plight to grab the centerpiece of all Thanksgiving meals.  We got close a couple of times, including one in which I swear the thing turned around and nipped my arm.  But I doubt any of us succeeded.  After much scrambling around, Mrs. M called us back and told us it was time to head back to the house.  Luckily for us, some astute shopper had already provided us with a bird via the grocery store, so our feast would not remain incomplete, despite our failure to bag the turkey.

I don’t know where our teacher was during all of this.  I suspect it was a nice day off for her.  I’m really crossing my fingers this time, hoping that Erin remember SOME of this, because I’m certain there’s more to this story.  Anytime a crazy rich lady teaches a bunch of costumed kids about the “true meaning” of Thanksgiving, there are bound to be some comedic scenes.  But all of them were pushed out of my mind by the crazy old man who got a kick out of watching us chase his turkeys.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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And a peacock too!

In Sharon on October 16, 2009 at 10:26 am

I have seen the video, my friends.  We don’t get all that many opportunities in life to confirm our memories with hard proof, but in this particular case I have a VHS tape full of proof, and the main point I want to make, based on this footage, is that our elementary school was often PROFOUNDLY RIDICULOUS.

I am referring to a tape my grandfather must have made of our 2nd/3rd grade Christmas musical.  I’m sure all of you were in Christmas  plays at one time or another.  In the South they’re unavoidable, even if you attend a supposedly non-sectarian public school.  (My friend Sarah, who is Jewish, has a great story about the Christmas-Around-the-World pageant she was required to perform in during 1st grade.  The teacher was going around assigning countries for each student to represent.  When it was Sarah’s turn, she tried to protest, telling the teacher, “but I’m Jewish!”  The teacher said, “That’s perfect, Sarah!  Then you can be Christmas in Israel!”)  Everyone did a Christmas play.  I’m sure most of the ones we did had the basic Jesus-Mary-Joseph theme, with a backup cast of wise men, shepherds, and angels.  But this one year, our music teacher decided to put on Angels and Lambs, Ladybugs and Fireflies – a performance that in the end required a literal ton of fabric, sparkles, and fake feathers.

Angels and Lambs is actually a fairly popular children’s Christmas musical written by a man named Fred Bock.  I mention Mr. Bock because when I lived in California, I was often confronted with people who believed that intense religiosity was the strict provenance of the deep South.  What I learned from living in both places is that each has its own brand of religion.  The difference is that California’s is more televangelism than ours.  SoCal is home to Mr. Bock (who was music minister for the Hollywood Presbyterian Church for enormous numbers of years) as well as the weird weird weird world of the Crystal Cathedral – whose yearly Christmas play completely outdoes anyone else’s standards of absurdity.  (Their angels actually “fly” in from the super-high vaulted ceilings using Hollywood-type props – and with looks of sheer fright on their faces.  Their stage has a hidden fountain, and they use real animals during production – including a couple of camels.)

The basic plot of Bock’s work is that a population of wild creatures – bugs, birds, lambs, and for some reason a peacock –  are present during the shepherds’ conversation about the birth of the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.  They (meaning the creatures) then have a discussion about whether they should go to the birth too.  They eventually decide that as creatures of the air and field they can spread the good news about Jesus’ birth, and that they will head to Bethlehem, telling everyone they meet along the way.

What I remember most about this play is the costumes.  We had a huge contingent of kids spreading across all classes of two grades, and the stage was filled with little ones dressed as creatures of the earth and sky.  Now, if this had been a public school production, the costumes would likely have been fairly simple – affordable.  But we were not a public school, and most of our student body had money coming out of their ears and other orifices.  So our teacher (whom I actually remember liking) decided she would follow the VERY PRECISE instructions on costume-construction that come from the booklet accompanying the play.  (This play is available for purchase through Amazon, by the way.  It comes with sheet music, a play booklet, and detailed costume and set designs, should any of you want to put on your own production.)  Erin and I had to go to a professional seamstress to have our butterfly wings sewn onto our little black leotards.

So the first thing that struck me as my mom and I watched this old home movie were the crazy costumes.  The back of the stage was lined with birds of all types – eagles, parrots, flamingos, and one poor kid sporting a peacock’s outspread feathers made from cardboard and taking up 3/4 of rear-center stage.  Whenever he walked to the microphone at the front of the stage to deliver his one line, he had to move sideways to keep from hitting anyone.

Secondly, I really was very tall.  I am by far the biggest butterfly.  Also, somehow in a cast of probably 80 kids Erin and I still managed to get placed right next to each other on stage.  We’re both butterflies and we’re standing next to each other the entire time, even though I’m on the back row with the tall kids and all you can see is the top of Erin’s head.  I am always amazed at how much time we were able to spend together.  In most cases good friends get separated during events like this, mostly because teachers are afraid they’ll talk and cause a ruckus.  I guess our reputation as Goody-Two-Shoes prevented this.  In fact, I am SUCH a Goody-Two-Shoe that I get cast as the butterfly who eventually argues that yes, all creatures great and small SHOULD go to the birth of Jesus.  This seems on par with my childhood go-with-the-flow philosophy.   (I was also the angel Gabriel – wrongly gendered – in numerous Christmas productions.  My niche in these plays seems to be as the figure of ultimate Good.  Interesting.  I think maybe it’s because I had a pretty loud, clear voice for a kid.  If there’s one line you want people to hear, it’s the line about how “God has sent his baby son to be a savior for everyone!”)

Thirdly, I remembered something about the powerful politics of school plays.  We’ve already mentioned that Melissa was part of our school’s elite.  And Erin mentioned a few posts back that Melissa’s mother was very young and pretty.  But she was also a member of one of the local Baton Rouge theater troupes.  In Melissa’s words, she was an “actress” – the sort of person who was always talking about doing “legitimate theater”.  And it’s true that Miss Annie* always seemed to have costumes and props lying around the house when we visited.  Once Miss Annie and her Junior League friends decided to throw an elaborate tea party with a 1920’s theme for one of Melissa’s younger sisters.  Melissa and Erin and I were somehow recruited to serve tea at the party, and Miss Annie dressed all of us up in authentic Roaring 20’s garb.  I have no idea why this happened.

