I liked looking out the big windows in my second grade classroom at school. That side of the room was all windows, looking out onto the corner of Jefferson and Fifth streets. There were four corners. One was the school and the other three just had houses. Houses with upstairs parts that grownups called “two story”, though I didn’t know what they had to do with stories, one or two. But I liked looking at them and pretending what was behind each of the windows. I also liked looking up Fifth street, until it disappeared between the trees. That was the way you walked to get to Allmendinger Park and then across the Park to get to my house. And when I looked up the street, I thought of all the interesting and fun things I could be doing at home or at the park right now, instead of sitting in this room practicing numbers and “penmanship”.
At least my school friends were here too, though only one of them sat next to me. That was my new friend Herbie, who hadn’t been in my first grade class. My old friends from first grade – Amanda, Gabe and Jake – sat in different parts of the room, though we could still see each other and make faces at each other when what the teacher was telling us wasn’t very interesting. We wanted to sit next to each other but the teacher gave us “assigned seats”.
That girl Mary from first grade, who Amanda didn’t like and Gabe liked to tease, sat right in front of me, so I could see the back of her head and her shoulders all the time. Her hair was that shiny brown like the color of a penny, and she always had one of those “bow” things in her hair that was the same color as her dress. But her hair wasn’t straight like Molly’s hair. It went around in circles, so it kind of came out of her head all over the place instead of going straight down to her shoulders. Like Amanda, she always wore dresses to school, but the dress part on her shoulders was all puffy, and her dresses were usually pink or red. When I didn’t want to look at what the teacher was writing on the chalkboard, sometimes I just looked at Mary’s hair and shoulders. I wondered if Herbie liked her, because he was always looking at her too, though he also teased her a lot which made her really mad.
Our teacher’s name was “Mrs. Camden”. She was nice, but she seemed way more like a regular grownup than our first grade teacher Miss Zimmerman, or “Miss Z” as Gabe called her. When Gabe called our new teacher “Mrs. C”, she said she preferred to be “Mrs. Camden”, and when Gabe asked her what her first name was, she said, “Just call me Mrs. Camden”. But Amanda liked her, because she liked calling everybody by their “proper names”, that’s what she called your regular name. Amanda called Gabe “Gabriel”, but no one else did, not even Mrs. Camden. And Amanda liked Mrs. Camden because she was never silly. Amanda didn’t like most girls because she said they were silly. She said even Miss Zimmerman had been too silly sometimes.
So we practiced numbers all the time. How bigger numbers had smaller numbers in them, one number on the right side for the “ones” in the “ones place”, the next number to the left for the “tens” in the “tens place”, and then for the “hundreds” in the “hundreds place”. I already knew all this stuff because mom had shown me how big numbers worked like that. She even showed me how to write numbers like a “million”, or even bigger than that, with those “comma” things to help you see how big they were. Mom said there was no biggest number, because any big number you could think of, there were always numbers that were bigger, so you could count FOREVER and never run out of more numbers to count.
And then our teacher kept showing how you “added” and “subtracted” big numbers where you had to “carry” or “borrow”, but mom had already shown me that stuff too. The teacher would always write what she called “problems” on the chalkboard, and then we were supposed to write them on a piece of paper and then figure out the “answer” and write that at the bottom of the problem. She also wanted us to “show our work” when we did carrying and borrowing. She told us to bring our piece of paper up to her desk when we were done, and then we could look at a book quietly while other kids finished figuring the problems out. I didn’t like it that we had to be quiet so much, and mostly just talk when we raised our hands, or she told us it was okay.
Amanda, Gabe, Mary and I always tried to be the first one to take our paper with all the problems answered up to our teacher’s desk, because we could tell she really liked that we were so good at doing numbers. It was like a game, and if Amanda, Gabe or I beat Mary, she would make this fierce sound sucking air between her teeth. Amanda made that sound sometimes too, but I never heard a boy do that. But this time, when Mary turned in her piece of paper before me, and walked back to her desk in front of me as I was still figuring them out, she looked at me and smiled like she was saying, “I won this time.”
“That was easy”, she said, “For me”. Like she meant that it was harder for me, though it wasn’t. I had just written one of the numbers down wrong, so when I tried to subtract from it and borrow from the hundreds place, it left the hundreds in the top number as “2” and the hundreds number from the bottom to subtract from it was “3”. I got worried, but I looked at the chalkboard again and saw that I had written the top number wrong, so I had to do the problem over again.
Our teacher would look at all the answers and put a red check by the ones you “got right”, and a red circle around the ones that you didn’t. Since I was left-handed, it still made me mad that grownups said “right” when something was really “correct”, so kids did that too, but I didn’t say anything about it. I almost always got them all correct.
