Growing up isn’t exactly easy, it’s not meant to be, it is something that you have to do to, well, grow up. Every time that I think I may have had it bad as a child, all I have to do is look at some underdeveloped countries to see kids who have it far worse. At the same time I can look to other people, say George W. Bush for example, who have had it so easy that my story seems like that of a child from an underdeveloped country. That is neither here nor there, simply an observation. I do have a lot of memories from my youth, some good, some bad, and another one leapt into mind today.
Moving from school to school as a child is a very difficult thing. In all honesty the reason that I moved back to live with my dad in the 8th grade was so that I would be able to start making friends that I would have an alliance with for the remainder of middle school, who would then go to the same high school. That was a comforting thought.
I must say that the musical chairs game of schools started even before my parents got divorced. There were at least four grade schools in the town I grew up in, a fact I know because I attended four different grade schools there; Riverside, Fir Grove, Eastwood and Rose. My first year of school was at Riverside, where I got my first student of the month honor, which happened to be my very first month in any kind of school (there was no kindergarten for us kids, we could read and write better than most classmates by the first grade though, thanks to Mom’s at home teachings). Of course, in my tiny little mind I thought that the teacher really had a thing for me, yet, in retrospect, I don’t think Mrs. Crane was really into that six-year-old action.
Riverside was closed after my first year there. I don’t know exactly why. I know that the talk I heard at the time was that it was too close to a busy street (Garden Valley Boulevard), which it was, but had always been, the other topic was how close it was to the South Umpqua river, which was a hell of a trek from the school, at least a mile. In hindsight I think the more likely reason is that there simply wasn’t enough money in the school district to keep all of the schools open and Riverside simply didn’t have the number of affluent parents that the other schools did. Net result; Riverside closed and the students were relocated to the three other schools based on where they lived (well four different schools, since some of the kids ended up going to a school called Sunny Slope, which was a couple of miles out of town).
As I sit here now, looking through an old school years book that Mom recently gave me, I note that the friends that I list in the second grade do not include any from the first. The likely reason for this is that they were transferred to the other schools and I had to start fresh. Another oddity for the second grade was that I had torn through the second grade math (you know addition and subtraction) and was well into the third grade math (multiplication), finishing each of the tests with, at lowest a 94%, yet the teacher took time to note that I needed to work on my penmanship on math tests. You see, these tests were timed, first you had to do it in 6 minutes, then 5, then 4, etc. Of course it is going to be a bit sloppy as your seven year old hands try to scribble out calculations that your brain makes in fractions of a second. Jeez.
(To this day I have horrible penmanship. If I try to write anything in cursive it is illegible, and my block print isn’t far behind. Such a plus that paper is on its way out…)
Third grade brought about two very distinct things. 1) I was accepted into the Able and Gifted program. 2) My parents separated (I don’t know when they actually got the divorce, so bear with me). At first I excelled in the gifted program but, once my parents separated it got more and more difficult. One of the challenges that we had, the one that I can still remember like it was yesterday, was a very simple task: Move a brick further than anyone else using nothing but a mousetrap. The mousetrap and brick were supplied, if you wanted any other materials it was up to you to get them. I lost horribly, though I did learn to read the fine print. See, it said that if you created any sort of apparatus to meet the goal, the length of travel would be measured once the brick left that apparatus. I still think I got screwed since the kid that won put the brick on a skateboard that went down a ramp (exactly like the one I created: two boards nailed together at a right angle stood up and held in place by a dowel that the mousetrap ripped out of place, thus making a hill to go down.) I didn’t have a lot of material to work with so I just covered my ramp with glossy pictures from magazines, did the same to the brick, and it went off the end by a few inches. The kid that won went many, many feet, but he was still on his apparatus when he won…Evidently the skateboard didn’t count as an apparatus (of course if I wanted him to be faulted by the skateboard I would have had to be faulted for the glossy paper. What can I say, I am a sore loser).
Fourth grade happened. At least I think it did. It must have since I did get to fifth grade. Thing is I started this grade out at Eastwood (that is three different grade schools in four years if you are keeping track at home), but got a note to go to the office one day and then wound up at a grade school in Benson, AZ a couple of days later. (totally as an aside, I had leant this cool sharpie that wrote in silver to a girl named Melissa at Eastwood and never got it back before we moved out of town. If you are reading this, Melissa, can I have my cool sharpie back? Thanks.) My teacher in Benson was Mr. Davis, he had a lot of medical problems and spent the majority of his time rolling cigarettes while he let us figure shit out on our own (that is no joke). Thankfully I was whisked away to a new teacher, in a new town, only a couple of months later.
The new teacher’s name was Mrs. Ingram. She was nice because she understood that while I might not be at exactly the place that her class was, I had learned a lot that they hadn’t and vice versa (since grade schools don’t all use the same books, especially if they are not in the same state). I remember one time when she put a complex equation on the board (it was fourth grade so it was likely only long division) and asked the class to solve it, when no one else could she asked me to come to the board and do it, which I did, thus shunning me from this entire class of students. I was now entrenched as the ‘stupid geek’, if they actually had that term at that time. There was another kid in this class, we all called him Mooney ( I don’t know if that was his real name or not), who was also an outcast and we kind of teamed up. Isn’t that the best kind of friendship? The type when you become friends because no one else will accept you? I don’t know if it is the best kind of friendship, but I do know that other than Asher Arnold (who was in the same class and happened to be a seventh day Adventist) who was also my friend only because we were all outcasts, I don’t remember a single person from that class or that school.
