Clubius Contained Part 15 – Long Division (January 1963)

“So what you doing in math these days, mister Clubius?” mom asked as I was eating a baloney sandwich I had made for myself in the kitchen, and she was making a “big pot of spaghetti sauce for dinner” on the stove. It smelled good, kind of burned but like it was going to be really tasty. Mom LOVED math, so I figured I’d tell her all the different stuff.

“We’re doing multiplying and dividing, and still doing those times tables”, I said.

“Ach”, mom said. That was a word she used sometimes when she didn’t like something. She said it was German for “Oh dear” or “ugh”.

“Those times tables”, she said, shaking her head slowly as she stirred the big silver pot with the spaghetti sauce bubbling in it, “God I remember them. Boring rote memory. Mrs Cranbrooke.”

“Rote memory?” I asked.

“Yeah Cloob”, she said, blowing air out of her nose but not like a nose laugh, “Learning something by drilling it… into… your brain… by constant… repetition.” She pretended to pound her fist against her head above her eyes and scrunched up her whole face as she said it. I’d never seen her do something like that before. But then she let her face get regular again and did a big smile.

“But”, she said, “You need to know all that simple multiplication like THAT”, and she snapped her fingers, “So you can multiply big numbers and also do long division.”

“The teacher said we’re going to start doing long division pretty soon”, I said. Because they called it “long” it sounded like it was going to be really hard and not fun. I guess mom figured out what I was thinking.

“Actually”, she said, “Long division is pretty neat. I LOVED it! I STILL love it! It’s like a game or a puzzle with numbers. It really isn’t hard as long as you stick to a couple basic rules of the process.” Her eyes were twinkling as she looked at me. Even though I was chewing on a big mouthful of baloney sandwich, I was starting to move it around in my mouth so I could ask her what a “process” was.

“Can I show you?” she asked. I just nodded. She went to the stove and turned the dial down. “Let me turn this down first, I don’t want to burn it.”

I could tell she was excited because she just about ran into her bedroom, almost like a kid, to get her “yellow pad” that she used to figure numbers things out, like those “bills” that made her worried and she never liked doing.

“So”, she said, tapping the point of a pencil on the yellow sheet with all the lines on it, “Let’s see. How about an easy one to start. Nine hundred sixty five divided by five. She wrote the “5”, then that up and over thing for dividing, and then the “965” under it. “The five is our ‘divisor’ and the nine hundred sixty five is the ‘dividend’.”

“Now we are going to go one digit at a time in our ‘dividend’ from highest to lowest”, she said. Then she turned her head toward me and asked, “You know what a digit is?” I nodded.

“Good”, she said, like she was even more happy now, “Now we start with the nine which is in the hundreds place so it represents nine hundred. So five goes into nine just once, so we put a One up here above the Nine. That One is in the hundreds place, so it’s really one hundred, but we don’t need to put the zeroes up there next to it.” She wrote the “1” above the line above the “9”.

“Now one times five, from those times tables, equals five, so we write that BELOW the nine.” She wrote the “5” below the “9” and then put the minus sign to the left of the “5” and a line under it.

“Now we subtract five from nine which equals four”, she said as she wrote down the “4” below the line below the “5”.

“Now we bring down the next digit from our dividend in the tens place, the six”, she said, writing the “6” next to the “4”. “Now we do our process again. How many times does five go into forty six?”

She waited just a few seconds and said, “Now I just know it’s nine times because I’ve known my times tables for years and nine times five equals forty five, and ten times five equals fifty, which is more than forty six. But you may have to go through in your head the ‘five times’ part of the table. ‘Five times one equals five, five times two equals ten’, and so on until you get to ‘five times nine equals forty five’ and ‘five times ten equals fifty’. Fifty is more than forty six, so nine is your answer, and you put it up here next to the One, and you put your Forty Five down here below the Forty Six” She wrote the numbers on her sheet of yellow paper.

“Now you do the same subtracting process again”, she said, putting a minus sign to the left of, and then a line under the “45” below the “46”, “Forty six minus forty five equals one.” She wrote the “1” under the “45”.

“Now finally”, she said, “We bring down the Five in the ones place to make Fifteen down here. How many times does five go into fifteen?”

I was getting the idea of how this was working and said, “Three.”

“Yep”, she said, “You’re getting it Cloob!” She wrote the “3” up top next to the “9”.

“Now we’ve run out of digits in our dividend number, so we’re done. The answer is one ninety three”, she said, “And here’s another neat part, you can CHECK your answer by multiplying one ninety three by five.” Over to the right on the same piece of yellow paper she wrote that multiplying problem and quickly did all the numbers underneath that added up to “965”.

“Bingo”, she said. Grownups said that sometimes when someone got it right.

She did a couple more long divisions to show me again. The second time she did a bigger number, “1958” and divided it by “11”. I didn’t think it would work the same way, but it did somehow. The third time she did “534” and divided it by “7”. This time it worked the same way too, but there was a “remainder” at the end.

“Do you know what a remainder is?” she asked. I did and I nodded.

“You want to try a few?” she asked. I felt like I had it figured so I was excited and nodded really fast.

To do the first one she had to give me a lot of help, but to do the second one I did it mostly by myself. The third time I figured she’d do one with a remainder, and I was right. It WAS fun! And now I could tell my teacher and the kids in my class that I already knew how to do long division.

Later that day I tried some more by myself to make sure I remembered and could really do it by myself. I even did one dividing by twelve. I was so excited, and couldn’t wait to go to school the next day, when usually I didn’t want to.


“Time to get up Cloob!” It was dad’s voice, “It’s Monday!”. If it had been mom, she might have said, “Time to get up sweetie.” Dad never called me “sweetie”. Men weren’t supposed to, because then they might be sissies, or at least other men might THINK they were sissies. I guess women might think so too, though I don’t know if mom would. I wanted to ask some older boy in the park about this whole “sissy” thing, but I was afraid to, because then he might think that I wanted to be a sissy and tell on me. I just wanted to know how it all worked. That’s what I always wanted to know.