After everybody finished, she gave them back their papers with the checks and circles, and told kids about the circle ones they got wrong. Then she said it was time for us to “work on” our “special project”.
I didn’t like those words “work on”. That’s what grownups said they did, but they usually didn’t seem to like doing it. They just had to get it done. Kids didn’t “work on” stuff, they “played with” stuff. That was fun!
Our teacher had been telling us that our country, “America”, was a “country of immigrants”. Unless we were “Indians”, our “ancestors” came here from other countries, maybe a lot of different other countries. Our “ancestors” were like our grandparents, or our grandparents’ grandparents, which Amanda said would be our “great, great grandparents”.
So our teacher had said she wanted all of us to talk to our parents or even our grandparents about what other countries our “ancestors” came from. And then we were going to start making a “chart” of WHERE they all came from. She had put a map of the World up on a bulletin board, and she said she would help all of us to use thumbtacks and pieces of string to connect the other countries those ancestors came from to our country, “The United States of America”, or “America” for short.
The map was interesting because it was supposed to be the whole world, but it was flat. At home, mom and dad had gotten a “globe”, which was a map of the “whole world” that was shaped like a ball that was on this thing so you could turn it around to see all the different parts. I knew from the Tom Swift books that the world was also a planet called “Earth” and it did “orbits” around the sun, though when you looked at the sun in the sky, even though you weren’t supposed to, it looked like the sun was going around us instead. And there were other planets you could go to too, like Mars. And you could also go to the Moon, which was pretty much like a planet. But Gabe said that the moon wasn’t really a planet, because it went around the Earth instead of the sun.
This map was flat and had edges, like those were the ends of the world, because it was supposed to be the whole world. But the globe map didn’t have any edges, because the world, a planet, was like a ball. Mom showed me how you could start from anyplace on the globe and go in any straight direction and you’d go all the way around the world and get back to the place you started. At school, Gabe showed me that with the flat world map, when you went off one side, left or right, you were really on the other side. But it wasn’t that way for the top and bottom of the map, because the top was the “North Pole” and the bottom was the “South Pole”, and on a globe they were far apart.
When we found out what other country one of our ancestors came from, we told our teacher and she would help us use thumbtacks to put a piece of string between our “America” country and that other country. Mom had said that her ancestors came from “Scotland”, “Wales”, “Germany” and “Bavaria”, and dad’s came from “Poland”. It was neat seeing all the lines of string going from our country to other countries, mostly ones that were in this place called “Europe”, that was across the “Atlantic Ocean” from us. I had read about “oceans” and “seas” in the Treasure Island book, and also in Tom Swift books, but I had never seen one for real, though I pretended about them all the time. I had seen lakes before. I figured that oceans and seas were like super giant lakes.
“Okay”, our teacher said, “Recess time. Time to go outside and run around the playground and get all that energy out of your bodies. Everybody line up by the door.” Most of the kids moved quickly to the door so they could be first or line up next to their friends. Herbie, Gabe and I did. Mary’s friends ran over to the door and made a space between them for Mary. It was like she was in charge of them, like their general. Amanda was last to line up. She didn’t care about being first or who she lined up next to.
Our teacher went to the door and turned and looked at all of us standing there, waiting to run outside and play.
“Now remember”, she said, “To be quiet and WALK in the hallway and on the sidewalk by the street until you get to the playground. Then you can RUN to your heart’s content.” She said the first part serious, and the second part just a tiny bit silly, which was as silly as she ever got. She opened the door and the kids in front of me tried to move fast, but do it like they were walking. But once they went out the big glass doors to the sidewalk by the street they started running, and some were yelling too. I ran too once I got through the big doors. Amanda was the only one that just walked the whole way, watching all of us ahead of her running.
Gabe, Jake, Herbie and I ran towards the big tunnel tube on the far away part of the playground, but Mary and her friends had already gotten there. They were pretty good runners even though they were wearing dresses. The other girls were already inside, and Mary stood by the open part on one side and looked at us three boys stopping and breathing a lot from running.
“No boys allowed”, said one of the other girls from inside the giant tube. “Yeah”, said the others. Mary looked at me and smiled.
“If it was just me, Cooper”, she said, “I’d let you in even though you’re a boy.” But then looking at Gabe, Jake and Herbie she said, “But not the rest of you. Sorry!”
Gabe wrinkled his nose and said, “I wouldn’t want to be in there with all your cooties!”
“That’s fine with me”, said Mary, making a silly smile. She sat down on the sand with her legs together and carefully crawled into the tube, holding her dress down so we couldn’t see her underwear.