At any rate, Melissa constantly bragged about her mother’s theatric connections.  And somehow, some way, she always managed to get appointed as the “star” of any school play.  During Angles and Lambs, she played Mary, one of the only two actual human characters and the ONLY one who got to sit down through the entire production, while the rest of us had to stand for hours during rehearsals, trying not to twitch or fidget.

I was complaining to my mom about this as we watched the video.  And then she reminded me of something I had completely forgotten.

(Beware: cheesy moralistic ending fast approaching…) At the end of the performance that night, I was standing around getting hugs and congratulations from my parents and grandparents, who all attended our one-night show.  (My dad even attended despite his bronchitis.  You can hear him coughing during the video.)  Melissa walked over to us and started talking to my parents, shaking hands with my grandparents, ever the big adult girl.  Then, still in complete Mary regalia, she said, “Can you drive me home?”

My mom was puzzled.  “Melissa, aren’t your parents here?”

No.  They were not there.  My mom continued questioning her for a few minutes, just to make sure she had full grasp of the situation.  “So your mom told you to just grab a ride with someone else?”  She had.

So Melissa rode home with us that night.  And my mom reports that, even in the car, she was still the consummate actress.  She delivered an extensive monologue on the pains of working with Mike, the very sweet boy who had been her Joseph.  He was NOT an adequate Joseph, and he had NOT listened to Melissa’s various directives.  My mom says that this really was a monologue – that Melissa was already more grown up than the rest of us, and that she knew how to work an audience.  She was self-aware in a way that most of us wouldn’t be until years later, when we started grasping the border between fantasy and reality.  Melissa was a girl who always knew EXACTLY what she was doing.

So, as cheesy as this is, it’s nice to realize that even though I hated her star power at the time, my whole family was at that play.  Hers left her to find a ride, even though she had a solo and was ostensibly the star.  I guess they needed to sit around and try on short robes again, or something else equally important.

*again, not her real name.  But it should be noted here that we did refer to all mothers by their first names, with a “Miss” prefix.  This is just what you do in the South.  Only teachers were known by their last names.  And although I am now a full fledged adult in my late twenties, if I ran into Erin’s mom on the street I would probably still use her name with “Miss.”  I just can’t do it any other way.

Which one of us was that, again?

In Sharon on October 11, 2009 at 4:09 pm

It’s difficult to follow up Erin’s revelation of the LCI, especially because it’s a completely new tale to me.  When she says she’s never revealed it before, she must not be exaggerating.  I’m certain that if this tale had been tellable, I would have heard it by now.

That’s one of the things that we’re learning about our memories in doing this project.  When I started out, I thought we would find that our recollections of different incidents varied wildly, that we would be hit over the head with the faultiness of human recollection and the power of storytelling.  Instead, I’m finding that in most circumstances we shared a single brain – so much so that Erin is certain she was present during the Bathroom Stall Incident, even as I’m certain that Alex was the one hiding with me. *  So when something happened to her that I don’t remember, I’m taken aback a little – as though a part of my brain were missing.  Something about storytelling in childhood must be very different than it is after the age of official adulthood.  When two children share stories, they’re sharing experiences.  When the first girl you know gets her period, everyone learns about periods.  She’s the only one with literal cramps, but all of you feel like you’ve moved on to a new stage of life.

A minor example: At a certain point in her life, Erin was deemed old enough to watch out for her younger brother for a few hours when her parents would run to the store or to other magical lands that adults visit.  During one of these afternoons alone, the two of them decided to “make a cake.”  To them, this meant coating slices of Bunny Bread in sugar and Hershey’s syrup, then stacking them to create a fancy layered effect.  There might also have been some “baking” involved.  And a microwave explosion.

I have told this story to people at least four times in my life as though it were my own, as though I were there in the kitchen with them.  I even picture myself standing on a chair in their kitchen, holding the bottle of chocolate gooiness over the bread tower and squeezing.  I know that I wasn’t there.  But I can taste the sticky syrup and the soggy bread.  And, more importantly, this story can be used to represent things about my own life – ideas that I’m certain I had, goofy things that I’m certain I did but that I can’t remember as vividly as I remember the Bread Cake Story.  So it becomes mine somehow, just like the Bathroom Stall Incident became a part of Erin’s repertoire.

This doesn’t happen so much for adults, who seem better able to draw boundaries around themselves, to separate out their own lives from those of the people surrounding them.  When you get older, your stories become your sole property.  And you tell them less often.

At least, I imagine that’s true for normal adults.  I’m not so sure it is for me, and that may be part of what draws me to this project.

Another thing about childhood stories is that kids will repeat tales to the people who were actually there.  They do this all the time.  Just listen to a group of middle school girls sitting around a lunch table on the Monday after a sleepover weekend.  One will inevitably start laughing about something that happened.  She will point to another of the girls and say, “It was so awesome!  You were like, ‘I hate Morgan’ and then she walked right into the room!” Or something to that effect.  Kids do this constantly – tell each other what they already all know.  Maybe it has something to do with the magic of language that both of us have referenced.  When we’re young, we’re still playing around with the idea that there’s a difference between story and lived event.  We try it out, learn that by recounting an incident we can highlight different parts, make ourselves the hero, the villain, or the butt of the joke.

We’re hoping to have some other friends join the blog soon, and I’m hoping that their presence will point to another fascinating aspect of childhood – the fairly limited quality of a kid’s world.  Children are known for their imaginations and their fairly loose grip on reality.  But what we forget about them is how small their physical worlds are.  While they might be able to imagine fortresses and castles and alternate Unicorn realms, it’s very difficult for them to comprehend what the life of another regular person in the world might be like.  I might have dreamed about what it would be like to be an astronaut, but I never thought about what it was like to be my neighbor down the street.  Inside the tiny world of our Unnamed Religious Private School, Erin and I knew a limited cast of characters with a fairly small set of experiences.  But across the city, our friend Cori, for example, was a Southern Jewish girl attending a fairly liberal public institution.  We learned about the Devil’s birthday and sang songs about Jesus.  Cori probably learned about things like cultural diversity or foreign countries.  She didn’t learn anything that involved Jesus, I bet.  Her life was foreign to us, since neither of us knew her until later in life.  We literally could not have imagined what it was like to be her, just as she couldn’t have imagined the sorts of things we considered everyday activities.