There was stuff like that that I wanted to ask about, but it was too dangerous. I couldn’t ask mom or dad, because I always wanted them to think I was super good. Maybe I could ask Margie the next time she came over to babysit, because she never worried about my questions, though I never asked her a question like that. But she didn’t babysit as much anymore, because now that I was more of a big kid, mom and dad let me babysit for David, if they weren’t out too late. I knew what to do in emergencies. Call the police or call Kenny’s mom and dad across the street. Mom had written those numbers on a piece of paper by the phone in the kitchen.

“Did you hear me?” dad asked, “Are you awake?” I didn’t open my eyes but I nodded, and I heard him walk away.

I could tell it was really cold outside, because I could feel the cold from the window touching my face. And the window was rattling too from the wind. If I wasn’t worried about mom and dad, and wanted to tell all my friends that I knew long division, I wouldn’t go to school on a day like this, but I wanted them to keep thinking I was a really good kid. Not a sissy and not lazy.

I sat on the side of my top bunk with my feet hanging down. David was already up and probably down in the basement playing with the Motorific cars. He liked those A LOT, but he ran them so much he used up the batteries, and I had to wait until dad bought more or I spent my own money to buy more. It felt like they were David’s toys now and I could play with them too. By the time I got home from school in the afternoon he already had them all set up doing a story, and if I wanted to play with them I had to do his story or else he’d say that I would “wreck” it. He went to school too, but it was Play School, and it was only later in the morning for a few hours. He was so lucky! I wish they had a Play School for older kids!

I pushed myself off my bed and landed on the floor. That was always fun! I quickly took off my pajamas and liked that short time when I got to be naked before I put my regular clothes on. I liked being naked, but everyone else thought it was bad, except Molly that one time a long time ago. I wondered if she would like to get naked with me again some time, maybe I’d ask her.

I put on my bluejeans and an undershirt AND a regular shirt because I knew it would be cold outside, even with my winter jacket on. I put on my socks and my sneakers. As I walked out of my room I saw that mom and dad’s bedroom door was closed, and when I got into the kitchen no one was there. I could hear the clicks of dad’s typewriter in the basement. He usually did work at his desk in the morning before he drove David to Play School and then went to teach his morning classes at “Eastern”, which was the place he was a teacher at now. The kitchen clock on the wall said it was seven fifteen, I could figure out all the times now, both the small hand AND the big hand!

I figured mom was still sleeping. She was doing that a lot now, “sleeping in”. She would stay up late and watch that “Tonight Show” on TV, though she said that new guy, Johnny Carson, wasn’t as good as that old Jack Parr guy. Dad always stayed up late too, but he still got up really early because he didn’t like to sleep very much.

I turned the radio on in the kitchen. Mom had wanted one there so she could listen to it while she did her chores and “paid the bills”. It was different than our other radios, because it had a round circle part that looked like a clock, and when you turned the knob to change the “station”, there was a hand that moved around and pointed at the different numbers in the circle, not one to twelve like a clock, but five to sixteen. Dad got it for free from one of his friends who was going to throw it away. It was on the station between the seven and the eight, but I changed it to my favorite CKLW station right on the eight.

I made myself a big bowl of Cheerios. Mom might have made me a cup of hot chocolate if she were in the kitchen. She had said she would show me how to make it myself on the stove but she hadn’t done that yet. As I listened to the radio the commercials finished and this guy on the radio said…

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, Smokey’s latest hit is now tracking at number eight on the charts, “You Really Got a Hold On Me”…

Smokey’s voice always sounded like an older kid to me. When older boys were listening to a radio in the park and one of his songs came on they would yell out, “Smokey!”, like he was their best friend or something.

The song started out with that music part without any singing. Then he started singing and he kind of sounded more like an older girl than a boy…

I don’t like you, but I love you
Seems that I’m always thinkin’ of you
Oh, oh, oh, you treat me badly, I love you madly
You really got a hold on me (you really got a hold on me)

That didn’t make sense to me, that you could “love” somebody you didn’t like, someone who even did bad things to you. It even seemed pretty stupid. But then sometimes mom and dad got really mad at each other and seemed like they didn’t like each other, but then said they still “loved” each other. I couldn’t figure out this “love” thing, and how it was different than really liking somebody.

Baby, I don’t want you, but I need you
Don’t wanna kiss you, but I need to
Oh, oh, oh, you do me wrong now, my love is strong now
You really got a hold on me (you really got a hold on me)

Boys my age thought kissing a girl, specially on the mouth, was pretty “disgusting”. That was a word some of my friends and I were now using for stuff we really really didn’t like. It was just a fun word to say, “disgusting”, I guess because it was so long. Now I had heard some older boys talking about wanting to kiss some girl they liked on the mouth, and maybe one or two said they even really did it. But in the song he was singing about “needing” to kiss someone that he didn’t even “want” to kiss. That seemed really strange, and stupid too.

Baby, I love you, and all I want you to do is just
Hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me

Now THAT sounded like real kissyface stuff, maybe even that Roy Rogers “pistol” in Dale Evan’s “holster” stuff. I remembered sneaking up on and listening to some older girls talking secret stuff in the lilac bushes in the park.

One girl said to the other, “What if you were naked and he lay on top of you?”

“Eww!” the other said, “You’d like that?”

“Naahh”, said the first girl, “I was just thinking about it.”


Now laying on top of somebody else when you were both naked seemed really really something. Scary maybe, because it seemed so bad. But it didn’t seem yucky like kissing somebody on the mouth. Did people really do that pistol in the holster stuff? Older kids? Grownups? I figured at least grownups did because of that Roy Rogers joke. Even though it was so bad, it kind of made me excited to think about it. All the parts of your naked body touching the parts of their naked body.

Anyway, in the song it was like what some older boys had said, that some girls that are pretty and that you “want” just want to trap you and do bad things to you or say bad things about you. That Smokey guy singing the song was worried about that…

I wanna leave you, don’t wanna stay here
Don’t wanna spend another day here
Oh, oh, oh, I wanna split now, I can’t quit now
You really got a hold on me

That just didn’t make sense to me. But probably there was something about this love stuff that I hadn’t figured out yet!