“I can see your underwear”, Herbie said, even though he couldn’t, but I guess just to make Mary mad.
The other girls in the tube did that giggle laugh.
“You shut up Herbie, you CAN NOT!” Mary said fiercly.
Herbie’s eyes twinkled, like he had a sneaky plan. “Yes I can”, he said, “They’re pink!”
“They ARE NOT”, said Mary from inside the tube, “It just shows you didn’t see them because they’re white. HA HA!”
“So Mary told me she’s wearing white underwear under her dress”, Herbie said, making a sneaky smile.
“I heard it too”, said Gabe, liking Herbie’s sneaky plan, “She told you.”
Mary made a strange growling noise and sounded like she was almost crying when she said, “You two leave me alone, get out of here or I’ll tell Mrs. Camden!”
Amanda finally walked up. “Herbert and Gabriel”, she said, “Mary’s right, that’s not very nice!”
Herbie and Gabe looked at her like that didn’t make any sense. Gabe said, “But you don’t like Amy.”
Amanda looked at the two of them for a minute. She wasn’t smiling or looking silly or mad. “It’s still not very nice”, she said, “I don’t talk about YOUR underwear!”
That was interesting, because usually when somebody didn’t like somebody else, then you figured they would not say nice things to them. But Amanda didn’t think that was okay. Amanda didn’t LIKE Amy, but she still talked to help her when somebody did something she thought was bad. But Herbie would say bad things to other kids he didn’t like.
“Well”, said Herbie, climbing up on top of the tube and sitting down and looking at the rest of us, “We’ve caught the girls in our tube trap.”
I heard Mary’s voice from inside the tube, “You HAVE NOT, Herbie!”
Then Gabe climbed up on the tube and sat next to him and said, “And we’ve turned on an invisible force field at both ends so they can’t get out.” I liked that Gabe was pretending like he was Tom Swift.
So I climbed up on the tube and sat and figured I would do that pretending too. “This is our castle and we captured them in our dungeon”, I said. Older kids in the park sometimes pretended that the monkey bars were a castle and the bottom part that was like a jail was called the “dungeon”. Amanda looked at us three boys now sitting on the tube and shook her head.
“You know boys”, said Mary’s voice from underneath us now, “We can get out whenever we want.” She said “boys” like we were on the other team and she was being fierce, but like she still liked us too. Boys like Herbie and Gabe liked to tease her, but they still wanted her to say things to them and maybe even like them too. All the boys thought she was the prettiest girl in class. I guess I did too. I think other girls liked Mary too because she was extra pretty, except for Amanda. Grownup men even sang songs on the radio about “pretty girls”, and sometimes I could hear mom or dad singing those songs too when they heard them.
I always thought kids were on one team and grownups were on the other team. That’s how it seemed with all the kids on my street or that lived near my house. Kids were in charge in the park, but grownups were in charge at home. But here at school even though there were way more kids than grownups, grownups were in charge ALL the time. Even at recess, when kids could do pretty much what they wanted, still grownup teachers were always watching us. And if some kids got mad at other kids, usually girls getting mad at boys like Mary did, they would tell those grownups who would then try to fix things. Or maybe they would just say they’d tell the grownups to make the other kids stop.
Girls and boys seemed like they were on DIFFERENT teams here at school. Most girls, except Amanda, only played with other girls when we went out at recess. Boys played with other boys. When I thought about it more, it was kind of that way in the park too. Boys played mostly with other boys and girls with other girls. Nobody wanted to get “cooties”, though Margie and Amanda said that “cooties” weren’t real.
It’s like in the park, us boys didn’t have to do anything with girls if we didn’t want to, so we didn’t worry about them and they just played with other girls. On the swings when boys were on the merry-go-round, or in one bunch of lilac bushes when boys were in another bunch. But maybe you could play with SOME girls if all the other boys knew they were “Tomboy” girls like Molly. Or if you teased them a lot while you were playing with them, and they teased you back. But not in a mean way, but in a fun way like a pretend other team, but not a real one.
But at school, we had to be around girls A LOT. In our classroom we had to sit next to them and were around them all the time. Most girls talked and laughed different than boys. They talked about different things and liked different shows on TV or different songs on the radio. If you were around them and talking, when the teacher let us talk, you could start talking and laughing like girls and liking what they liked. But if you started talking or laughing that same way around other boys, then they would say you had “cooties”, which was like they were telling you if you weren’t careful, then you might become a “sissy”. That was bad, because other boys wouldn’t play with you anymore.
So to stay safe from ever being a sissy, you and the other boys had to make girls the other team. You had to tease them, maybe just in a fun way like Gabe teased Amanda, if you could figure out how to do that, or in a mean way, like Herbie teased Mary, if you couldn’t.