I’m planning to follow this up with a regular post in our standard storytelling format, but before I could move on to the next topic I thought I needed this little segue.  The academic in me just can’t help but think I’m learning something here.  But if you’re bored with this theorizing, I promise the next post holds much more entertainment, in the person of kids dressed up as angels and lambs, ladybugs and fireflies…

And also, for all of you who have stumbled across this blog accidentally via our sexually explicit-ish tags, I promise more stories about breasts in your future.

*Erin: for the record, there are two reasons I’m sure about this.  One is that I distinctly remember the 5th grader asking whether “that tall girl” and I were lesbians.  I can’t think that this could’ve referenced anyone but Alex.  But I also have this distinct feeling that the person in the stall with me was angry or upset with me for somehow causing the whole thing. I have the sense that she “knew better” somehow – and I can’t help but think that you would’ve been just as baffled as I was about why this stall sharing was inappropriate. Also, at the time Alex and I didn’t know each other all that well, so her frustration with me seems more natural.  But maybe I’m wrong… Do you still keep in touch with her?  We should ask her.  Maybe she would like to write too!

“I Think We Need to Unhook It”

In Sharon on October 7, 2009 at 6:46 pm

I started wearing a bra in 4th grade.  I briefly sported a training bra and then, within a few months, had moved straight up to the standard wires-and-padding, full-fledged, technically complicated bras.  We could no longer find my size at the store where they sold our school uniforms.  We had to venture to Dillards and buy the kind that came in boxes and had frolicking buxom women on the covers.  I think they were Playtex, and even then I understood that they looked like something an old lady would wear.

I also remember the first day that I learned the bra was visible, as Erin mentioned, through our extremely translucent uniform shirts.  At least five boys popped my straps that day.  At recess Erin and I stood on the tennis courts, pondering solutions.  “I think you have to unhook it,” she said, staring at it through my shirt and considering alternatives with a thoughtful, 9-year-old gaze.  She probably had a yarn ribbon in her hair.  We were still young enough for ribbons, but we were getting old enough for bras.  I agreed, but confessed that I wasn’t adept enough to unhook it myself, through my shirt.  So we found a fairly unobtrusive (we thought) corner of the yard where my best friend worked tirelessly to unhook my bra for me, through the slippery fabric of my shirt.  After she managed it, she stood back to look at me and declared that “I can still kind of see it, but only if I try hard.”

Little did I know that the absence of my bra would be just as obvious as its presence.  As we took our seats back in class, I heard Scott (yes, him again) whisper something to a friend.  (I don’t remember who the friend was, although I imagine it being a big kid named Jordan who was always up for trouble.  Although it might also have been Mike, who was new that year and once punched me in the arm.)  They asked me, “Did you take it off?”

They knew I knew what they meant.  But somehow, I honestly didn’t understand that I was supposed to be ashamed, that the bra was like a Scarlet Letter.  “So?”  I said.  And I went back to my work.

I was a kid who walked around with my head someplace else most of the time.   All of the time, really.  I had a fairly elaborate fantasy life, and I was happy with that life.  I didn’t venture very often into understanding what other kids were discussing.  I’m sure that there was already a lot of talk about sex and puberty around campus, but I honestly remember only two incidences of this: the bra struggle mentioned above and one other strange item that I’ll get to in a later post (it involves accusations of  lesbianism and therefore deserves its own section).  But first, I want to make a point that I consider vital to an understanding of my elementary school psyche: I had breasts and hips and various sexually connotative features LONG before I understood what those things meant to other people.  Frankly, I had barely noticed them beyond the practical fact that they required new clothes.  I just didn’t care much.  There were books I needed to bury myself in, and various elaborate stories I needed to tell, and games I needed to play with my neighbors outside after school.  My breasts seemed completely irrelevant to anything.  In other words, people read my body like a text, and they learned to interpret it  long before I did.  (This can likely be attributed at least in part to my mother, who is one of the few people I know who genuinely believes that appearances shouldn’t matter.  When she would be diagnosed with breast cancer 5 or 6 years later, she did not hesitate to request a double mastectomy.  And when she explained to me what this surgery would involve, she did not do so with the standard lamentation for lost femininity.  It was a surgery, plain and simple.  It would help her get better, and breasts weren’t a big deal anyway.  I imagine – although I don’t remember for sure – that this is also what she told me about them when I grew some.  They just aren’t a big deal.)

One extremely bizarre memory of my disconnect stands out, but even now I have no idea what this memory means.  It’s one of the few moments from elementary school that I wish I could revisit through an objective eye, so that I could understand how and why it happened.  I’m hoping Erin will remember this too, but somehow I doubt it.  I’m not sure I ever told her about it – ever told anyone.  Which is strange, because in and of itself it seems harmless and off-beat.

Our 3rd and 4th grade worlds involved lots of activities that required choosing students at random – pop quizzes, presentations, doing math problems on the board.  The teacher needed an easy way to pick students/victims, and so she wrote each of our names on a popsicle stick.  Anytime she needed a “volunteer,” she could pull out one of the sticks and call a name – easy and fair, no arguments.  One day during recess there was rain coming down hard (as it often does in South Louisiana), and the girls in the class had wrangled permission to stay indoors and work on art projects rather than venturing outside and getting wet and muddy.  Sometime during this indoor session, I noticed a small group of probably 3-4 girls standing around the teacher’s desk.  (I have no idea where she had gone; it’s likely that the boys – who must have been outdoors – were deemed less trustworthy than the girls and that she left us unsupervised while she watched them.  These sorts of things happened often, even though the girls would frequently come close to tears every time they were all left alone in a room.   At Unnamed Religious Schools, boys = bad and girls = good/angelic.)  I started to walk over to them to find out why they were snickering when the Lead Girl, Melissa *, broke away from the crowd and marched over to me.  “Look, Sharon.  Look what somebody wrote on your stick.”  She held up the popsicle stick with my name across it and flipped over.  Across the back, in pencil, someone had neatly scripted the words “Cindy Crawford.”

