Clubius Contained Part 25 – Fifth Grade (September 1964)

I woke up to that guy on the radio, that “disc jockey” guy, talking in his fast way that kind of went up and down and was almost like singing, but not really. Dad had gotten David and I a “clock radio” to help us wake up for school in the morning, though David usually was already up before it went off. Instead of the alarm, I had moved the little switch on the side to turn on the radio at 7:45, which we usually had on that CKLW station at the “8” on my little transistor radio but at “80” on this new bigger radio. After a bunch of other words all over the place he said…

Twenty twenty weather word, “muggy”. Low sixties this morning but a humid near ninety, yes nine zero boys and girls, this very afternoon. So much for Labor Day being the end of summer! And Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ new hit’s got something to say about just walking to school this morning…

Then those people sang the “CKLW” letters and then the song started…

Callin’ out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the street

I let the song continue to play as I took off my pajamas and put on my regular clothes, shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. As usual, David was already up and probably eating breakfast downstairs in the kitchen.

There’ll be swingin’ and swayin’ and records playing
Dancing in the street
Oh it doesn’t matter what you wear
Just as long as you are there
So come on ev’ry guy grab a girl
Everywhere around the world

The song made me think of Molly, because it was the same older girls who sang “Heat Wave” that both Molly and I like and heard so many times in our trip to Saugatuck together. I wondered how it would be for her, starting at a new school, that Mack place, while I was starting at her old school, Burns Park, which would be new for me.

There’ll be laughing, singing and music swinging
Dancing in the street
Philadelphia, PA (dancing in the street)
Baltimore and D.C. now (dancing in the street)
Can’t forget the Motor City (dancing in the street)

That was the neat nickname for that big Detroit city that wasn’t far from Ann Arbor where we lived. That place where all the “Motown” groups, like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson, were. “Motown” was an even neater, shorter nickname, like “Coop” instead of “Cooper”.

All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere

Well probably not today, since it was the first day of school. I never liked the first day of school. The summer always seemed too short. I wasn’t ready for grownup teachers to be in charge of me all morning and a lot of the afternoon. Mom and dad would be excited about school starting, so I figured I shouldn’t tell them that I didn’t want summer to end. At least I’d be going to a new school, so that might be a little bit interesting. I did want to see the inside of the building, because it looked very different than my old Bach school.

Mom said she had talked to the principal at the school and that my teacher was going to be Miss Kennedy and my class was going to be on the third floor to the left of the staircase at the main entrance of the school. She said that just like at Bach, the “first bell” rang at eight fifteen, the “second bell” at eight twenty five, and the “third bell” rang at eight thirty, when you were supposed to be in your classroom. I was used to leaving our old house to walk to Bach at about eight o’clock and then hearing the first bell when I was close to the school. But at my new school, which was just across the street, I could wait for the first bell to ring before I even left the house. I could probably even wait for the SECOND bell to ring before I left!

When I went down the stairs into the living room, the round table that mom and dad worked on so much was there at the bottom. It didn’t have four legs, like a regular table, but one big leg in the middle that mom called a “pedestal”, and then tiny legs at the bottom of the pedestal that were more like curved feet. The top part was all brown and just a little bit shiny. Mom called it a “matte finish”. Though it was brown, it wasn’t like brown paint, because you could see the pieces of wood underneath with all those lines in the stuck together boards that she called the “grain”. The sides of the table under the top part and that whole pedestal thing was painted a shiny white.

They had also got four “Herman Miller” chairs to go around the table made of criss-crossing shiny white metal tubes that also were the chair legs. They had yellow plastic “cushions” on the part where you sat so they felt softer to sit on. Mom said they were “designed” by that same Herman Miller guy who designed that chest of drawers, with black metal “frame”, and shiny white and yellow drawers that we’d had for as long as I could remember. I guess that Herman guy liked things that were shiny white and yellow.

In the corner of the room between the table and the front door was the rocking chair they had fixed up. It kind of looked like one of those puffy couch type chairs that Molly and other people had in their living rooms that were really soft to sit on, except this one had those curved wood things underneath instead of legs that made it into a rocking chair. It WAS really nice and soft to sit in.