So us three boys were now sitting on the tube with Mary and her three girl friends inside it. Amanda stood by the side of the tube looking at us. She shook her head.
“I don’t think castles had force fields”, she said.
“Maybe Tom Swift set up his laboratory in an old castle”, Gabe said, looking at me, smiling and nodding, like his pretending was helping my pretending, “And he uses the dungeon for badguys.”
“Well”, said Amanda, making just the tiniest smile, “For silly girls this time.”
Herbie leaned down on the top part of the giant tube so he could see inside the open part at the end.
“Yep”, he said, “The force field is working. It’s keeping all the silly girls in our dungeon.”
“Mind your own business, Herbie”, said that girl Diane, who was in the tube closest to Herbie. She was Mary’s best friend and always helped her. “We can get out whenever we want to”, she said.
“I bet you can’t”, said Herbie.
“You’re just trying to trick us”, said Diane, “But you can’t! HA, HA!”
Then I could hear the four of them in the tube talking to each other like they were making a secret plan, but not loud enough so I could hear the words. Then the four of them started doing that kind of talking singing together.
Gabe and Amanda sitting in a tree
K I S S I N G
First comes love
Then comes marriage
Then comes baby in a baby carriage
Then they all did that giggle laugh.
I looked at Gabe and Amanda. Gabe pushed his mouth together and looked a little bit worried. Amanda looked up at the sky and shook her head and made a little bit bigger smile than she had before.
“Silly, silly girls”, she said.
“Yeah”, said Gabe, but he still looked worried, like he didn’t want anyone to know he liked Amanda. But AMANDA didn’t look worried.
Grownups had to do that kissing and love stuff, I thought, because they had babies. Mom had David, but I couldn’t imagine mom and dad doing that stuff. Maybe the kissing but not that other “love” stuff, which I still hadn’t figured out what it was. I’d seen an older boy and girl in the Lilac bushes, and when I snuck up on them to see what they were doing, they were doing that kissyface kissing stuff. It was like they were eating each other’s mouth. It seemed really strange to me, but the two of them seemed to like it A LOT. I figured they did it hiding in the bushes because they weren’t supposed to. I imagined what it would be like to do that with Molly, since she liked pretending sometimes we were a mom and dad. I imagined Molly and I in our pajamas sleeping next to each other in the same bed. I liked imagining that.
When I came back to school after lunch our teacher said it was time to go to the “assembly” in the “auditorium”. We lined up by the door and then she walked us all the way down the big hallway to that place with the other doors going outside where the hallway turned left. I remembered that was the place where mom and I had first come last year to talk to that older woman about me going to first grade instead of kindergarten. It seemed like a really long time ago. Also down in this part of the school was the library room where we could look at and read books. My school was a really big place and I thought that it was neat, though I’d only seen a few of the rooms.
So on the other side of the big hallway, after it turned left, were two doors right next to each other that opened up into that super giant “auditorium” place. Part of it was kind of like those “movie theater” places that mom or dad had taken me to see movies at, with long lines of chairs. The chairs were hooked to the floor like the chairs in the movie theater, but they were made out of wood instead of metal, and didn’t have that soft puffy chair stuff. And instead of the flat white front part where you saw the movie, there was a whole big upper part with those giant curtain things on either side. There were already lots of kids from other classes sitting in some of the long lines of chairs. Some of them looked a lot older than the kids in my class.
In the middle of the big upper front part was this wood thing that kind of looked like a desk except it was taller. One of the other grownup teachers was standing behind it, waving her hands, and telling all of us kids to “quietly find a seat please”.
Our teacher pointed down a long line of chairs and told the kid from our class that was at the front of our line to go down to the end of the “row” and sit on the last seat before the “aisle”, which was the middle part with no chairs. She sent the kid behind that first kid down the row behind the one the first kid went down. Since a lot of us in line were next to our friends, how she made us go to different rows split us up, which I think she did on purpose. I ended up sitting next to Amanda and Mary. Gabe, Mary’s best friend Diane, and Herbie were in the chairs in front of us. Mary was wearing one of those dresses she always wore with the puffy shoulders. She turned her head and looked at me, thinking.
“Well”, she said, “If I have to sit next to a boy I’d rather it be you than those other two”, and then she actually smiled at me and her eyes twinkled a little. Herbie turned his head to look back at her and stuck his tongue out.
“Herbert”, said Amanda who was watching all this, “Oh my god! That’s disgusting!”
Finally all the kids from the different “classes” were sitting down, though all the teachers stood by the end of rows of chairs so they could see what all us kids were doing, and make sure we weren’t doing anything wrong or bad.