Now, I have tried as best I can to tell you only the things that I am CERTAIN were true about this memory, without adding in what I imagine in my head.  Because how you view this story is all in the details. I have a very solid interpretation of this scenario, which is that the girls – lead by Melissa – had written this to mock me in some way.  I was not a cool kid, nor was I a pretty kid.  There were girls in our class who already wore makeup and had neatly combed, brightly colored hair.  Melissa was one of these.  I was not.  I had a fairly awkward, childlike appearance – except for the slowly widening hips and the now bra-necessitating chest.    I cannot fathom a situation in which a smitten boy would compare me to an adult supermodel – but I assume that that’s what I was meant to think had happened.  In my memory, the neat cursive on the stick was clearly a girl’s handwriting – probably Melissa’s herself.  Her tone was knowing and mocking, as though she had some knowledge I did not.  And the snickering girls huddled around the table had to have been the perpretrators.

So this part is open to interpretation.  I have no idea how Cindy Crawford’s name got on that stick, or why it was put there.  All I have is my best guess.  But there’s an added bonus to the story: whatever intended effect Melissa wanted to have by showing me her find/creation, she failed miserably.  Because I hadn’t the foggiest idea who Cindy Crawford was, or why her name was being shoved in my face.

Melissa grew quickly frustrated.  “You know,” she said.  “She’s a supermodel.”

“What’s a supermodel?”  (Really.  I mean, why would I need to have known this in the 4th grade?  Did YOU know this in the 4th grade?)

Groan from Melissa, the all-knowing cool kid.  “She’s on tv sometimes.  She’s on that Pepsi commercial.  You know, on the cruise ship.”

This part is true.  There was a Pepsi commercial out at that time featuring Cindy Crawford.  But I don’t know that I’d ever seen this commercial.  Or if I had, it hadn’t stuck with me.  I’d had no reason to remember the buxom lady in the bathing suit.

So in the end I was laughed at for new reasons – for my complete ignorance of pop culture, a state I occupied happily until well into middle school.  And I bumbled my way into an awareness that somehow, somewhere, some discussion about me was occurring that I didn’t understand.  It wasn’t until at least ten years later that I would hit on this memory and recognize that, for all its weirdness, no matter how you interpreted it, this story had something to do with my body.

No one will remember this now, but being among the first to develop is a little like being the sick gazelle.  Sure, breasts are powerful things later in life, when you know what they can do and what fascination they hold.  But when you’re young – especially if you’re the kind of kid I was – they can be confusing and dangerous.  People suddenly hold intimate knowledge of you.

The same happens, I’m sure, to girls who develop later.  People have knowledge of them too – but it’s knowledge of a lack rather than a gain.  Either way, our assets are suddenly visible and on display.  And we have NO IDEA what to do about that.

I got lucky, I think, in my cluelessness.  At the time I didn’t care at all what Melissa meant by her taunts, nor did I care all that much about the bra strap popping.  It stopped fairly quickly – the boys got bored and moved onto something else, like hanging pairs of underwear out the window of a speeding car on their way to a field trip at the Livingston Parish Safari Park.  And I think this might be the clear-headedness Erin references in her post.  I’m proud to be remembered this way, and I suppose she’s kind of right.  When I was very young, I didn’t let things like this get to me for very long.  There were times later in life when I would fight hard with my body, try to suppress it and change it into something long and lean and lanky, something without all those external markings of sexuality.  But those years wouldn’t come until much, much later – very near my graduation from high school.  Right now we’re concerned with childhood, and in my childhood breasts just weren’t an issue.  For me.  It wasn’t until I got older that I realized they had been for everyone else, boys and girls alike.  And I’m thankful for the good friends who continued to let me live in oblivion, and for the strange, insular mind that let me ignore most of the talk that surrounded me.

I sure do wish I could go back and ask who wrote that on my stick, though.

*Also not her real name.  I wonder why it is that we’ve protected the girls from specific names but haven’t shrouded the boys quite as much.  For some reason I feel completely comfortable in saying that “scott” is Scott’s real name, and that I am sorely tempted to tell you his last name too.  Also, I’m amazed at how much coverage he gets here.  I never realized except in retrospect how big a part of that school he was.  You’ll learn that Melissa is a similar character, part of the cultural elite and also the absolute wealthiest kid at the school, at least as far as we were aware.  We have many, MANY stories about her.  Some of those stories may even be a part of this sexuality thread.  More to come.

On Being a Girl

In Erin on October 6, 2009 at 10:38 am

Sharon always was a good bit taller than I–at least until middle school.  This was a fact whose implications were limited to my inheriting her old clothes (including one of those sweet t-shirt clips!) until a few years into our relationship, when she and a few other girls in our class started to look…well, much less like children.

It was in fourth grade that I first remember seeing our friend Cate* being harassed by boys on the playground for wearing a bra.  Cate had begun to grow into her adult body earlier than many of us, and the white Peter Pan-collared uniform shirts we had to wear at the Unnamed Christian Private School  didn’t exactly prepare for this eventuality.  The girls who had begun to need more adult undergarments were thus effectively displayed for the world, a fact which the boys–usually led by some jerk whose older brother had already initiated him into the ways of catcalling and other such subtleties–never failed to remind them of.  Thus, it was creepily evident to me (and probably everyone else) each time another one of my friends crossed over into the bra-wearing zone, leaving me behind in the land of pre-adolescence.

Of course, even in pre-adolescence, we weren’t exempt from the reminders of the ostensible weirdness of our bodies.  One day in after-care, a boy named Scott, who was typically picked up right after school by his stay-at-home mom, sneaked into the girl’s bathroom with another girl who had alerted him to the existence of menstrual blood in the toilet.  It was a bold transgression, to be sure, which only heightened the breathless giggling and pointed questions that followed.  Scott was good-looking and popular, one of the elite members of our insular fourth-grade world.  So when he demanded to know more about this bizarre sight, all of the girls in the class crowded around to offer their knowledge–such as it was in fourth grade.