So I finished my Cheerios and put on my jacket, and my cap over my ears. I wondered whether I should put on my rubber boots for walking in the snow. If I just wore my sneakers, and I had to walk through snow where my feet mushed down into it, my sneakers would get all wet and my feet would get all cold and wet, which felt really bad. But if I was just walking on sidewalks that didn’t have snow anymore, or maybe just had packed down snow, then the rubber boots just made it harder to walk fast or even run and made me look kind of stupid.

I figured I didn’t need my boots, because it hadn’t snowed since a week ago, and though there was still snow on the ground, it was probably all packed down, even maybe in the park if I walked across it to get to Fifth Street on the other side of the park.

I put on my mittens, though I figured that now that I was not a little kid anymore I should have gloves like dad instead of mittens, but they did keep my hands warm. And I could take them off before I got to school so none of the kids at school would think I looked like a little kid.

I opened the front door and the cold wind blew across my face into the house. It was cold enough to make my cheeks sting, and when I breathed in that cold air it made the inside of my nose sting too. I closed the door, and at least I felt like I was in a different world now where the grownups weren’t in charge, because they were all hiding in their houses or their cars. It was kids like me, walking to school, who were in charge out here. And though it was really cold, we got to do the adventure of getting to school.

I went across Potter street and climbed up the edge of the park by the lilac bushes that were just branches with no leaves, and looked out at all the white snow on the ground all the way to the trees on the other side of the park. As the wind blew at me I could see all the footprints of the kids who had crossed the park since the last time it snowed. I guess my footprints were there somewhere too. Where there were the most footprints I figured the snow was the most packed down, and if I walked through those places I might not step in any mushy snow that would get my shoes, and then my socks, and then my feet wet. It was an adventure, following the best path to avoid danger. So I walked across with all the white ground all around me, the wind pushing against me, trying to stop me, but it couldn’t.

“Cooper!” I heard the voice yelling from far off on my left. I turned to look and it was Paul, running across the white park snow towards me and waving his hands. I stopped and waited for him to get to me. It was strange with Paul when it wasn’t summer and we had to go to school. We were both seven but I was in third grade and he was only in second. That made me seem older even though his birthday was in March before mine in April. He would be eight before I was. In the summertime when there wasn’t any school, we seemed more like we were the same again.

“I don’t usually see you walking to school”, he said. I nodded. I usually didn’t see him either.

“That’s weird”, he said, “Because we’re both going to the same school and have to get there at the same time.” Paul was one of those kids that said stuff was “weird” instead of “strange”, which was the word that me and my school friends used. Herbie in my class at school said kids that said “weird” were “weirdos”, saying it like being a “weirdo” was bad.

“Did you see Rocky and Bullwinkle last night?” he asked. I had seen it, so I nodded. It was one of my favorite shows on TV. Paul’s too.

“I like Boris and Natasha”, he said. Then trying to sound like Boris was talking he said, “We have to get moose and squirrel!”

So I tried to talk like Natasha and said, “I know darlink, but how?” Paul liked that, he did a big smile and nodded his head really fast. We had known each other it seemed like forever. When Molly lived across the street I played with her the most. Now maybe I played the most with Paul.

The Rocky and Bullwinkle show was silly, but silly in a smart kind of way that made it extra fun to watch. Both the goodguys and the badguys were pretty stupid, but that made it funny too. Dad said it was “satire”, whatever that was. Paul and I talked about the show as we crossed the park, trying to find the best places to walk where our sneakers didn’t get into the mushy snow.

When we got down to Madison and could see Bach School down the street I was wondering if any of my friends or the other kids in my class might see me walking with a kid that was in second grade. At school the kids in my third grade class thought kids in second or lower grades were “little kids” and we were “big kids”. But Paul would be eight years old before I was, which was strange, or weird even like he’d say. At school it was like there were so many different teams. The teacher’s team against the kids’ team. The girls against the boys. The third grade team and all the other teams for the other grades. You were better if your grade number was bigger. The sixth graders figured they were the best of all.

In class, I only had a few minutes to talk to my class friends before the last bell rang and we were supposed to be quiet. I wanted to tell my friends that I had figured out how to do long division before we even learned it in school. But my friends were so busy telling me things that they did, that the bell rang before I could tell them, and then we were supposed to stop talking and let the teacher talk.

“Now settle down class”, Mrs Rodney said, “Take a deep breath… and then let it out slowly.” I guess kids did that because then she said, “Good!” I didn’t want grownups telling me how to breathe. I’d been breathing by myself since I was a little kid.

“Now one more deep breath”, she said. Then putting her hands on her stomach she said, “As you breathe in try to push your stomach out to fill your lungs with air. I looked around and a lot of the kids were doing it. But I was feeling mad so I didn’t, and I tried not to breathe at all.

I guess Mrs Rodney saw me doing that and said, “Cooper, try taking a deep breath, I think you’ll like how it relaxes you and helps you focus.” I was still feeling mad but I didn’t want her to know that, but I guess the way I blew air out of my nose made her figure out I was mad.

“Do you have a problem with this?” she asked. All my friends turned and looked at me and Mary across the room did too.

“I already know how to breathe”, I said, before I could even think about saying those words and whether I really wanted to. My friends Gabe, Jake and Herbie did that quiet chuckling laugh, but Mary made that clicking noise opening her mouth and then blew air out. Then a couple of the other girls that really liked her did the same thing.

Mrs Rodney looked at Mary but didn’t say anything to her, then she looked back at me and she pushed her lips together like she was thinking.

“Suit yourself”, she said, shaking her head slowly, “Of course you all know how to breathe, I’m just teaching you a special way of breathing to help you relax your bodies and your minds and be ready for our BIG DAY today.” I couldn’t remember why today was a big day, but figured I better nod anyway before I got in trouble, so I did. I never wanted my teacher to think I was bad.