Then the grownup woman up on that front part behind that really high desk thing said, “So I see that everyone has found a seat. Are all our students accounted for?” I looked around and saw all the teachers standing and looking at all the kids in their class. Some I could see were pointing and counting with their mouthes and then nodding their heads.
“Good”, she said, “So my name is Mrs. Rodney. Miss Poindexter and I teach third grade here at Bach School and the students in our classes have been working very hard on a program that they will perform for you today.”
She put her hand out and said, “So will the students in my class and Miss Poindexter’s class please start coming up on the stage, starting with the first row and remembering to stay in line”, she said. This other grownup teacher, Miss Poindexter I guess, raised her hand and the kids in the row she was standing by stood up and walked in a line up the little stairway up to the “stage” part in front of us and then started climbing up the giant stairs behind her and then walking down to the end of that highest step. Then more kids behind them climbed up to the second highest step and walked down to the end. Miss Poindexter came up the stairs behind the last kid. Finally all four of the long steps had kids lined up on them. They all looked a little older than we were because they were in third grade, and we were only in second grade. The two grownup teachers, Miss Poindexter and Mrs. Rodney, now stood together behind that tall desk thing in front of all the kids standing behind them on that staircase thing.
Miss Poindexter said, “Mrs. Rodney’s class and my own have been learning about music and how to sing together as a choir. So today we would like to sing for all of you a couple songs we have learned. We hope you will enjoy listening to those songs as much as we enjoy singing them. The first is about the joy of exploring the outdoors and the second is about marching for something you believe in.”
Then Miss Poindexter walked back over to and down the little stairs in front of the “stage”. Mrs. Rodney turned to the kids standing on the stairs behind her and asked, “Is everyone ready?” Most of the kids nodded.
Miss Poindexter sat at this piano by the front of the stage and used her finger to make it make the same sound over and over. The kids sang that same sound.
“Okay” she said, and started making the song on the piano. Some of the kids started singing right away, and once they did, others started too…
I love to go a-wandering
Along the mountain track
And as I go, I love to sing
My knapsack on my back
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
My knapsack on my back
Hearing all their voices singing together I could see in their eyes how a lot of them really liked it. I mean it was the grownup teachers in charge of it, but it was us kids who were doing the singing. I liked it too, and wished I could sing with other kids like that. I always liked singing at home with dad and my brother, but with a bunch of other kids my age would be even better. And if we could pick our own songs to sing that would be even better than that.
Songs had “verses”. Dad talked about those when he sang to us sometimes. Things were made from parts. I made forts from the Lincoln Log “log” parts, and spaceships from the Tinker Toy sticks and circles parts. Books had words, sentences and chapters. Songs had words, and some sentences too, but verses instead of chapters. Finally the kids sang the last verse of this song…
Oh, may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die
Oh, may I always laugh and sing
Beneath the clear blue sky
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
Beneath the clear blue sky
Then Mrs. Rodney looked at all the kids singing and put up both her hands with her fingers pointing up, and then pointed both fingers at the kids and they sang that last sentence one more time but really slowly…
Beneath the clear blue sky
I thought about the words of that last verse of the song, “until the day I die”. People died. I didn’t know anybody that had died, but mom and dad did, and some of my friends did too. Marybeth and Hannah’s grandfather died. Real soldiers that got shot or blown up in wars died. Kids pretended that all the time when we played war, either with toy soldiers or our bodies in the park. But then when we were done playing, we put the soldiers in their box and we made them alive again the next time we played. Or after we pretend died in the park we would get up and be alive again for the next pretend thing. But we would all be really dead someday, I guess. That was hard to think about so I started thinking about something else.
So I thought about the words, “may I always laugh and sing beneath the clear blue sky”. I thought about the park. Even when the sky wasn’t clear or blue, the park was always fun. We didn’t sing in the park, but we played. So maybe, if I was doing the words for that song, I would sing it, “May I always laugh and play” instead, because even though I really liked singing, no one usually did singing in the park. Though sometimes, if some kids were listening to one of those “transistor radios” they would sing the song the people were singing on the radio.
When the song ended all the grownup teachers started clapping, and some kids did too. Mary sitting next to me started clapping and looked at me like I should be clapping too. I could see that all the kids that had just sang the song liked it that people were clapping, so I started to clap too, and Mary looked at me and smiled, and I looked back at her and smiled at her as I clapped. I guess that was what you were supposed to do after you watched people sing.
The third-grade kids sang this other song too, which sounded more like a soldier song because it was about marching…
Sing with me, I’ll sing with you
And so we will sing together
So we will sing together
So we will sing together
Sing with me, I’ll sing with you
And so we will sing together
As we march along
Then all the kids started pretending they were marching but they didn’t go anywhere. They just pretended to march by lifting their feet and all banging them down on the giant stairs at the same time while they sang. It was really neat.
