When I was five my mother enrolled me in Kindergarten. At that time Kindergarten was optional in Texas, it still may be optional for all I know. It was a good thing for me that it was optional because I was not ready for school. I was very unhappy in Kindergarten. The teachers were all very nice and I had no trouble with any of the kids. I did get grossed out at snack-time with other kids’ runny noses. They thought I was funny as I gagged down my snacks and tried not to look at them. All in all I preferred my folded sleeping bag on the concrete floor of The Dairy Twist over Kindergarten. So I dropped out of school. My mother told me I had to attend first grade the following year because it was the law.
I was pretty excited about first grade actually. My mom bought me a lunchbox and that was pretty cool. She also bought me a bright red school satchel. Bright red is still my favorite color. She bought me several pretty dresses too. She ordered them from a catalog. I was quite happy to think about starting school that year.
Then reality hit me upside the head like a baseball bat. Mrs. Stovell was not a teacher; she was a tyrant. She struck terror in my six-year-old heart. From that first day of school forward I protested school every morning. I cried pitifully and I went limp. My mother had to dress me because I refused to dress myself. I was not alone. Other parents had to drag their crying children into Mrs. Stovell’s classroom each morning as well. My mother tried to get me transferred to another classroom but the principal said he couldn’t remove every child from Mrs. Stovell’s class. Thus was my introduction to the typical wimpy principal which I would encounter over and over again during my school years.
I somehow muddled my way through first grade. I wanted to learn to read and so that seemed to come easy for me despite Mrs. Stovell’s strange social structure experiments she devised for her students. She had divided us into classes of students: smart, average, below average, and stupid. The stupid ones could sit at their desks all day coloring while she gave them no instruction whatsoever. If they caused trouble they were sent to sit in the hall. I wanted her to send me to sit in the hall, but she never did. I think I was stuck in the average or below average group. Nevertheless I somehow learned to read.
Math was another thing altogether. I simply did not understand the concept of addition and subtraction. I had no natural bent for it as I did for reading. For a while I suffered with math papers marked with bright red marks which, though it was my favorite color, only made me very unhappy. Stovell ridiculed me for not knowing what 3 plus 2 was in front of my peers. I said it was four. Since I did not understand the concept of addition I thought maybe the answer was the consecutive number which followed two and three. I finally admitted my math failure to my mother who sat down and within minutes explained addition and subtraction to me. My math scores improved after her simple instruction. Would that have been so hard for Mrs. Stovell to do? But as I said, she was a tyrant and not a teacher.
I hated recess because I did not enjoy playing duck, duck, goose and any other variation of that game. I wasn’t a fast runner and so I often despaired of ever not being ‘it’. I enjoyed the merry-go-round a little too much one day and threw up on the playground. I soon gave up group play and started bringing my small dolls from home and I played with them under a shady tree. Occasionally a girl or two would come up to me probably wanting me to give them an invitation to play with my dolls. I don’t think I ever did. I was selfish with my toys as I had no young brothers or sisters to play with. My brother was in high school and didn’t play with toys. Once, Tracy Windham came by, I liked him, probably because he had freckles like my old friend Lisa. I would play with him and occasionally with a girl named Molly. I think she had freckles too.
My school consented to letting me go home to eat my lunch. I had been disillusioned by my school cafeteria experience. My parents liked to eat at a restaurant called Furr’s Cafeteria and I think this is where my confusion came into play. I expected the school cafeteria to look like a restaurant complete with tables and nice tablecloths. I was expecting a fine dining experience. Instead I was treated to a cold institutional environment that was loud and smelly. I never have liked the smell of school cafeteria food. There is nothing appetizing about that odor. So, I went home to eat my lunch.
After lunch we got to watch Sesame Street in the darkened music room. That was my favorite part of my school day. After that a few more hours would have to be endured until the final bell rang and we were released from our imprisonment for the day.
I did get two reprieves that year which I was so thankful for. First, I got chicken pox and I missed several days of school. Following that I caught the mumps and was out of school for several more days again. I felt like I was the luckiest girl on earth.