My life really hasn’t been interesting enough to fill a whole novel. Or even a novella. Maybe a sonnet. Probably a limerick. The most interesting time period was spent in Algoma Christian School, for a variety of reasons. I’ve explained earlier how small the school was – I ended up graduating in a class of 11. There’s an oddness about growing up this way that is hard to explain to anyone who went to a large public school. It’s kind of like being from a family with lots of kids, only you have to love family and you don’t necessarily have to love classmates.
My overactive memory has been both a blessing and a curse, but here are some tidbits from my schoolgirl memories:
2nd Grade – My mom had home-schooled me through first grade so that I could get a jump start and learn to read while other kids were learning to take naps in kindergarten. I think she also did it so that I could have a healthy superiority complex by the age of 7…I may be wrong on that. Anyway, for second grade, my parents wanted to send me to a private school so that I could have a Christian education. ACS welcomed us to come for a tour, and I remember my first time entering the old building, which was constructed of double-wide trailers and smelled of old carpet. I remember peeking through the windows to see students whose names I would later learn – Andy, Mark, Sara. I remember it seemed huge. Official. While my parents went to talk with the administrator, I was taken to an empty classroom where a girl was playing with her My Little Ponies. Her hair was crimped. Her pants were tucked into her socks. She asked me to play, and I said I would rather color. This girl – Cat, or Kathy as she was known then – would become one of my best friends for the rest of our lives.
Memories from that first year are mostly of sound and color. My first teacher’s name was Mrs. Brown, and I remember I was afraid of her at first because she hardly ever smiled – ironic, considering I was often accused of this myself. But we got along splendidly because, back then, I was eager to please and share my wealth of knowledge. I remember class pictures and recess. I looked something like the Ethiopian poster child – sickly, gaunt – because I had strep throat at least 3 times that year.
3rd Grade – This was when I really hit my stride. Mrs. Tasma is still my all-time favorite teacher, though I can’t put my finger on exactly what made her so cool. For this year, I have a vivid and horrific memory of being chased around the desks by a classmate who was trying to hug me. I haven’t liked hugs since. I gave a ten-page paper presentation on Corrie ten Boom and lost my voice by the end. I also remember that we each took turns having a display table about ourselves; I brought in horse figurines. (Seeing Mrs. Tasma years later, she told me she’d found a stack of old papers, and one had been of a story I’d written about a horse. She laughed and said I’d written nearly everything about horses that year.)
4th Grade – Miss Steed never got the memo that you can only show Anne of Green Gables to kids so many times. Every time we did something good, we would get a star on the blackboard. At four stars, we would get a movie, which meant we would watch A of GG and get popcorn. Let’s just say that we got so sick of the movie that we started being purposefully bad so that we could get stars erased off the board. Not that I was trouble. In fact, if anything I grew quieter this year. I chose to become introverted and instead observe others. I wanted to see if my classmates could answer the questions I normally would have – I remember consciously making this decision one day as I lowered my hand to refrain from answering a class question.
It was also during this year that I developed my first crush on Matt, who borrowed two dollars from me and did not repay me for several months. However, Randy thought I was cute, and all my friends thought Randy was cute. So, shrugging my shoulders and not really caring one way or the other, Randy and I ended up being boyfriend/girlfriend, whatever that can mean at the age of nine.
Also during this year, I got my tonsils out and stopped looking like the Ethiopian poster child. My whole class made Get Well cards for me, and I still have the poorly drawn horses and dogs with greetings of “Hope Yuo Get Beter Soon” stenciled across the tops. It was really nice that Miss Steed actually came to my house to deliver these to me. (Several other people from school and our church came as well. I remember receiving strawberry-flavored Nestle Quick from our pastor and nearly throwing up because the smell reminded me of the anesthetic they had used to put me under. To this day, my gag reflex kicks in when exposed to artificial strawberry flavoring.)