We are marching to Pretoria, Pretoria, Pretoria
We are marching to Pretoria, Pretoria, Hoorah!
After they started singing the third verse I figured out that it was one of those songs like the “bottles of beer on the wall” song that we sang with dad when we went to Silver Lake and that real Hell place. You just changed one word and sang all the other words the same. If you knew what the one different word was going to be, like “sing”, “walk” or “dance”, then you could sing each next verse.
After more practicing “penmanship” and “cursive” writing, which was really boring, the bell finally rang and school was done for the day. It always surprised and scared me when it rang, even when I was watching the clock and knew it was going to. Mrs. Camden didn’t make us all line up after the bell rang but always said, “Please WALK out of the room and use your QUIET voices until you get outside.” Most of the kids at least did that until they were out in the hallway.
I had some money so I went over to that little store across the street from our school to buy some candy. I had a dime, so I could buy two regular candy bars if I wanted to, or one of those giant candy bars. Or I could buy one regular candy bar and five pieces of bubble gum. Or even just ten pieces of bubble gum, that would last me the longest, but I couldn’t really swallow it, which was part of the fun about eating a candy bar. I tried swallowing bubble gum but it felt really strange and I didn’t like it.
“What are you going to get?” asked a voice behind me. I looked and it was Mary from my class. I looked around to see if any of the boys I knew could see me talking to her. I didn’t want any of them to say I liked her or had cooties.
She looked around too and asked, “Are you looking to see if any of your friends can see us talking?” I looked at her and didn’t know what to say, but I could tell she could figure it out that I was worried about that.
“I should be mad at you”, she said, “It’s not very nice.” Then she looked around, “I don’t think any of them are here.” I looked around again and figured she was right. None of the boys I knew were around.
I knew I better say something so I said, “I think I’ll get a regular candy bar and five pieces of bubble gum.”
“Which candy bar are you going to get?” she asked.
“Maybe a Milky Way or a Snickers”, I said. She nodded, but then looked at me like I should now ask HER what SHE was going to get.
I didn’t ask, and she blew air out of her mouth like she was a little bit mad that I didn’t. “Well I’m going to get Red Hots”, she said, “They’re spicy and make my tongue red.”
“Yeah”, I said, “I like those sometimes too. You can eat them slower so they taste good for a longer time.”
“You can”, she said, nodding, but then, “You’re nicer than those other boys. Gabe, Jake, Theo, and especially that Herbie. He’s a total pest, trying to see my underwear.” Then she looked me in the eyes like she was trying to figure me out and said quietly, “You would never do that. Try to see my underwear.”
She wanted me to shake my head, and I wanted to too, but I started thinking about when Molly and I got naked together over a year ago. That was one of the most fun things I ever did, and I think Molly liked it too. We never told anybody and we never did it again, but we knew that we HAD done it because we wanted to and that made us even better friends.
“What can I get you son?” The grownup voice made me jump. I turned my head and the guy that worked at the store was looking at me, waiting.
Mary blew air out of her mouth as I looked at that guy instead of her. “I guess you boys stick together.”
While I told the guy that worked there that I wanted a Snickers Bar and five pieces of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. As I took my stuff in a little brown bag and gave him the dime, I heard Mary behind me blow even more air out of her mouth and say, “Speak of the devil”, and I turned and saw Herbie come through the doorway into the store. I could tell he saw Mary and me.
“Major cooties alert”, he said, “Watch out Coop!”
Mary shook her head slowly and growled a little inside her mouth. She looked at me for just a second like she wished I was different than I was, and that other boys were different too.
“I’m not listening to this”, she said, “Red Hots are not worth it”, and she walked by Herbie and without looking at him and said, “Pest”, and then went out the doorway and quickly walked down the sidewalk away from the store.
Herbie watched her walk away and said, “It’s fun making her mad, she gets all riled up.” Then he turned to me and asked, “What were you two talking about?”
“Nothing”, I said, not wanting to tell him.
“I saw you two talking from across the street”, he said, “She was smiling. What did she say?”
I figured we didn’t say much, so I decided I could tell him. “She just asked me what kind of candybar I was going to get, and then told me she was going to get Red Hots.”
“She likes Red Hots?”, he said, “Can’t wait to tell everyone about that!”
I nodded and tried to smile like that was a pretty neat way to tease her, but I was thinking that I didn’t like being teased so maybe Mary didn’t either. I guess Herbie could see that I was looking kind of worried.
“It’s okay”, he said, “She likes it when boys tease her.”