Another aside. I accidentally broke Mooney’s leg one day at recess while we were playing a complex game of keep away with all the other kids. It certainly wasn’t intentional, hell he was on my team. I actually got the nickname legbreaker after that, well that and another incident at a different school, which I am just about to get to.
My brief stay at the school in Tombstone was punctuated by breaking my best friend’s leg. Woo hoo? The I was back to Benson, where the teacher thought I was stupid and lots of the other kids just plain didn’t like me. Why? I don’t know. They had all been together in school for four years, I had no idea who any of them were. There was one girl though, I don’t remember her name, that like to sucker punch me any chance she got. She actually grabbed my (well put me in a head lock) and screamed, “why did you come back?” the day I got back to school. Warm welcome eh? She went on to push me to the ground and pummel me until I finally just punched her square in the nose, an action that I was scolded for since, you know, she was just a girl. (that girl was later in trouble after she ripped so much hair out of my cousin’s head that he was bald in places). Love that fourth grade.
Now on to the fifth grade! I have already been in five schools (six if you count Benson twice) what fun! My teacher was one Mr. McKay. He was such a jackass. The school in question is in Cochise, AZ. At the time I was there there were exactly 42 students total, and that covered Kindergarten through the 8th grade. Each teacher taught several years. McKay had 5th and 6th, which was probably the biggest class since there were like 14 of us there. I never made any friends there really, and beyond that, McKay put me into a remedial reading class. Why? He was giving me workbooks that I had done years before at other schools, it bored me to tears. Funny incident regarding the guy though, he sent a letter to my mom about my brother’s poor performance in reading, which my mom let my brother correct and sent it back to him. Other incidents that I can attribute to Mr. McKay include, but are not limited to, being the subject of sexual harassment claims against a 12 year old girl, forcing a student to stand on top of a fire ant hill for detention, then adding additional detentions when the student moved away from the ant hill, and my personal favorite, though not nearly as heinous, spending ten minutes trying to retrieve a penny, which had been super glued to the sidewalk, then putting it into his pocket and driving home.
McKay was some piece of work. My IOWA test results (I am not linking to a site since I don’t know which might have been the official test in the mid eighties) averaged in the 92nd percentile of everyone my age. All of the math skills were above the 96th percentile. The reading skill (remember he gave me remedial reading) was in the 94th percentile. Thus proving my theory that you can skate through college with a D average and still become a teacher. Seriously, think about it, someone is Valedictorian, someone is Salutatorian, the rest are just people that did progressively worse than the others, someone had to just barely make it through with a low D average and graduate at the very bottom of the class, right?
Cochise had so few students that they required a couple of classes that you don’t normally have to take. Such as band. You were required to be in band. I thought that would be cool, I really wanted to play the drums or saxophone, those positions had been filled for years, so I got the trumpet…I hated the trumpet…We were also required to participate in team sports (I think that the K-3 kids weren’t required) since if we weren’t all there there wouldn’t be enough to make a team. We never practiced much, in fact the track and field event that I participated in would make a really great story, but not today. Soccer is what is on my mind, or it was when I started this post.
Sorry Angie! It was during Soccer practice that I broke Angie’s leg. Thus I had broken the legs of two separate people in less than a year. I was well on my way to mob status. I really didn’t like soccer, well I didn’t hate it, well, hell, I don’t know. I had to play it, I played it, and I was pretty good at it, provided people’s shins stayed out of the damn way. After two horrible misfires (resulting in broken legs) you would think that the other kids would eventually figure out that they should just get the hell out of the way when I pulled back to kick, and they did. This gave me the illusion that I was actually good at the game, when in reality it was only that people knew that I broke Mooney’s leg, then Angie’s, and they just didn’t want to have the ball anywhere near me, at least that is how I see it in hindsight.
Now that Soccer is my new best thing I want a shirt to show off that fact. I asked my mom if she could buy me a shirt that said #1 Soccer Player, then, while talking to her I tried to fact check myself, “maybe #2 soccer player, I know that David is way better than me. Maybe #3 soccer player just to be sure.” I didn’t want to lie, you see. I just wanted to stake my place on the totem pole that is soccer.
When I woke the next morning there was a pretty white shirt laying across the edge of the couch that proudly proclaimed, “#1 Soccer Player” in bold blue letters. Turns out that mom had a lot more faith in my ability than I did. For one glorious day I was the “#1 Soccer Player”. I wore that shirt with pride. Unfortunately, as it turns out, Mom had spent her night awake stenciling that onto a plain white T-shirt, using only the magic markers that she had on hand. That bold statement, “#1 Soccer Player” washed away just as fast as my interest in soccer. Her sleepless night spent making that stupid T-shirt is a sacrifice that I will not, can not, ever forget. We might not have had much, but she did have a T-shirt and a stencil set, and she stayed up to make sure that my humble wish came true.
Mom may not have had the materials to make the shirt I wanted, and thank god she didn’t since I totally sucked at soccer, but she made my (then) dream come true. I am not entirely sure if I ever told her, or if she otherwise knew, that the lettering washed away, it doesn’t seem to matter. She made me that shirt out of love, and love was really the only commodity that we had at that point…
Mom certainly had the market cornered on the love thing, well some was reciprocated but I don’t think it will ever be enough. While it is difficult to find a way to thank her for ripping me from my roots (abusive father), it is easy to find ways to thank her for everything else, such as ripping me from my roots (abusive father). Mom, you did a damn good job, if anyone ever tells you different I have people that can take care of them…
Another aside, but still a question, did you ever notice that no one ever thanks their dad when they win a sporting event?