“Tell me about it,” he said, with gleaming eyes and devilish smile.

“Well, whenever you don’t get pregnant–”

“No,” he interrupted, “tell me the bad part.”

“Um, well, the blood can get on–”

No, I mean the bad part.”

And it was thus that we all jointly recounted what we knew, foggily, about the mechanism of sex and the apparent shamefulness of the female body.  Ironically (or perhaps not), Scott’s mother showed up during this illicit story-time, and was alerted to its content by the hushed  voices intermittently punctuated by squeals of laughter.  Instructing Scott to leave immediately, she turned to the group of girls with the sort of tone you might take with someone who just taught your 3 year old the f-word:

“You do not tell boys about that!”

I spent the rest of the afternoon paralyzed with fear that my parents would find out that I’d been involved in such “bad” things.

At that age, so much of the world seemed to me a mystery, and despite the fact that growing up apparently meant having a body that was open for discussion by everyone and their brothers, I was desperately anxious for it.  I remember grilling Sharon and our other similarly-developed friends on their experiences, filled with wonder over the realm of training bras and “sanitary” pads.  Like Scott, I wanted first-hand knowledge of  the secrets of puberty–but that knowledge was not forthcoming.  On the other side of the puberty fence, of course, things don’t look quite so exciting…but on the monkey bars in fourth grade, the rumors of periods and undershirts were enough to make me wish and pray, in spite of the certain public humiliation that would accompany it, for my own “development.”

It was, interestingly, years before I learned that girls weren’t alone in undergoing bizarre bodily changes.  In fact, it was only through illicit late-night sitcom watching that I began to get a vague clue that boys’ bodies did something potentially embarrassing around the years of adolescence, a shocking turn of events that left me so confused that I threw caution to the wind and asked my mother.  She informed me that they went through something just as we did, even though no one really talked about it.

“But why,” I said, “Why does everyone make fun of us and not them?

“Because,” she said matter-of-factly, “they’re sensitive about their privates.  And, because they’re the ones who run everything.”

I didn’t stop hoping to join Sharon and everyone else in the gnostic cult of puberty then, and neither did I wish to become a boy.  I did, however, feel that I had something, that I knew their secret, that this little bit of information had freed me from being forever shut up in the box of bad stuff. It definitely wasn’t anything like feminist consciousness–I still desperately wanted to have a bra and to have the other boys and girls know that I had a bra–but it was a little move out of the world of feeling trapped in my own girl-ness.

Really owning that girl-ness, though, took some time.  But thankfully, for that there was Sharon, and Designing Women, and my mother, each of whom (it seemed to me then) saw the world with clear eyes, and just the right amount of defiance.

*Not her real name

In churning butter, I accidentally churn myself

In Sharon on September 30, 2009 at 10:31 pm

I remember churning butter.  Vaguely.  And I remember that we didn’t succeed at it, and that it was hard.  But I remember these things for very different reasons than Erin does – and for the first time since we’ve started this project, I think, the difference in the way we remember says something about who we were – and are – as people.

I remember thinking that my arms weren’t strong enough, and that that surprised me.

You wouldn’t know it now to look at me, but I was a big kid in the 3rd grade.  I always stood in the top row of photographs, was always bigger than the boys.  I had height, and speed, and a strangely adult body for my age.  Once in the 4th grade this kid Jordan and I had a pizza-eating contest to see who could devour more slices at lunch.  I’m pretty sure I won.  I liked being the big kid.  It’s something I was known for.  So when we churned the butter at Prairie Day, all I remember is being certain that I would be the one to finally make it turn into something.  I was big and tough.  I even remember other kids thinking the same thing about me, although this might be a trick of my small mind, enforcing the way I thought of myself.  I have no proof.

I couldn’t do it, of course.  None of us were going to.  But when we failed to produce the desired result, all I could think was, “I wasn’t strong enough.  I’m supposed to be strong.  Why wasn’t I strong enough?”  And I walked away.

I had a very strong sense of self as a kid.  And with that very strong sense of self came the notion that there was somewhere I ultimately “belonged.”  So where Erin saw a lack in herself, I saw a lack in the world.  It wasn’t fitting around me the way it was supposed to, and I was befuddled constantly.  I was the big kid, the strong kid.  That cream should have bent to my will.  When it didn’t, that was obviously because I wasn’t “meant” for churning butter.  It wasn’t my calling.  My strength was best used elsewhere.

Erin’s tale of her journey from childhood through young-adulthood is poignant for me because she describes a quality that I never possessed: patience.  All the while that she was waiting for her faith to arrive, all the time she wondered if she should have tried a little harder – all those moments, I was turning away from things, leaving things behind because I didn’t see the point in waiting – on anything.

Things I have quit at various stages of my life include:

Churning Butter

Girl Scouts

Calculus/anything math related

Assorted friendships

Assorted boyfriends

Acting

Teaching

The clarinet

Dancing

Beta club

Graduate school

Eating Meat

Vegetarianism

Eating in general

Most of my jobs

California

… I could go on.  And now I’m starting to wonder if all of this leaving can be traced back to Prairie Day in the third grade.  Because every time I’ve ever experienced a failure – or even a slight hiccup, a tear in the veneer of perfection – I have walked away, thinking “Well, I guess I just wasn’t meant to (churn butter, be a girl scout, work in a clothing store… etc.)” If I don’t come equipped with the perfect skills, then the job doesn’t belong to me.  It’s someone else’s destiny.  Forget hard work.  Forget patience.  If I don’t fit right in, it isn’t mine.  I don’t belong.

My biggest reason for leaving relationships behind has always, always been that the other person “just doesn’t understand me.”  I want to fit, like a puzzle piece.  I want to open my eyes and have the world inside of them be visible to someone.

There are lots of moments in childhood where we realize that we are separate from the world around us – that we don’t create it with our own will.  These are difficult moments for everyone.  They’re incredibly popular fodder for stories.  The problem with me, I suppose, is that I never learned anything from these moments.  I simply refused to believe them.  When Erin’s incantations failed to bring her unicorn to life, little bits of doubt slipped into her world.  I didn’t like doubt, and so I ignored it.  And somewhere along the way there’s a lesson I failed to learn – that things will never be exactly as they are inside your mind.  You cannot will the world into being around you.  And you will never fit exactly.