I continued into the kitchen where David had already finishing his Cheerios, and mom said she was going to walk over with him early for his first day to meet his teacher, Mrs. Peabody. I would NOT want mom to walk over to school with ME, because that would make me seem like a little kid. But David WAS a little kid, so I guess he wasn’t old enough to worry about that.

“Okay Coop”, mom said, “I’m going to head over with David. I don’t suppose you want to walk with us.” I just shook my head as I poured Cheerios into my bowl. She nodded and grinned just a little, like she figured I wouldn’t want to.

“Your first day at a new school”, she said, “How exciting! Good luck! I guess I’ll see you at lunchtime.” I nodded again, my mouth full of cheerios. Mom and dad always thought school stuff was exciting. Dad liked it so much that when he was finally done going to that Michigan college school, he decided to keep going to school and teach, that “Eastern” college school.

Mom and David left while I was still eating. Dad was already gone to “Eastern” with the car so he could be one of those college type teachers they called “professors”.

So when I was done with breakfast, I went out the front door and sat on our stoop and waited for the first bell to ring. When it did, I looked over towards the school and saw a bunch of kids who looked about my age playing soccer on the football field in front of the school. I looked closer and they were playing on BOTH football fields and with MORE THAN ONE soccer ball, which seemed strange. I hadn’t played soccer much myself at Allmendinger Park, but I had watched kids play and they had always played with ONE ball. And they usually didn’t play so early in the morning. So I figured I had to go check it out.

I walked across the street into the park and over to the football fields where all the kids were playing. I saw that kid named Mike I had met in the park. He was standing in front of one of the goalposts on this side. And when kids playing on the other team tried to kick a ball through the goalposts he tried to stop it. He caught one ball but another went by him and between the goalposts, and the kid who kicked it was holding up his fist and saying “yeah”. The ball rolled into the trees near where I was standing watching, so I ran over to pick it up. Mike put the ball he had caught down on the ground in front of him and kicked it really hard so it went a long way towards the other end of the football field. Then he looked at me and smiled.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked, “The bell just rang. Aren’t we supposed to be going to school?” He nodded his head but held out his hands like he wanted me to throw him the ball I had picked up, which I did. He rolled the ball in front of him on the ground.

“Yeah…”, he said as he ran towards and kicked the ball, “Another year of school. But we don’t usually stop playing until the second bell rings.” Then he looked at me and said, “You should be out here playing with us, we need you! Most of the good players on our team last year are now on the sixth grade team. You’re fifth grade, right?” I nodded.

“Who do you have?” he asked, “Desmond or Kennedy?”

“Kennedy”, I said.

He nodded as he turned to watch some kids with a ball at their feet getting close over to the left as he said, “Too bad. I got Desmond.”

“When are you guys playing again?” I asked.

“Uh after lunch, before class”, he said, “As soon as somebody brings a ball and there are kids there from both teams here ready to play.”

“How do you pick the teams?” I asked.

“We don’t really pick them”, he said, “It’s the sixth graders against everybody else, which is pretty much the fourth and fifth graders.” A ball that had been kicked from the middle part of the field bounced toward him and he caught it. He then kicked the ball like you’d punt a football.

“The sixth graders are older so they’re better, right?” he said, “So our team gets to have more guys. That is if enough fourth and fifth graders show up.” Somebody kicked a ball towards the goal but it missed and rolled into the trees behind me. “We need you”, he said.

“I’ve never really played soccer very much”, I said, “I’ve mostly watched other kids playing it. I play other sports. Lots of baseball. Some football and basketball.”

“Our rules are really simple”, he said, “Six graders against everyone else. Only one goalkeeper for each goalposts who can catch the balls with his hands. Everyone else can’t touch the balls with their hands. Goals have to go between the goalposts and under the crossbar.” He jumped up and smacked the crossbar above him with both hands. He was really tall and jumped really good.

“What’s the score?” I asked. He laughed and shook his head.