“Do you all REMEMBER why today is such a big day?” she asked, making a pretend worried face. Mary and Amanda’s hands just kind of shot up into the air, Mary saying, “Oh, oh, oh, oh”, as she waved her raised hand around.

“Okay you two”, said Mrs Rodney, “Thank you for your enthusiasm. Hands down please!” Amanda put her hand down. Mary put hers down too, but made a kind of grunting noise when she did like she wasn’t happy. Mrs Rodney looked at Mary and made the tiniest laugh through her nose and just a little bit of a smile but didn’t say anything to her, but now looked at all of us.

“TODAY is our BIG PERFORMANCE!” she said with a loud voice, holding her hands up in front of her with her fingers apart, like she was talking to a whole bunch of more people than just us.

“As the finale to our Colorado project”, she said, “Today is our day to sing at the assembly along with Mrs Poindexter’s class for all the other students at school!” Amanda’s hand went up again.

“Yes Amanda?” Mrs Rodney asked.

“But not for the first graders or the kindergarteners, right?” Amanda asked.

“As always”, said Mrs Rodney, “You are correct.”

“Okay, good!” Mrs Rodney said, clapping her hands together like lots of grownups did after they told kids what to do, “The assembly will be this afternoon at two o’clock.”

Mary’s hand went up again.

“Yes Mary?” Mrs Rodney asked.

“What about our cowboy hats?” Mary asked.

“I will hand those out right before assembly when we do our last rehearsal”, Mrs Rodney said, “I know you all are excited. I certainly am!” She grabbed her hands together, did a really big smile, and looked around at all of us.

“So let’s change gears, shall we?” she asked. She always asked questions like that, that she didn’t want us to say an answer to, and also the only right answer was yes. She really liked being in charge, more than the other teachers I had, or any grownups I knew.

“Mathematics”, she said, “Now in our study of mathematics each new skill we learn builds on the ones before. In first grade you learned how to add and subtract numbers, starting with small numbers. In second grade you applied that to adding and subtracting much larger numbers. Last fall we learned our times tables so we can multiply numbers up to twelve together from memory without having to take time to calculate it each time. Now we’ve been using the skill of multiplying small numbers AND adding larger numbers to learn how to multiply large numbers.”

Then she put her hands together under her chin and said, “I think most of you are doing a good job mastering these skills!”

Grownups were always talking about “jobs”, “good jobs” or “hard jobs” or even “bad jobs”. I guess “jobs” were all the stuff they had to do that they didn’t want to. And when they told you to do stuff that you didn’t want to do, they would say “good job” when you did it. Kids NEVER said “good job”, unless they were pretending they were grownups.

“We’ve also been starting to do division”, she said, “Which in my book is harder than adding, subtracting OR multiplying. It’s like multiplying but you have to do it BACKWARDS!” She shook her head and laughed through her nose.

“So even though it is harder”, she said, “We apply the same building blocks and go step by step and we learn how to do it.” Mrs Rodney was all about “teaching” and “learning”. She did the teaching and we were supposed to do the learning.

What I had always done was figure stuff out because it was interesting, but in school now I was “learning” stuff instead because we were supposed to. I guess some of it was interesting and helped me figure more stuff out. I noticed in the park that the younger kids talked about figuring stuff out, but the older kids, more and more talked about “learning” stuff instead, which usually meant they learned it at school.

And while we were all supposed to be quiet and keep listening, she kept talking. “Pretty soon we are going to learn how to divide larger numbers. It may seem nearly impossible at first, but I will teach you ways to do it. You’ll be amazed what you can do!” She made a big smile, like she was trying extra hard to make it as big as possible.

Here was my chance to tell everyone about “long division”. I raised my hand.

“Yes Cooper?” she asked.

“I already know long division”, I said, feeling really good that all my friends and Mary too now knew that I had, and how good I was at math. I kind of looked at Mary and she clicked her mouth open again and breathed out really noisy. I really liked that she did that. Amanda would probably say that Mary was “jealous”. Amanda might also say that I was “bragging”, which meant you were telling other people how good you were when they didn’t even ask you.

“Well”, said Mrs Rodney, “That’s VERY impressive. You can help your classmates learn it as well. We’ll be getting to that soon.”


Walking out to recess Herbie and Jake were walking behind me.

“Hey mister ‘long division’”, Herbie said, “How much is thirty-nine divided by seven million?” I turned around and looked at them and made my shoulders go up and down like I didn’t know.

“But maybe I could do seven million divided by thirty-nine”, I said.

“Showoff!” Herbie said, though he didn’t say it like he was really mad at me.

Jake made a funny face. “Are you SURE?” he asked, “Or are you just saying that so Mrs Rodney will think you’re a really good student. I want to see you do one!”

“I’d do one right now”, I said, feeling like such a big kid because of all the math I could do, “I just need a piece of paper and a pencil.” Since we were outside playing, no one had one.


After recess, soon it was lunchtime. My old school friends Herbie, Jake, and Amanda ate their lunch at school, plus my new friend Lenny. Jake and Amanda said they ate lunch at school because no one was home at their houses at lunchtime. Herbie said it was because being at school was nicer than being at home, because he never knew when his dad was going to be mad at him. Lenny thought it was just too far to walk home for lunch and then come back, because though he lived near me, his house was farther away from school than mine was. He lived near that big Stadium street across from the giant high school.

My friends Gabe and Theo went home for lunch like I did. Theo said that he liked the hot lunches his mom made for him. Gabe said he didn’t like being at school when he didn’t have to. I guess I felt that way too, because even in the winter when it was cold and windy I still was okay walking home for lunch and back to school after. I usually walked with at least one of them up Fifth street until they went up their own street to their houses, which were right next to each other.


It was after lunch and after I came back to school that we did that “rehearsal” thing.

“Now we’re going to have a quick dress rehearsal”, Mrs Rodney said, “With your hats, and with Mrs Poindexter’s class.” She looked at our classroom door, nodded her head, and put up one finger. I looked at the door and saw the other third grade teacher, looking through the door’s window.

“Okay”, she said really loud, “We need to make room so Mrs Poindexter’s students can fit with us in our room.”

