I started my school experience in the public school system of our fine county. That first year was brutal. I am not exaggerating. I had a rough time with the reading. And the math. I am not a stupid person, but the whole learning thing didn’t catch on with me until much later. Why was it important to see Dick and Jane running when, by god, I could be running? Why on earth would I ever need to know that 1+1=2? Not anything in the near future, that was for certain! Besides, who didn’t know that already? If I have one marble and you give me another one I’ll have two. Geez, even a kindergartner knows that!
Then one day I came in from recess and the girl that sat in the desk next to mine was eating my Pixie Sticks. I’d left them in my desk, now they were gone, and she was devouring them with her dirty little mitts. What more evidence did I need than her Pixie dust encrusted lips? So I confronted her about it. When I asked her about it she lied. She couldn’t hide it.
So what did I do? Why if I couldn’t enjoy them she wouldn’t either. Even though I would not now be eating them, due to the dampness that now surrounded the opened end of each and every last one of the three I had, I tried to take them from her by force. Which ended up in fisticuffs. By the time the teacher finally got to the room and broke it up it was obvious that I was the one who instigated this pugilism amongst five and six year-olds. For which I spent the next week with my desk in the closet. Not that I didn’t deserve it, but the humiliation from that incident – not to mention how badly I felt about bloodying her nose – ended any thoughts I had of standing up for myself in the future. I’m not sure that was the intended lesson but that’s the one I learned. I could hurt people. With my bare hands! Akkkk! But that’s another issue for another day.
During the summer after that first year my parents decided they’d put my sister and me in a private school. There we wouldn’t be exposed to the horrors (read: black teachers). It was even more horrible. I really don’t even know how they afforded it. I’ve mentioned this before but we weren’t very, uh, well off. The other kids there had name-brand shoes and jeans and their parents drove Cadillacs and Lincolns. The other kids were…snooty. Mean Girls would have looked like angels. I faked headaches and illnesses to get out of going to school with them. They teased me mercilessly about my “blue-light specials” and my “dollar store” wardrobe and my parents’ Chevy Conversion van(hey, these were the 70’s). And my freckles – those damnable abominations that lay upon my face. And my buck teeth – those chompers with which I could have eaten corn-on-the-cob through a picket fence.
My mother would try to console me with this little ditty:
To no avail, I’m afraid. But I love the saying now and I’m sure I’ll console any child I might have with it someday.
Thankfully this only lasted two school terms. And then a reprieve; my parents came to the conclusion that I hated it and they could no longer afford it. Relief at last. I’d go back to public school. Gladly. That is until that fateful day in which my mother decided I needed a haircut before the start of school. And for some reason my Aunt Tee was there that day. Which was all good because my Aunt Tee was cool. Or at least I thought she was.
My mother had cut my hair on many occasions. I’m not even sure my hair had ever been professionally cut until this incident. She began the task, as always, by spreading a flat sheet out on the floor, placing a chair in the middle of it, and having me sit down. She used her “good” scissors and took a snip and the long strands fell to the floor. This was in the front so that was okay. I wanted bangs. But then my Aunt Tee spoke up. “Hey, let me have a try”, she said. These words should strike fear into the heart of any person getting their hair cut…ever. This isn’t a game of horse shoes. This is my hair for chrissakes.
Never, and I mean never, let your aunt cut your hair. Unless, of course, she is a hair stylist. One who has been properly trained and probably has years of experience. Exhibit A:
For some reason she thought it would be a good idea to pick up where mama started and follow the line around my face and down under my ears and meet back around to the front all in one swift action. Before mama could stop her she’d whacked off enough that there was no going back. So she let her finish. It looked like she’d put a salad bowl on my head and traced the lines of it. My aunt was dead to me. Dead to me!
I already had issues – I did not need this. I was eight. And I was starting the fourth grade in a new school in about a week. This could not be happening! When we went to the dollar store for back-to-school shopping I picked out dresses. Dresses! A travesty!
Reluctantly, I did go to school. Surprisingly one of the kids remembered the little boxer from the first grade. In fact I’d done such a good job of fading in to anonymity the rest of that year that none of them remembered me at all. I can remember hearing a boy ask the fourth grade teacher, “Why is that boy wearing a dress?” I was ruined. “Oh god, They think I’m a boy!”
It probably didn’t help that I was a bit of tomboy. I eschewed dolls and hopscotch in favor of playing in the dirt and playing fort. I still am, really. I much prefer playing with power tools and adventure to, say, manis and pedis and dress-up. And I still like to play in the dirt. Thank the gods the years have been kind to me. My freckles have faded and I grew into my teeth. And the older I get the less important anything name-brand seems to be. I wish I could go back and tell little me that big me had a knuckle sandwich for her whiny little butt.
 My dad had many fine qualities but tolerance for other races wasn’t one of them. I try to remember he was raised in a different time (yeah, I probably am rationalizing).
 Being well off is a matter of of perspective, even financially. Imagine my surprise when, in high school, my friends all thought we were rich because we lived in a real house without wheels.
 I miss that van. It had a built-in dining table and banquette, a bar sink, and orange shag carpet. How friggin’ cool was that?