Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ditching School

I don't remember a lot of the fine details--it's been forty-something years ago. But I do know it was in the morning, on a warm, fall day.  I  wore a "sissy" dress to school that day.  It was light yellow chiffon over a dark yellow taffeta that was emblazoned with daisies. Why I remember that, I don't know unless it was because I preferred jeans and a tee shirt, but since it was my first year of kindergarten at Crooked Oak Elementary my mom wanted me to look nice.  My best friend, Evelyn Post, and I were playing on the "teeter-totter" when the bell rang. 

I wasn't looking forward to going inside the green dismal room that was formerly a WW II Barrack. I wasn't looking forward to having to sit quietly and pay attention, either.  But, I knew when the bell rang, you had to go inside. That was the rule.

"C'mon, Evelyn."  I told her, "We have to go."

"No!" She protested.  "Let's stay out and play!" 

"But we'll get in trouble," I whined.

"No we won't." She protested, her dark eyes flashing mischievously.  Evelyn had pigtails down to her shoulders.  She was a free spirit and even though I was a month older (which I never let her forget all the way through school.)

I don't even remember how we got acquainted.  I just know for as far back as I can remember, Evelyn was my cohort--my partner in crime and I respected her opinion.

"We'll just play for a little while longer, then we'll go in."  She countered.

I pursed my lips tightly into a thin, straight line--it was something I tended to do when I was in deep thought.  It was a beautiful day.  We were having a lot of fun. What harm could there be? Why go inside to some stuffy classroom when we could stay outside and play in the fresh, fall sunshine? Made sense to me.

No more than fifteen minutes went by when Mrs. Belcher came looking for us.  As I recall, Mrs. Belcher was a giant of a woman.  (Of course, when you're five everybody seems large.) And the moment I saw her face, I knew we were in trouble. I didn't say a word. My heart pounded., my pulse raced.  My little five-year old legs wobbled beneath me.  I was dead meat.  If the teacher didn't kill me, my mother would.

Evelyn was rattling off some explanation ninety miles an hour. "We were just…blah…blah…blah."  The incident didn't even seem to faze her.

I admired her ability to stay cool and think so fast on her feet.

Mrs. Belcher marched us into the classroom without saying a word and that scared me more.  I would have felt better if she were yelling at us--or something.  The silence was deafening.
I was already trying to dream up some lame excuse--some story to tell my mother--because I just knew Mrs. Belcher would call her. Ditching kindergarten! I might even be expelled!  My life flashed before my eyes--my school years nipped in the bud before they even started! 

Then there was my dad. I could see it now. He'd bend down and look me sternly in the face, eyeball to eyeball.  Nose to nose.

"You know what I want you to do, Sharon Gail," he'd say, "but you do what you think is best."

I always hated that.  Although it gave me permissions of sort to do what I wanted, I always ended up doing what my Dad wanted because there would be heck to pay if I didn't. Besides that, I didn't want to hear, "I-told-you-so" for the rest of my life. 

He'd probably deport me to go live on the street with all those starving kids in India.  Or worse yet, to go live with my grandmother.

But Mrs. Belcher didn't even get upset.  She calmly explained that when the bell ring, we had to come inside and that we must never skip class again. 

It's funny how subtlety peer-pressure sneaks into your life.  Here I was only five and I had already succumbed to it.

I didn't like that feeling that I had let my teacher down.  Or that I might disappointed my parents.  Worse yet, I didn't like the feeling that I had not acted responsibly when people trusted me to do so. It was at that moment I decided I would never cut class again--peer pressure or no peer pressure.

And for the next thirteen years at Crooked Oak I never did.

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