“Everyone who sits in these two rows”, she said, pointing to the rows on either side of the middle row, “Push your desks towards the middle row.” Gabe and Herbie and other kids went to their desks and pushed them. It was really noisy as the desks scraped and squeaked on the floor.

When everyone was done, she said, “Now move out of the way and let everyone who sits in the outside rows push your desks towards the middle of the room. We need enough space along the walls for everyone from both classes.” That was my desk, Jake’s and Amanda’s, and Mary’s across the room, and others.

When we were done she said, “Okay. Now EVERYONE, out in the hallway! And NO TALKING please! Let’s try to disturb the other classrooms as little as possible.”

As we all went out in the hallway, Gabe said to me quietly, “Mrs R would have been a good general in the Civil War.”

“NO TALKING PLEASE!” said Mrs Rodney, “That includes you Gabe!”

“See what I mean!” Gabe whispered to me.

All the other third grade kids from Mrs Poindexter’s class were already out in the hallway watching us come out of our room. Some were talking and laughing.

Mrs. Poindexter put her finger up to her mouth and said, “Shhh.” I waved at a couple kids I knew in her class.

When us kids were all out, Mrs Rodney was at the doorway and whispered really loud to Mrs Poindexter, “Okay, Sarah, have all the boys from your class and mine enter my classroom.”

“Okay”, Mrs Poindexter said to all of us in a loud whisper, “Boys in my class, go into Mrs Rodney’s room, one by one and quietly.” The boys in her class kind of all came together in front of the door and one by one went through.

I could hear Mrs Rodney’s voice in the room, “To the left, that’s it, single file around the edge of the room against the wall, that’s it.

When they were all in then all us boys in Mrs Rodney’s class went in, and Mrs Rodney had us follow their line so we were all standing against the walls around the room. Then the girls came in, and Mrs. Rodney had them all stand in front of the boys around the room. We all had our made up cowboy hats on. Some kids were laughing and whispering things, and one of the girls in Mrs Poindexter’s class got mad and said “Stop it!”, and two boys behind her laughed.

Mrs Rodney moved towards them with her finger pointing. “None of that!” she said, “Everyone will be watching us. You don’t want to embarrass yourselves on stage, do you?” The boys behind the girl shook their heads and the girl turned around and gave them a fierce look.

Mrs Poindexter finally came into the room and said, “Glenda… I mean Mrs Rodney. That’s everyone.” I saw Gabe look at me and his mouth moved like he was saying “Glenda”, but he didn’t really say anything. Mrs Poindexter looked at her watch on her wrist and said, “We don’t have much time, the assembly starts in fifteen minutes!”

Mrs Rodney looked at her kind of fiercely and pushed her lips together and tried to smile at the same time and nodded. She held up her hand and said to all of us kids, “Okay everyone, we’re going to sing this through just once. You all have your hats. Remember to take them off WITH YOUR RIGHT HAND and hold them up in the air each time you sing ‘Whoopie ti-yi-yo get along little doggies’, then put them back on your heads. I want to see everybody nodding that they understand.” She looked around the room, still with a fierce look.

“In the auditorium Mrs Poindexter will be playing the piano and giving you your note to start singing”, she said, “But for now, I will.” She took this small round thing from her desk, looked at it closely and then put it in her mouth and it made a sound.

“Okay everyone”, she said with a big smile and started singing the words of the song. We all started to sing. We had sung the song many times so most of us at least knew all the words…

As I was out ridin’ one mornin’ for pleasure
I spied a young cowboy a-ridin’ along
His hat was thrown back, and his spurs were a jinglin’
And as he was ridin’ he was singin’ this song

“Now hats off and hold them UP in the air”, she said, pretending she was wearing a hat and taking it off her head and holding it up, and we sang the chorus part, and I took my hat off and held it up, most of the other kids did too…

Whoopee ti-yi-yo, git along little dogies
It’s your misfortune, ain’t none of my own
Whoopee, ti-yi-yo, git along, little dogies
You know Colorado will be your new home

“A dozen of you missed the hat cue that time”, she said quickly, “Next time EVERYBODY please!” and she said “Second verse, ‘When spring comes’”, and we sang…

When spring comes along we round up the dogies
We stick on their brands, and we bob off their tails
Pick out the strays, then the herd is inspected
And the very next day we go out on the trail

“Now HATS everyone”, she said loudly.

Whoopee, ti-yi-yo, git along little dogies
It’s your misfortune, ain’t none of my own
Whoopee, ti-yi-yo, git along, little dogies
You know Colorado will be your new home

“Better with the hats”, she said, “Third verse, ‘We ride on the prairies’.” We sang…

We ride on the prairies across the wide rivers
And on through the flats where there’s never a town
Our horses are weary, we’re tired and we’re hungry
Lay still, little dogies, stop roamin’ around

Mrs Rodney held up her finger and said, “Last chorus… HATS!” We sang…

Whoopee, ti-yi-yo, git along little dogies
It’s your misfortune, ain’t none of my own
Whoopee, ti-yi-yo, git along, little dogies
You know Colorado will be your new home

We finished and we were all glad to see Mrs Rodney smile. “Okay, pretty good”, she said, “For a dress rehearsal at least. In the auditorium I want you to sing louder and with more energy, like you’re really having fun, and not just singing because your crazy teacher is making you.” Some kids laughed, but I didn’t. Herbie laughed, because he liked Mrs Rodney.

“And when we do it for real”, she said looking at Mrs Poindexter, “What do you say we have everyone throw their hats in the air and say ‘Yee Haw’ at the end?”

“Fine by me, Mrs Rodney”, she said, “But shouldn’t we rehearse it?”

“Ideally yes”, said Mrs Rodney, “But I’m concerned that the hats are pretty flimsy and will get wrecked.” Then she looked at all of us and said, “But how about a quick ‘YEE HAW’ from everybody.”

Most of us kids said, “Yee Haw.”

“Louder”, she said, and we said it louder. Joey threw his hat in the air. The other boys around him laughed and he looked at them like he was really neat. Mary did that click noise thing with her mouth.”