For these same reasons, I am very susceptible to narratives of children taken away to magic kingdoms and alternative realities.  I cried when I saw the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are.  When I have a bad day – when I bump up against one of those pesky imperfections – I still imagine the main character of the children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon; he draws a rocket ship for me, so that we can fly away to a place where we really belong.

Since early childhood I have displayed a very strange notion of authenticity.  I have a particular selfhood, and I have always seen that self as unalterable – pure, somehow.  I grew up being certain that somewhere out there was a place, a way of life, a vocation that my identity could slide into perfectly, unchanged.  I would not have to wait.  Once I found this place, this thing, I could simply be. Who I am would be enough.  I would be perfect.

I imagine that’s what I thought Heaven was.

Even today, even as I write these words this very second, I am still looking for this place.  Even though I sit here claiming to know better, I still refuse to settle for anything other than finally, at long lest, finding my place of being.  I know it isn’t real, and yet I still manage to walk away from so much.  I’ve changed so many times over the years in the name of finding myself that I’ve lost track of that kid who was once so cock-sure.  I don’t feel solid anymore.  Instead I am malleable – someone who changes to fit the situation, but who never returns to being herself.  I am consumed with the desire to return home – to go back in time, so that I can find that identity again, and protect her.  She’s been tossed about on the wind a lot, and I miss her.  I wish I could go back to being that strong-headed kid who was bigger than everyone and knew her arms were powerful enough to bend the world.

I Can Make Anything True

In Sharon on September 26, 2009 at 2:00 pm

There’s this new show on TV – you may have seen it – called Community, about a lawyer who loses his license and has to go back to community college.  In one scene, the lawyer is talking to his friend (the college dean) about why he doesn’t feel bad when he cheats or lies.  “Look,” he says, “I learned when I was very young that I could make anything true or false just by talking long enough.  Either there’s no god, or I’m god.  Either way, Booyah!”

It’s a silly scene, played for laughs with the host of E!’s The Soup in the lead roll.  I doubt the writers really meant to hit on anything transcendent when they wrote the line.  But for me, that moment sticks out about as much as Erin’s realization about Mormonism.  And it’s interesting to me now to trace the different lines our lives took, and to wonder how many of those lines were nudged along by our different religious backgrounds.  Because while Erin was experiencing what she calls her moments of “egregious religious zealotry,” I was experiencing moments of a different sort of zealotry.  As Erin grew more devoted in her religious practices, I began to have a looser and looser hold on the things I’d once believed as “right” and “wrong.”  I was developing very quickly into a moral relativist – and one with all the passion and conviction possible in a teenager.  And this determined relativism began blossoming back in the early days of my education at the Unnamed Religious Private School.

As far as I’m concerned, 3 very different things were happening at that school, to 3 very different groups of kids:

1. The school’s religious elite – the kids whose families believed in the precise doctrine practiced in our halls, whose faith was based in the same fundamentalist ideals – were having all their beliefs and worldviews confirmed for them.  They were growing stronger everyday in the values their parents had taught them, and they were growing more and more self-righteous as they confronted those of us whose beliefs didn’t match their own, pointing us out as wrong, the same way you might point out a kid who thinks “cat” is spelled “qvx.”

2. The kids like Erin (and I imagine we had quite a few) were having to confront the differences in their family’s beliefs and the beliefs espoused by our teachers and administrators.  Their brains had to process gray areas and matters of difference, and in some cases had to choose sides between a parent and a teacher.  They were learning about negotiation.  They were learning about feeling outcast amongst people who ought to have been like-minded – people who were coming from the same basic faith, the same basic system of rules.  Some of them likely lost confidence then, only to (hopefully) regain it once they began to understand the strength of their own position, to rely on their ability to choose their own path.

3. Kids like me (I felt like the only one, but somehow I doubt I was) were learning that there is no such thing as truth.  Everyone gets to make up whatever they want, and then you get to fight it out to the end.  “You can make anything true or false just by talking long enough.”  You’re right, guy from The Soup.  Or at least, that’s what I learned at religious school.

Now keep in mind that my father is a scientist and would hotly dispute the idea that there is no such thing as truth.  I never learned that from him.  And I didn’t exactly learn it from my mother either.  I’m sure if I called her and asked her right now, she would say that some things are definitely good and others are definitely bad.  But what I did learn from her is that ideas will change over time.  There are several issues she sees differently now than she did when I was in high school or middle school.  And she sees no shame in that.  Ideas are constantly in development.  We grow and learn, new people come into our lives, and those people help us see things differently.  But there is still right and wrong.  She has a values system, albeit a self-created one.  But if you asked them what my values are, I bet they couldn’t tell you.  What they could tell you is that I have always had a very loose grip on the truth.  And I believe wholeheartedly that this came from my early education – exactly the opposite effect that evangelical education hopes to have.

I feel like I’m not explaining this very well, so I’m going to try a different method.  Bare with me here.

When you come from an a-religious background, these are the things that strike you about fundamentalism when you first encounter it:

1. Words are magic.  Literally.  You close your eyes and bow your head to pray, and those prayers are made up of words.  And the words go somewhere.  They go to God, and they are supposed to get results.  Something will happen.  All because of words.

2. Interpretation is everything.  This is a division of “Words are magic,” because part of their magic is that they mean lots of different things.  They are slippery.  This is NOT the lesson you learn about words during regular school, where you are drilled on definitions.  It IS the lesson you acquire accidentally when you memorize verses each week out of context.

Think about this for a second.  When you’re in second grade, you learn words like “through”.  You learn the definition of “through.”  You learn how to use it in a sentence.  You learn that you have no choice but to use it in the precise way it is intended.  During the same years that I was being asked to memorize precise definitions of simple words, I was being asked to parse out complex concepts that had no previous meaning for me.  When a second-grader encounters a Bible verse at home or in church, they are usually also taught what the verse means by their parents or a pastor.  No interpretation is necessary  No interpretation is possible.  But when you learn a verse as part of Bible drills, and you are a child who has never attended church, those verses are a bizarre form of archaic language you’ve never encountered.  You are left to interpret it for yourself, however you want.   You have power over language for the first time.