5th Grade – Thinking of this year makes me laugh. We thought we were so cool. Swearing. Talking about sex even though we barely understood the mechanics. Playing sports. Playing sports is what ended up being the most traumatic event that year – I was hit in the chin with a baseball bat by my friend Chad. My chin swelled immediately, but I didn’t know what I looked like or why my friend Carissa was so freaked out. I went inside from recess, and my teacher upon seeing me swept me up in an enormous hug. I’ve already explained that I don’t like hugs, but having my swollen face buried in her bosom terrified me and I started crying. She thought I was crying because of my actual injury. I was sent to the bathroom with A FROZEN SPONGE IN A PLASTIC BAG, which was the school’s equivalent of a First Aid Kit. I then saw my chin, which was by this time the size of my fist. I went to sit in the school office while the ladies called my mom, and they all told me how brave I was and then went back to work while I pressed the frozen sponge/bag to my face. My mom showed up at last, and I remember how calm she was as the ladies fluttered around and she made sure my jaw wasn’t broken, which no one else had bothered to check.
Well, time mends all wounds, but I did have a blue-and-purple goatee for about five weeks. And, I’m convinced that this is where I developed my inability to get over bitterness towards people who’ve wronged me, because Chad never apologized. (Years later, we reconnected on Facebook and I might have mentioned this… Okay, I know I did.)
6th Grade – It was during this year that we moved into the new school building. It was big and didn’t smell like old carpet, just mortar and drywall. I had a bowl haircut. We had Miss Steed again as our teacher, still on her Anne of Green Gables kick. This time around, we were a little cleverer about getting out of seeing it. Because Miss Steed favored girls, we would act like we were having a fight amongst our little clique, and she would send Pam, Kathy, Tara, Cat, and myself out into the hall to talk things out. Miraculously, by the end of the movie, everything was always resolved. She would come out and give us candy, telling us not to let the boys see it. So what did we do? We would go back inside the classroom and chew on our candy as loudly as possible, causing the not-as-clever boys to glare at us and wish they had thought of something so brilliant. (Over a decade later, when talking about this with my then-classmate Ben, he still remembered these days with a bit of a grudge. Totally fair.)
One day at recess while playing soccer, Matt B. and I went for the ball at the same time and he kicked my ankle, breaking it. That was my first broken ankle. Matt, like Chad, never apologized. (Again via Facebook, my reconnecting tool of choice, I reminded Matt of this, and he had absolutely no memory of the event. Why must men hurt me so? Am I just that forgettable?)
7th and 8th Grades – We were finally out of elementary school and starting to change classes every period. Typical middle school stuff went on. Some girls started being cooler than others; I don’t remember where I fit. Miss Lovell was my favorite teacher because she taught us how to color-code our folders and I thought that was the most ingenious thing I’d ever heard of. She also had a pet snake in the classroom, although it was really only a glorified worm. We went on the best field trip ever to a simulated space program where we had to land on the moon – I was the communications officer.
During this time, sadly several of our classmates moved on to public schools and we lost all contact. New people came in, and the shuffle added some spice to the monotony that had settled into our small, confining school.
And for the record, I did not have a crush in Kevin.
9th through 11th Grades – The majority of my early high school years are a blur. There was an occasional field trip that was exciting, or a particular teacher I really liked, or some tidbit of knowledge I actually found worth knowing. I do remember a drug scandal that rocked and nearly toppled the perfect-bubble-world illusion our parents had fought for and believed in so desperately. It’s safe to say that I broke my ankles at least three more times during high school, though these were my own fault and I take full responsibility. I remember Sam W. wrote me a note with one of those “Will you be my girlfriend? Check yes or no” boxes, and I wadded it up and threw it back at him while our history teacher, Mr. T., watched this whole thing and laughed. Sam then un-crinkled the note and gave it to my friend Tara, who was also repulsed.
Then came 12th Grade, but that’s a whole other story that will take a post all its own. For now, I’ll just say that the 2nd through 11th grades are what I remember fondly from my schoolgirl days.
The important thing to remember about childhood, I think, is that the people who shared it with you are not to be cast aside or forgotten. We help create each other, for better or worse, and it’s good to just accept the odd, goofy, and even hurtful things these people did to you. Personally, I’ve found it a surprising pleasure to reconnect with these people 10+ years later, and I’m always delighted when someone has turned out well. These people are all a part of what shaped me, and it’s quite freeing to love them for it. I’ve even managed to forgive the bone-breakers, and I don’t cringe anymore when people hug me.