“JOEY”, said Mrs Rodney fiercely, “What did I just say about the hats?” And she wagged a finger at him and said more slowly but still fierce, “What did I just say about the hats!”

Joey rolled his eyes, looked at his friends who were laughing, and said, “Sorry, Mrs R.”

“Who in god’s name is ‘MRS R’?” she asked Joey, still sounding fierce.

I could tell Joey was just pretending to be afraid, so his friends would think it was neat. “Sorry, Mrs Rodney”, he said.

“Okay everyone, it’s showtime”, she said, with her big smile back on her face, “Mrs Poindexter will lead you all down to the auditorium. Boys will sit in the first two rows and girls in the second two. When you go up on stage the risers will be set up. Boys first will go up and stand on the top riser. Girls next on the riser below them.”

We all walked down the hallway by the classroom doors of the older grades. All their doors were closed and no one else was in the big hallway. When we got to the auditorium, Mrs Poindexter held the big door open and Mrs Rodney led us in. The other kids were already in their seats. Second graders, fourth graders, fifth graders and sixth. She took us to the middle part and turned around and looked at us and pointed her hand at one row of seats and said “boys”, and at another on the other side of her and said “girls”. So all the boys sat in two rows and the girls sat behind us in two more.

One of the other teachers was up on the stage at that tall thing they stood behind to talk in that “microphone” thing to make their voices really loud.

“Welcome everyone”, she said, “Today’s assembly should be a lot of fun! The third, fourth, fifth and six grade classes all have musical presentations for you based on the part of the American story or state they have been studying. She said a bunch of other stuff thanking all the teachers and that principal woman.

“Our first presentation will be from our third graders”, she said, then looked at our teachers, “Mrs Rodney and Mrs Poindexter?”

Gabe was sitting next to me and whispered, “Mrs Rodney and Mrs Poindexter are definitely NOT third graders!”

Mrs Poindexter went up on the stage and talked about how our third grade classes were “studying” Colorado and the “Western expansion” of our country. She said we would be singing a song about “cattle herding”, which was a big part of that “Western expansion”.

It was interesting what Mrs Rodney had told us about Colorado and the West. “Cowboys” did “ranching” with “cattle”, which were like lots of cows and bulls which they took to this place called a “slaughterhouse” where they killed and cut up to make “meat”, which was like steaks and hamburger. Other guys did “mining” to get “silver” out of the ground that they used to make money coins. And others did “farming” which meant they grew “crops”, which was other food for people that was sold at “markets”, before there were grocery stores.

But there were also badguys who wanted to steal the cattle and the silver, but there weren’t many “sheriffs”, who were like the police, so that’s why guys were always shooting at each other. And Mrs Rodney said the badguys didn’t always wear black hats like they did on TV. There were also “Indians”, and they lived in “tribes”.

Then Mrs Poindexter told all us third graders to come up on stage to sing our song. Mrs Rodney had it all figured out and had the first row of us, who were all boys, go up on the stage. Mrs Poindexter up on the stage told us boys all to climb up those “riser” things to the top one and walk down as far as we could. Then Mrs Rodney had the rows of seats with the girls come up on stage and Mrs Poindexter had them go up on the riser that was down from and in front of us boys.

Mary ended up on the riser right in front of me. She looked back and saw me and got a fierce look on her face.

“Did you REALLY figure out how to do long division all by yourself already without even learning it?” she asked. She was wearing a red dress and her hair had ribbons in it that were the same color.

“Not all by myself”, I said, “My mom showed me how to do it.”

She made a kind of growling noise but turned away when Mrs Rodney started talking.

“EVERYONE”, she said with a loud fierce voice, she was standing in front of us on the stage and Mrs Poindexter was now down off the stage sitting at the piano, “Quiet down please, and look at me.”

Then she looked down at Mrs Poindexter and said, “Mrs Poindexter, let’s begin.” Mrs Poindexter began playing the beginning part of the song on the piano, the part before we were supposed to sing. When it was time for us to start singing, Mrs Rodney held up her arms and then pointed fingers at us and sang the first words herself and we started singing them too.

As I was out ridin’ one mornin’ for pleasure
I spied a young cowboy a-ridin’ along
His hat was thrown back, and his spurs were a jinglin’
And as he was ridin’ he was singin’ this song

I remembered last year watching from the seats below as those third graders sang their songs and did their marching. I thought it was really neat to hear them all singing and marching at the same time. It was even better being up on the stage doing the singing to all the other kids, all of us singing the same words at the same time, even though I didn’t think our song was as good as the ones they had sung, that “backpack on my back” song, and the “marching to Pretoria” one.

And then we got to the chorus part, and Mrs Rodney pretended she was lifting a cowboy hat off her head and we all lifted ours and sang…

Whoopee ti-yi-yo, git along little dogies

Then we put them back on our heads and kept singing…

It’s your misfortune, ain’t none of my own

Then again holding our cowboy hats up and singing…

Whoopee, ti-yi-yo, git along, little dogies

And then back on our heads again to sing the rest of the chorus…

You know Colorado will be your new home

And when we finally got to the end of the song, a lot of us remembered that we were supposed to say “Yee haw”, and throw our hats into the air. Those of us that forgot threw their hats up after we did. All the grownups in the seats clapped their hands and then a lot of the kids did too. I knew that was what you were supposed to do after you heard people sing or play music, and it felt really good to hear it done for us, though I wasn’t sure whether they really liked it or were just clapping because they were supposed to. Mrs Rodney looked happy, and not worried at all, so that was probably good.

Soon after the assembly was over the go home bell rang.

I usually walked home with Gabe or Theo, or my new friend Lenny. But today I had decided to go to the store across the street from school to buy a pack of baseball cards. I just felt like chewing that big sugary stick of gum on the way home. Usually there wasn’t a line at the store to buy stuff, but today there was and Gabe and Theo said they didn’t want to wait for me. When I finally paid my nickel for the cards and walked out of the store, Mary was on the sidewalk outside by herself waiting for me.