“Well”, said the grownup guy that worked there, looking at Herbie, “I hope you’re going to buy something son, since you lost me a sale.”
Herbie put out his hands and said, “I don’t have any money.” The guy now blew air through his teeth which made kind of a whistling sound and shook his head. There were two other kids standing behind Herbie now. The guy waved his finger at the two of them to come up and said, “All right, next customer.”
Herbie and I left the store and he said that he was headed to Allmendinger Park instead of going home, so he’d walk with me. I gave him a bite of my Snickers Bar and two pieces of bubblegum. Kids did stuff like that for each other.
“So Roger Maris hit home run number sixty-one yesterday”, Herbie said, “He beat Babe Ruth.” He shook his head and said it again, “He beat Babe Ruth.”
“I know”, I said, because I liked baseball too, and tried to know stuff about it. Dad had told me all about it because he really liked baseball. So I told Herbie what dad told me, though I didn’t tell Herbie that dad had told me. I wanted him to think I figured it all out by myself
“When Babe Ruth hit 60 they only played 154 games”, I said, “Now they play 162, but it still counts.”
“Hunh”, said Herbie, “I didn’t know that.” I nodded and felt extra smart, though it was only pretend extra smart.
We decided to walk up Fourth Street instead of Fifth Street, which was how I usually walked home. It was neat how all these streets had number names, and they were next to each other like you were counting. If you walked from school there was Fifth Street, then Fourth, then Third, the one Herbie lived on. He said that if you kept walking that way there was Second then First. I asked him if there was a “Zeroth” street, and he smiled and shook his head and said that one was called “Ashley”. Going the other way I knew there was Sixth and Seventh, but I had never seen an Eighth Street, but Herbie said there was one but it was kind of secret, like Wurster Park.
We walked up Fourth Street so we could walk through that Wurster Park. I always liked that “secret park” hiding behind the houses, since Molly and I rode our bicycles through it that day when her dad moved to a new house and Molly wanted to find it. Herbie liked it too, because you could see all the Ann Arbor “downtown” buildings from the top part of the park. We decided to stop for a little while at that top part and sit in the grass and look at all the faraway buildings. All the big “college” buildings looked like they were all together like one giant fort, with the tower one with the big clock on it in the middle.
“The tower with the clock is my favorite”, said Herbie, “Especially since you showed me the way to figure out what time it is by just looking at the small hand. All that big hand stuff makes it too complicated.”
“I know”, I said, “I still can’t figure out why the hour hand is the little one and the minute hand is the big one, because hours are bigger and more important than minutes. They tell you what part of the day you’re in.”
“Yeah, I can’t figure that out either”, said Herbie, shaking his head, a lot of things grownups had done didn’t make sense.
“Do your mom and dad fight?” he asked, looking off at the buildings but not at me, “You know, talking fight.”
“Sometimes”, I said, “Mom gets mad at dad and yells at him.” I’d never told that to any other kids I knew, but they never asked.
“Hunh”, he said, thinking, “My dad always gets mad at my mom and he says really bad stuff.”
“Like what?” I asked.
Herbie shook his head and pushed his lips together then said, “I don’t want to say it. It’s just real bad.” I nodded. I didn’t know what to say next. I thought about mom and wondered if she was really bad too. She didn’t seem bad most of the time, when she was not being mad at dad. I didn’t like thinking about that.
We checked for cars and then we walked across Madison Street. Grownups always told us to cross at the corners, but we felt more like big kids crossing in the middle. We walked up through the trees into Wurster Park. The yellow leaves that already fell out of the trees crunched as we walked on and kicked them. They smelled a little bit burned but sweet, like fall.
“Do you like Mrs. Camden?” he asked.
“I don’t know”, I said, “I guess she’s nice, but I liked Miss Zimmerman better, she wasn’t so much like a regular grownup.” Herbie thought about that for a minute.
“But you like school, don’t you?” he asked.
“I don’t know”, I said again, “I guess sometimes it’s okay, when we get to go to the library or do recess, when she isn’t telling us what to do.”
“But she’s supposed to do that, cuz she’s the teacher”, he said.
“Yeah, I guess so”, I said. I wondered if that was really true, since mom and dad didn’t tell me what to do all the time, and Miss Z only told us what to do sometimes.
“At least when teachers tell you to do stuff they’re nice about it”, he said, “And they like it when you do stuff right.” I nodded, but thought that he should say “correct” instead of “right”.
“I see how much you like it when you get your paper back and you got everything right and Mrs. Camden’s so proud of you”, he said. Herbie was right about that, I didn’t want anybody to think I wasn’t good, specially mom and dad, so I nodded, though I didn’t talk about that.