One of the first verses I remember learning was Romans 10, verses 9 and 10: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation…”  (NIV, I think).  That’s a verse that probably any evangelical could recite for you.   It’s part of the “Roman road,” the series of scriptures that outlines for non-Christians how they can be saved.  It makes sense that it’s one of the first I’d learn.  But imagine encountering these words without ever having heard of the Roman Road, or the concept of “salvation.”  Imagine encountering this at the age when so much else about education is hard and fast, concrete and definitive.  2 plus 2.  A,B,C.  With the heart man believes.  With the mouth he confesses.  What you end up learning is, “If I believe something in my heart, it must be true.”

Let’s try another of the Roman Road on for size.  Romans 10:13: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord shall be saved…”  Again here words act like magic, an incantation that saves us from ourselves and our sins.  Stir the pot a little, add a spell.  Words are what make it happen.  If you say the words, and you believe the words, nothing can touch you.  You are invincible.

That’s a dangerous thing to teach a kid.  I know a lot has been said in the incredibly leftist community (of which I am a part, keep in mind) about the dangers of indoctrinating children as religious zealots.  But what about indoctrinating them as just general zealots, with no real anchor?  That seems awfully dangerous too, and I’m pretty sure it’s what happened to me.  I can make anything true just by talking long enough… and loud enough, and with pretty words.

I have lots more to say about this topic, and I’ve been holding this post for the last two days, just mulling it over.  But instead, in the spirit in which this blog is intended, I’m going to post it as-is, with a more open end.  Because I think we can take this to some interesting places.

And so I’ll tack on instead a story, because I’m curious to know whether this is something Erin experienced differently the first time she heard it:

We are in chapel.  This is probably around the 2nd grade, although it might have been even earlier, in 1st.  Our principal (a woman with short blonde hair, I think) is talking about the verses in the New Testament wherein Jesus tells stories to little children.  The disciples ask him if he really wants to spend his time doing that, if he couldn’t be teaching the adults how to behave instead.  Jesus says the quote that’s famous even outside of religious circles, “Suffer the children to come unto me.”  Our pastor/principal talked about this section for several minutes, reminding us that as children we were the absolute treasures of God, that we were seen as untouched and blameless in the eyes of the Lord and the world.  We were automatically righteous.  And I remember so clearly thinking, “Then I just can’t grow up.  Because if I grow up, I won’t be right.  I’ll be broken.”  Words were magic, but they were more magic for children than for anyone else.

Of WASPs and Knowledge

In Erin on September 20, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Sharon’s last response about the kids in our class jogged my memory quite a bit, and I realized that much of what sticks out to me about school between the second and fourth grades are moments of revelation: those times as a kid when you hear something that shatters your sense of stability–of how the world works or should work, of what “normal” is, of who you (or your teachers, or your parents) are.  I nearly lost my mind, for example, when I was told in fourth grade that, despite what I’d heard up till that point, it was possible to subtract a larger number from a smaller.  (Don’t even get me started about how much that messed me up, especially after the saga of struggling to learn math “facts.”) Anyway, as I was preparing to tell a couple of these stories, I also realized that they had in common central characters whose names were all laughably and uncommonly WASPy, so in the interest of humor, I’m going to tell them with names that –as much as this is possible–capture the distilled essence of these people and their names, as they exist in my memory.

Read the rest of this entry »

Memories through a fog of flu-like symptoms. Also, kids who might have been in our class.

In Sharon on September 20, 2009 at 3:13 am

Erin,

I am going to save the philosophical post for tomorrow morning, as I worked a long 13 hours today (from 5:30 am til 6:30 pm!) and now feel like I might be coming down with flu.  I don’t think many of my theories about childhood would be very sound.  However, I wanted to make some quick points before I go to bed:

1.  I did not remember that (un)TinaTurner did that to you!  She was not at all fun, and I’m glad I could remind you of that.  I like the point you make that there are things that happen to you as a kid that just get sublimated as normal, everyday stuff that you don’t recognize as an injustice or a truth or a pivotal moment until you begin to tell your own story as an adult.  (In other words, it doesn’t really become a “moment” at all until we prescribe it some significance and structure through storytelling.  Otherwise, it’s just “stuff that happened”.)  I had a similar adult-life recognition about our high school art teacher.  I was, as you mentioned, a horrifyingly neat and polished little kid and used to doing everything in a very straight line.  (What happened to that?  I don’t think I EVER do that anymore, but maybe somebody can contradict me.) My Keds were VERY bright.  My belt was ALWAYS straight.  But in art class, you and I switched roles.  You could draw and paint and handle oil pastels.  I most definitely could NOT. And there was one year when we were assigned to make an art project that involved drawing a vase with flowers in it in pencil lines, then, rather than coloring the picture, gluing brightly dyed popcorn kernels to it to give the flowers and petals color.  I guess it was supposed to be like a mosaic?  Anyway, I remember the teacher (ugh, I REALLY want to give away her name, because it was like something out of a Dickens novel) walking past my table and saying, “No, no, no Sharon.  Those flowers don’t look lifelike at ALL!  You need to make some of them look like they’re drooping.  They can’t all stand straight up.”  She later called my finished product “sloppy”.  I took it home to my mom, crying, and she of course told me that I should tell Ms. Haversham that SHE was sloppy.  (My mom could get away with telling me to do things like this because she knew I’d never actually do it.  I would, however, think it, and it would make me feel a little stronger and more powerful – a little bit more deviant.)  I retell this one a lot as a childhood indignity (you can’t FORCE a kid to have a talent.  You can ask them to learn things, memorize things, practice things.  But you cannot force a little girl to have a talent she just doesn’t possess.  I have some artistic sensibilities, but I cannot draw worth a damn.)  I follow it up by explaining that a few days (or maybe it was a year?  who knows) later a bee flew into our classroom and , of all the places it could have landed, flew straight into Mrs. Haversham’s open mouth and stung her on her tongue.  For vengeance, of course.