“Hi Cooper”, she said, “Do you want to walk home with me?”

I could tell she was expecting me to say yes, because most of the boys in class, even though they didn’t talk to her, had what older kids called a “crush” on her. When you had a “crush” it wasn’t like a regular friend. It was something different about how they looked. When boys had a crush on a girl it was mostly because she was “pretty”, that’s what the older boys like Danny and Ricky or in the park would say, though she also had to be “nice”. And when I’d heard older girls like Marybeth in the park talk about crushes on boys, it was because they were “cute”, which I guess was like “pretty” except it was a boy. I think a boy couldn’t be pretty without being a sissy, but I never had figured out how that worked. Boys usually had to be “nice” too, but not always, for girls to have crushes on them. But a girl ALWAYS had to be nice for boys to have crushes on them. If a girl wasn’t nice, even if she was pretty, that was really bad, almost as bad as boys who were sissies.

“Sure I guess”, I said. She lived next to Wurster Park so it wouldn’t take me that much longer to get home. I looked around to see if any of my other friends could see me talking to her. That always made her a little mad when I did that.

“Don’t want your friends to see you talking to a girl?” she asked.

I felt bad, but tried to make her think I was good again. “I talk to Amanda”, I said.

“AMANDA, is not a regular girl”, she said fiercly.

“Why not?” I asked. I was really interested in what a regular girl, specially Mary, would think about Amanda.

“Because she thinks girls are stupid”, she said, still fierce.

“She told me that BOYS are stupid, GIRLS are silly”, I said.

Mary made that growling noise she made when she was really mad and said, “I think AMANDA’S stupid, though Mrs Rodney thinks she’s the super smartest kid in the whole world.” She wrinkled her nose and looked down at the ground like she was thinking. We started walking down the street towards the street that went up to Wurster Park.

“Anyway”, she said as we walked next to each other, “So you said your mom showed you how to do long division?” I nodded.

“Your mom must be super good at math”, she said, “It’s NOT FAIR! My mom said I had to wait until they taught us at school.” I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded as we kept walking, now up the street towards Madison street and Wurster Park across it.

“So your mom showed you”, she said again, thinking, “Maybe you could show ME.” It surprised me that she said that, so I still didn’t say anything, or even nod this time. We continued to walk up the street towards Madison not saying anything. The branches without their leaves in the trees above us made a whooshing sound as they moved around in the wind. I could tell she was trying to figure out what to say next to get me to do it.

“I won’t tell anybody that you showed me. I promise!” she said. I could tell she thought I still didn’t want to do it. We were quiet again as we walked up the sidewalk to Madison, Wurster Park across the street. We waited for cars to go by and then we crossed and walked by the “Wurster Park” sign and under the bare trees at the bottom of the park.

“It would REALLY be nice of you if you did it”, she said, as we started to climb up the hill into the park, and I could feel the wind behind us getting stronger and making my neck really cold. “Maybe I’d give you a kiss for being so nice”, she finally said.

I really didn’t expect her to say that, but I could feel myself getting excited. The only person that I could remember ever kissing me was mom, but she just kissed me on the cheek. Mom and dad kissed on the mouth sometimes, but they were grownups. But I had seen an older boy and girl hiding in the bushes kissing, and they kissed each other on the mouth too. That seemed scary, but kind of exciting. I knew I wanted to say something, or she might start thinking I was stupid, or didn’t want to.

“Maybe”, I said, pretending in my mind that she was kissing me on the mouth, as we climbed up the hill into the middle of the park by the swingset. She stopped walking and turned to look at me, and pointed behind her.

“That’s my backyard.” She looked at me and I could see from her eyes that she got an idea. She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Her lips were dry against my skin but felt warm. It felt completely different than when mom kissed me like that. Maybe because she was another kid, or maybe because she wasn’t my mom.

She looked at me again and smiled. “Now you HAVE to show me because I kissed you and you owe me”, she said. Then she thought about what she just said and maybe decided it wasn’t nice enough. So she said, “Well, we really didn’t make a deal yet, but it would be REALLY NICE if you would show me.”

She looked around and then said, “I’m going to run inside my house and get paper and a pencil so you can show me. Stay right here. Don’t go anywhere!” And she ran into her backyard, opened the back door of her house and closed it.

As I stood there alone in the cold and wind I looked out at all the big buildings downtown. My mind pretended again I was kissing her on the mouth. I really wanted to try that for real, but I was worried that she would think I was really bad if I said I wanted to do that. I liked thinking I was a big kid, but maybe not THAT big yet.

She came back out the back door and ran toward me. Her long golden hair under her snow hat blowing in the wind. She had one of those yellow pad things like mom used to write things and pay the bills. She held out the pad and pencil to me with her big furry mittens over her hands. I took the pad with one of my mitten hands and the pencil with the other, but wasn’t sure what to do next, so I looked at her.

“You’re so nice to do this for me Cooper”, she said, “I think you’re the nicest boy in our whole class!” We just looked at each other.

“I need somewhere to write on”, I said, “And it’s kind of really cold out here.”

“I know”, she said, looking worried, “I’d invite you into my house, but my mom’s home and she would want to ask you a million questions, and I don’t want you to get in trouble with your friends for telling me.” I nodded, because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go inside her house either and talk to her mom. She might think that I was Mary’s “boyfriend” or something. Mary said, pointing, “There’s a picnic table over there that you can write on.”

We walked over to it and I sat so the wind was kind of behind me. I put the pad on the table and tried to hold the pencil with my hand still in my left mitten, but I couldn’t hold the pencil the right way for writing. If I had those gloves like mom and dad had it would have been better. I took my left mitten off and my fingers started to sting with the cold, but I could hold the pencil okay. Mary sat next to me.

“My friend Diane says you’re only seven because you skipped kindergarten”, she said. I nodded, but I wasn’t sure if that made her think I was neater, or more like a little kid just pretending to be a big kid.

“Are you like super smart?” she asked. I didn’t want her to think of me as some strange little kid.