“Except for spelling”, I said, “I’m always bad at that. And penmanship and writing in cursive too.”
“But you’re not supposed to be good at everything”, he said, “That’s why you have to go to school.” That was the bad part, I thought, that I HAD to go.
“Sometimes”, I said, “When we have to do all that stuff to ‘practice’ spelling or cursive or adding and subtracting, I look out the windows in our room and see the street that goes up to Allmendinger Park and I just want all of us to go there, where the kids are in charge instead of the grownups.” He nodded and thought about that.
We got to the other end of Wurster Park and were back on the regular sidewalks and finally got to Almendinger Park. Other kids who were done with school for the day were already there, talking and playing.
An older kid had a transistor radio playing loud. It sounded like older girls singing. Their voices were loud and sharp. First a couple girls with high voices sang, “Wait!”, then another girl with a lower louder voice sang, “Whoa yeah wait a minute Mister Postman.”
The older boy yelled out to his friends, “Here it is! Here’s that song again!” He looked at Herbie and me, nodding his head pointing at his little radio standing on a picnic table. The song kept going with those two girls singing back and forth with that other girl…
(Wait!) Whoa yeah wait a minute Mister Postman
(Wait!) Way way way wait Mister Postman
(Mister Postman look and see) Whoa yeah
(Is there a letter in the bag for me)
Please please Mister po oh oh ostman
(It’s been a mighty long time) Oh Yeah
(Since I’ve heard from that boyfriend of mine)
I had heard the song before on the radio. I figured they were older girls singing and not grownup women because they sang about her “boyfriend”. Older kids had boyfriends and girlfriends, Margie talked about them and the older kids in the park did too. And even the other kids my age would tease each other about having a girlfriend or a boyfriend. I don’t think grownup women HAD boyfriends, except maybe Molly’s mom. They had “husbands”. Even mom called dad her “husband” when she told other grownups about him who didn’t know who he was.
When grownups sang on the radio they were smoother, like that Frank Sinatra guy, like everything was okay and they just liked to sing about it. But when older kids sang on the radio they sounded rougher, and more worried or more mad or more excited, depending on what they were singing about.
There must be some words today yeah (wah oo)
From my boyfriend so far away hey
Please Mister Postman Look and see (wah oo)
Is there a letter, a letter for me
It was like that one girl and the other two were talking to each other, but they were singing instead of regular talking. I hadn’t heard anything like that before but it was pretty neat.
I’ve been standin’ here waitin’ Mister Postman (wait wah oo)
So oh oh patiently (wait wait wah oo)
For just a card, or just a letter (wah oo)
Say he needs me send it on to me
Then they sang that one main part again. Most songs were like that. They had that “verse” part, that had different words each time, then this other part where they sang the same words they had already sung. Even the songs dad sang to us at night, the college songs and the war songs, were like that. Though this time they sang MOST of the same words but sang them a little bit differently…
Please Mister Postman
(Please Mister Postman, look and see) oh yeah
(Is there a letter in your bag for me?)
Please Please Mister Po oh oh oh ostman
(It’s been a mighty long time) Oh yeah
(Since I’ve heard from that boyfriend of mine)
I guess if you were a boy and you had a real girlfriend, not just one your friends teased you about, you were supposed to write her letters when you went somewhere else so she wouldn’t get worried that you didn’t want her to be your girlfriend anymore. I wondered if Molly thought I was her boyfriend and wanted me to write her letters, like when I couldn’t come over on Saturday…
So many days you passed me by
You saw the tears standin’ in my eye
You wouldn’t stop to make me feel better
By leavin’ me a card or a letter
And then the last part of the song they just sang “wait a minute” over and over and over again until their voices got so you couldn’t hear them anymore, like they were walking away from you.
It was a really neat song and I liked it more each time I heard it. Herbie liked it too, because we both just stopped walking and listened to it until it was over. We nodded to the older kid that it was a good song, and he smiled and nodded back. We were in the park where kids were in charge, and I didn’t feel worried about stuff like I did at school, with all those grownups around checking on you.
That night, when dad came into David’s and my room to sing songs at bedtime, I told him about those two songs I heard at school. He didn’t know the “wandering” one, and I couldn’t really sing it very well. But he did know the “Marching to Pretoria” one, and he and David and I sang it. We did a “march” verse, a “sing” verse, and a “drink” verse. Then David, who really liked riding his tricycle now, wanted to do a “ride” verse, which we did. All three of us were singing the bedtime songs now. I remembered when I was a little kid like David and I first started singing along with dad and not just listening.
I didn’t tell dad about the “Mister Postman” song. I figured that one was just for kids and not one that grownups would want to hear or could figure out.