I can’t recall my first real friend back in grade school, yet I do remember natural and instigated rivalries some teachers created perhaps to motivate us, or out of spite to see us go for each other’s jugular on the playground or in the cafeteria in front of the hairnet lady scooping mashed potatoes and beans onto our trays.
How do we find and cultivate meaningful and lasting friendships? I attended the same grade where one of my aunts was an administrative assistant, and about seventy percent of the children’s parents knew each other because they, too, played out a similar awkward drama as classmates when they were children and young adults.
I remember discussions and gossip around my grandmother or mother’s house about who was who in my class and school. I don’t think I felt the tug of loyalty and friendship until junior high. While in elementary, I didn’t really spend time with anyone away from school. I went to school with my cousins and aunt, performed in the glee club, and did my homework.
I remember the names of all my teachers back then, some fondly, others I’d just as soon forget. My kindergarten teacher many years later, and in another school district was my youngest brother’s teacher. I think my mother came to school in first grade because the teacher paddled me. A big no-no as far as my mother was concerned. No one should be hitting on her child! It was her job to chastise me.
My second grade teacher made the biggest impression on me and other classmates. She enjoyed teaching, and I’ll always be grateful for that. I think we were group academically by second grade. I didn’t care much for my third grade teacher. I think we’d developed a reputation for being rowdy by third grade, and accused of killing our fourth grade teacher within the first few weeks of the new school year. We were called brats, little terrors, and it was difficult finding a substitute or replacement teacher for our class after the original teacher had a heart attack. However long after the death and readjustment, our second grade teacher became our fourth grade teacher – hooray!
My fifth grade teacher and I weren’t mortal enemies, nor were we cordial. She’d proudly display on her chest hair between her breasts. She was definitely masculine, and any male child she deemed not as masculine as should be, and masculine as she was, she wasted no time in telling the offending boy. For once, I loved my mother’s bravado. The fifth grade teacher was fond of punching the boys in their chest or arms when they committed an infraction. I was untouchable! Had I done anything, under no circumstances was she to discipline me, but rather tell my aunt who’d in turn tell my mother. I didn’t get into trouble that entire year, and I thoroughly enjoyed her frustration in not being able to toughen me up.
I came into my own in junior high, after having attempted and failed at puppy love in fifth grade with one of the prettiest girls in class. Junior high was my foray into leading theatrical roles, public speaking, emceeing school beauty pageants, my first awkward kiss with a girl in braces, and academic excellence. It was in sixth grade that I learned not to be a divo. I had the starring role in the original law week play, and one afternoon during a ‘free period’ in Social Studies (honors) class, the then director sent for me to come to rehearsal. In my mind back then, I felt there was no way I was going to give up a ‘free day’ in any class to go rehearse – that was work.
I thought: I’m the star of the play, he needs me. He’ll wait until after school. He sent for me two or three more times, and if memory serves me correctly, the bear of a director personally came for me. “Little man, come on now. We need to rehearse.”
I didn't budge. A lesser actor replaced me. I sat in the audience on the day of the performance and watched as he butchered a role that had been originally mine.