2. I have remembered two kids from specifically our second grade class.  One was named Matthew S. (he had a very Dickensian last name too.  It sounded sort of slythery or snakey) and he had a crush on either you or me or maybe both (again, sort of indistinguishable at the time).  He had very tightly curled black hair and wore the kind of glasses that Steve Urkel wore on Family Matters – you know, the kind with the string attached to them.  He was super skinny and used to sit across from us at lunch and mix big globs of ketchup and mayo together and then stir his fries around in it.  (This was disturbing to me, with my neatly separated bag lunch items.)  There was also this REALLY BIG (as in tall for his age) kid who might have been named Kirk, or Kirt, something like that.  He really liked America’s Funniest Home Videos.  I really only remember him because I don’t think he was ever in our class again after that year.  Oh!  And another one!  His name was Mike, and he was my other best friend besides you.  We had first grade together too, I think, and he was really sweet.  His brother used to pick on him for hanging out with a girl.  I wonder what happened to him.  He left the school earlier than we did.  We used to play this game with him and another kid named Josh (he was very small, with a big mole on his face, I think) where we’d pretend to be animals on an adventure.  Dogs and cats, mostly, since unicorns were reserved just for us.  And we’d go eat those honeysuckles off the big bush that grew at the playground fence.

3.  You know who I did like that year?  Our librarian.  That’s just further proof that I know what I need to do with my life.

4.  Oh! Was this the year we had “Prairie Day,” or was that the next year?  I have MUCH to say about Prairie Day.

5. You “went out with” Kyle in 4th grade.  He and Jordan were best friends, so I decided I needed to like Jordan, since you liked Kyle.  Once at the skating rink during the creepy disco-light fiasco we made up yet another mystery story (this time a spy story, I think) in which we involved them somehow as characters.  We might have even played their parts, which would be yet another moment of crazy childhood gender-bending.

6. I’m pretty sure Jordan eventually went to military school.  His mom was REALLY cool, even if she was a mom-of-priviledge.  My mom still sees her sometimes and always loves talking to her.

7.  I remember pretending you fell into the quicksand.  And I remember it EXACTLY the way you told it, right down to your mom not having it for a second.  And I’m pretty sure that we also never imagined that falling into quicksand would be something dangerous.  It was more like you got sucked temporarily into another dimension and would be home later, maybe after dinner, thank you very much.

8. My brother was still a BABY during all of this.  Can you imagine? He’s 22 now. He graduates LSU in December.  Just wanted to point that out.

9.  There MIGHT have been a plastic tape recorder (white) with red microphone.  But there was DEFINITELY a white plastic pretend video camera with red lens.  We used it a lot too, to pretend we were filming our adventures.  My Pop probably got it for us, given how much he loved his camera.

On Not-Tina-Turner and Overachieving

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Sharon,

First of all, I agree with your mom: hold your pencil however you want!  I’m glad that you shared this story, because it helped me to remember that Not-Tina-Turner was also Not-a-Nice-Lady.  At the time, I didn’t think of it this way, I think because it took years before I learned to verbalize dislike of or upsettedness with adults…I just tended to assume that when they were mean or critical, it was because I had messed up.  This was often true, obviously–I was a messy, goofy kid–but sometimes it was just unnecessary.  Case in point (which, if my parents are reading this, they will recognize, because I became so indignant about it as an adult that I repeat this over and over):

At some point during second grade, we had to make picture frames for our parents out of cardboard and dried beans.  The point was to glue the beans in a pattern on the cardboard cutout frame, and then to put our school pictures in the frame.  I was minding my own business, spreading glue over the frame and beginning to stick on the beans, when Not-Tina-Turner appeared over my shoulder.

“Erin!” she yelled, “Don’t use so much glue!”

Embarrassed, and looking sheepishly at the Elmers that was dripping off the sides of my frame and oozing around the few beans I’d managed to secure, I said nothing and tried to wipe the excess with a paper towel.

“Don’t do THAT,” she shrieked, whisking the gluey mess out of my hands.  She held aloft the sticky white frame for the benefit of the class.  “Don’t ever hire Erin paint your house; you’ll wind up with paint everywhere!!”  Returning the frame to my glue-covered desk, she softened her tone slightly: “You only need a little.”

Thanks, Not-Tina-Turner.  I’ve never wasted glue since.  Oh, and by the way, I’m a fabulous house-painter.  It’s just that my talents are better exercised elsewhere.

As far as other kids go, I can’t seem to remember them.   No one else was such a horrendous glue-waster, apparently.  Now that you mention it, I do remember the pink-loving boy, and I believe that there was a boy named Kyle who I later developed a crush on in 4th grade.  And yes, I remember the cast of characters who followed us throughout our time at this private school, but I don’t have explicit memories of them in our second grade classroom.

As far as private school Bible-verse memorization goes…well, it’s funny.  It’s hard for me to characterize that practice now, because I feel so conflicted about it.  At the time, I loved it, because I loved the feeling of memorization and the feeling of pleasing adults, both of which contributed to my lifetime of over-achieving.  I was good at memorizing, because it was really just another form of word-repetition, which (as I’ve mentioned) was intensely enjoyable to me.  I loved being good at things, getting good grades, being the first one to memorize that week’s verse.  In retrospect, I’m suspicious about the practice of forcing children to repeat particular phrases as an ideological tool (especially when, as you point out, only certain phrases are permitted to be repeated).  And this suspicion is exacerbated in this particular instance, when the person training children in religious repetition is the same person who trains them in the recitation of math facts…there’s a conflation of authorities with which I’m not particularly comfortable.  When you take all of the authority at work there–the math, the religion, the glue-use…it all seems like a bit much.

Of course, if Not-Tina-Turner hadn’t been such an overbearing authority figure, who knows where we’d be?  I should probably write her a thank-you note for my academic success and general parsimony.  I’m sure that without her encouragement, I’d be a slovenly painter with an average memory.  Horrors, indeed!