My folks moved to Farmington, New Mexico a few months before the end of my fifth grade year. My dad worked as a millwright at San Juan Power Plant that was being constructed. We lived with my cousin who was a teacher at a junior high school there in Farmington. I’ll get back to that junior high school in a later post.
My cousin’s apartment was in the Northeast Elementary school district and so that is where my mom enrolled me for the last few months of school. My first impressions were not good and later impressions only got worse. My teacher was nice, I’ll give it that much credit. The children were another story altogether. I would have been more comfortable in a pack of hyenas.
My nice teacher introduced me to two girls in my class and she asked them if they would show me around the school for the day. They both smiled a wicked smile and said they would. As soon as the recess bell rang they foisted me off on the school pariah – a spindly, undernourished-looking small girl with an a bad case of eczema named Jennifer. I could tell I wasn’t wanted either and immediately struck up a friendship with Jennifer who just prior to my arrival was standing alone bouncing a ball on the concrete.
Jennifer informed me that recess was not subject to free play. I was astonished, horrified even. She said we had to engage in some sort of sports related activity…which is why she stood bouncing a ball. So, in order to keep up appearances, we bounced the ball back and forth to each other for the duration of recess. For the record, forced sports-play does not qualify as recess in my way of thinking. It constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and I hadn’t even broken a school rule – yet.
Lunch soon followed, the cafeteria had the same nasty smell as other school lunchrooms across the country. I always brought my own lunch but seldom had an appetite to eat it. To make matters worse, some of the teachers at Northeast liked to separate you from your friends (or in my case, friend) during lunch in order to eliminate any feelings of joy I suppose.
After lunch we were subjected to music torture. Up until then I had always enjoyed music class but our music teacher, who I remember as resembling Smeagol in the Lord of the Rings movies, liked to make it as painful as possible. One of his favorite tortures was to make little boys sit on his knee while he played the piano; he never subjected any little girls to this torture.
After music torture was over, we went to health class/P.E. which brings back a mixed variety of emotions for me. In the first place, health class was just plain boring and P.E. which followed it was forced sports-play which is just immoral as I already explained. Yet, it was in Northeast Elementary where I first decided to stand up for my beliefs, resist, and fight against the system – forced government schooling. This ultimately led me to expand on my ideas which culminated in my decision to home school my own children and not subject them to cold, institutionalism. But that is a topic for another day.
In health class I became acquainted with a boy who seemed to share my distaste for the system. His name is Paul and I later married him. What first called my attention to him was his being called down by the health class teacher for leaning back in his chair, causing the chair’s front legs to lift off the ground as Paul leaned against the chalkboard behind him. That was so cool! Maybe he caught me admiring him because soon thereafter he began calling me Jacqueline Smith, a popular TV actress of that day. I was flattered. I immediately counted him as a friend, though most of my time was spent with Jennifer.
P.E. more often than not consisted of kickball. I loathed kickball. I was never a fast runner and if I could manage to kick the ball at all I couldn’t kick it very far. I’ve never been athletic…except when I go hiking. I love hiking and I’m able to push myself to limits I would not push myself if I had to play kickball for instance.
I resented being forced to play kickball and I resented being berated by my peers for not being able to run fast or kick hard. Jennifer didn’t like it very much either and so one day we decided to protest. Our version of protesting consisted of standing out in the field refusing to play their stupid game. When someone kicked the ball in our direction we watched it roll right past us with our arms folded across our chests. The P.E. teacher threatened reprisal for our refusal to play.
I don’t know if Jennifer repented of our crime or not. The next thing I remember was being banished to run laps around the playground until the end of P.E. – like that was a punishment. Ha! So I began running laps and much to my pleasure I found out that Paul had been given the same punishment earlier during class. We ran in unison – something we would do for the rest of our lives – how poetic. Anyway, he called me Jacqueline Smith as we ran together and I’m sure I flushed with pleasure.
My last memory of Northeast Elementary was the end of the year school picnic which sounds like fun but it meant a whole day’s worth of forced sports-play. How fun could that be? I tried to get out of it but my nice teacher guilted me into going. It was hot that day and some kid stole the only drink I had brought with me on the picnic – so, I reciprocated by taking some other kid’s drink out of the ice chest our teacher had made us put our drinks in. I justified my action by telling myself it was the soda belonging to the kid who had taken my soda. It may have been for all I know.
My parents moved into a rental in another school district at the close of that school year. I would miss Jennifer and I would think about Paul often throughout the remainder of my public school institutionalization. Paul and I would meet again at that crowning achievement of the socialistic/Marxist-inspired/forced government schooling experiment called a state university. Then the fun would begin again.