“I don’t know”, I said, “I’m good at numbers like my mom.” She was just looking at me and I was starting to feel worried, like she was going to do something strange, but I had no idea what.

“How ‘bout we do an easier one first”, I said.

“Okay”, she said, nodding really fast and wrinkling her nose like she was about to do something really really hard. She kind of scooched her body over so our shoulders and the top parts of our legs were touching. She was still wearing that red dress and those really thick long socks that went all the way up her legs and under her dress, I think they were called “leggings”.

“Seventy five divided by five”, I said. I’d done that one before and I remembered it didn’t have a remainder. She nodded really fast and hard again.

So I wrote the line thing that went up a little bit then over to the right.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“That’s just the thing you make to keep all the numbers separate”, I said. She nodded.

“Then you put the Seventy Five here under the line”, I said, “And the Five to the left of this part over here.” She nodded again.

“Then we’re going to make the answer above the line”, I said. She nodded, but more slowly like she wasn’t sure but didn’t want to say anything.

“So how many times does five go into seven?” I asked. She looked at me confused.

“Well”, I said, “Five times one is five, which is less than seven, but five times two is ten, which is more than seven, so five only goes into seven one time.” She nodded slowly, but then faster.

“Okay”, she said, “I get it.”

“So then you write that One up here”, I said, “Above the line above the Seven.” She nodded.

“Now you multiply this One up here times this Five over here and write the answer under the Seven down here”, I said, writing the numbers in the different places as I talked.

“One times five is five”, she said, “That’s easy, I know all my times tables, my dad got me flash cards to practice.” I nodded.

“Now you SUBTRACT the Five down here from the Seven above it”, I said, putting that subtract sign to the left of the Five, and putting a line below the Five like a regular subtraction problem.

“That’s two of course”, she said. I nodded and wrote the “2” under the line.

“Now this is the tricky part”, I said, “I’m not sure why you do this but you just do it. You bring down the Five from the Seventy Five and put it next to the Two to make Twenty Five.”

“Okaaaay”, she said slowly.

“Now how many times does five go into twenty five?” I asked.

“Hmm”, she said, “Let’s see.”

“You just do your times tables for five in your head”, I said, “Five times one, two, three, four, five. Five times five is twenty five. So five goes into twenty five…”

“Five times”, she said.

“So you write the Five up here next to the One and you’re done”, I said, “So seventy five divided by five equals fifteen.”

She nodded slowly, looking worried, and looking closely at all the numbers on the sheet of paper.

“Then you can check it to make sure it’s right by multiplying fifteen times five”, I said, feeling like such a big kid even though I was seven and she was eight. She was just looking at it.

“You do it!” I said, pushing the pad over in front of her and handing her the pencil. She looked at me kind of worried and surprised that I said that. She took off her left mitten, took the pencil, and started to write the multiplying problem, fifteen times five.

“You’re left handed”, I said, “Like me.”

“I know”, she said, looking down at the paper, “We’re special!” I nodded and couldn’t help but smile, and like her more.

“Make sure you did it right by multiplying”, I said, “Fifteen times five.”

She wrote the numbers on the piece of paper, her writing was much nicer than mine, the “15” then the “5” below it with that multiply sign “x” next to it. She did the times tables multiplying, five times one ten equals fifty and five times five ones equals twenty, then added those two numbers together to get seventy five.

“It’s right!” she said, sounding excited. I nodded and smiled even more.

So then I had us do a harder one, three hundred divided by eleven. That was how many elevens in thirty, which was more than one, but not three because that was 33, so it had to be two. Then how many elevens in eighty, which was seven. But finally how many elevens in the leftover three, of eighty minus seventy seven.

“Three has no elevens in it”, she said.

“Right”, I said, “So since that’s the last part of the number, that’s a ‘remainder’.” I wrote a little “r” like mom showed me to the right of the “27” answer and then wrote a “3”. “Now to check it you have to multiply twenty seven times eleven and then add that remainder three.” She did, and it all equaled three hundred.

“That’s so neat!” she said, looking up at the sky, “Now I can be better at some school stuff than Amanda!”

She looked at me kind of worried like it was really important and said, “I PROMISE I won’t tell anybody you showed me.”

I nodded, but then I thought about it and wondered if the other kids and Mrs Rodney would think I was even SMARTER if they found out I could teach Mary to do long division without the teacher, like us kids could figure stuff out for ourselves, though mom had to show me how to do it. But I decided we’d keep it a secret, because it was fun to have a secret with another kid, and specially with a girl like Mary.

She tried a couple on her own and messed one up, but we started it again and figured out what she did wrong the first time. She could do it, she was smart with numbers too.

“You should go home”, she said, “But you’re really really really REALLY nice!” and she kissed me on the cheek again. Her lips were wet now because she’d been licking them. When she kissed me I felt my cheeks get warm, not just the one on the side she kissed but on the other side too.

Her eyes got fierce again and she said, “But YOU better not tell anyone either. And if you tell anyone I kissed you I’ll hate you forever!”

I nodded really hard and said, “I promise.” I didn’t want her to hate me forever.

I watched her walk back into her backyard with the pad and pencil, and go inside the backdoor of her house and close it. I walked up to the top part of the park which would take me to the streets that went to my park. As I finally was walking across Allmendinger Park towards my house, even though I didn’t tell it to, my mind started pretending that two older girls in the park were teasing me, singing…

Cooper and Mary sitting in a tree
First comes love
Then comes marriage
Then comes baby in a baby carriage

I thought again about kissing Mary on the mouth like grownups did in front of people or older kids did secretly in the lilac bushes. I wondered about what the “love” part was, if it was that Roy Rogers’ pistol in Dale Evans’ holster stuff, which I couldn’t even imagine. It was all way too much to think about, making me really worried, scared even, but still kind of exciting in my head to pretend what it all could be. I couldn’t remember anything being all those things at the same time. I wondered if maybe there was another kid I could tell about it so maybe it would make more sense. When you talked to other kids about stuff like that, they usually helped you figure it out. But I’d never tell mom or dad, and I promised Mary not to tell my school friends.

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