“I don’t know”, he said. He moved his head from side to side looking at all the kids out on the fields in front of him.

“Hey Andy”, he yelled, “What’s the score?” This other kid off a ways in the middle of the field raised his arms and shoulders like he didn’t know either.

“They’re probably winning”, he said to me, “But who cares. It’s just fun.” That made sense.

The school bell rang, echoing through the park. All the kids running stopped, a lot of them catching their breath.

“Second bell”, he said, “Time to stop and start another year of education!” He laughed through his nose and looked at me. I laughed through my nose back at him and nodded my head.

Most of the kids started running towards the main door of the school, though some ran to the other doors on the side. I ran with Mike towards the main door. We went through them and up the stairway with a bunch of other kids. Some had been on Mike’s team and others had been on the other, sixth grade, team. Kids were talking to each other about goals they had got or almost got. That Andy kid that Mike had yelled at came over to walk up the stairs with us.

“Andy?” Mike asked, “You’ve got Kennedy, right?” Andy nodded. Mike pointed at me and said, “This kid’s got Kennedy too.”

“Neat”, said Andy, as we all climbed the stairs together, “What’s your name?”

“Cooper”, I said.

“Is that your first name?” Andy asked. I nodded.

“People call me ‘Coop’ too”, I said.

“Aha”, said Andy, “Pleased to meet you ‘Coop two’. I never really got to know ‘Coop one’!” He laughed and I did too. We got to the top of the stairs and there was a grownup man with a clipboard looking at all of us coming up the stairs.

“Okay guys”, he said, “Fourth graders to the left and around the corner. Sixth graders to the right and around that corner.” He pointed in each direction. “Fifth graders… Kennedy to the left and Desmond to the right… and I’ll see all you gentlemen and ladies on the tours today and in gym class tomorrow.” He sounded like my baseball coach because he called us boys “gentlemen”. Andy and I went to the left and Mike went to the right.

“Fun times”, said Mike as he walked away.

My classroom was on the top floor, just like I hoped. Andy and I and a bunch of other boys who had been playing soccer walked into the room together. There were mostly girls sitting in seats already.

The teacher looked at us and said, “Okay good, here you all are finally, take seats please.” Andy and I found seats across from the doorway by the windows. There were a whole bunch of shiny books in piles on her desk at the front of the room in front of the chalkboard.

Our teacher said her name was “Miss Kennedy”, and wrote her name on the chalkboard behind her. Then she took “attendance”, looking at a little notebook she had, and I could tell as she read of names that mine would probably be last. I was right.

“Jonathan Zale”, she finally said. I raised my hand.

“Call me ‘Cooper’”, I said, and she nodded and carefully wrote something in her little notebook as her lips squeezed together. A lot of the other kids in the room looked at me when I said that. I wasn’t used to that, since after first grade at Bach, most of the kids on the first day of school already knew who I was.

So then she talked about all the stuff we were going to learn about this year. I listened closely because I wanted to keep being a really good student so that this new teacher liked me and didn’t worry about me very much so I wouldn’t have to worry about HER very much.

She said, “We will be reading a variety of genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.” I looked around at the other kids, and I could tell that most of them hadn’t heard that word “genres” before. I had heard dad say it, when he was talking about what he was teaching to his students, and I figured it was just one of those words grownups used to make you think they were really smart, and it just meant “kinds”.

“We will also be doing a lot of writing in this class”, she said, “And much of that writing will be based on you telling me details from what you’ve read to summarize it, identify the main idea or theme, compare characters or events, or compare different texts about the same topic. Also to identify an author or narrator’s point of view and explain how this affects what he’s written.”

Then she smiled and said, “And I’ll ask you whether you liked what you read or not. You don’t have to like it to get a good grade”, she said laughing a little but then wagging her finger at us, “But you’ll have to tell us why, and clearly explain your reasons, both with your written AND spoken words.”

Then she lowered that hand and grabbed her other hand down at her waist and said, “We will also be doing what every fifth grade class does. A state report, and you can choose any state other than our own state of Michigan, as long as someone else in class isn’t already doing it. You will probably have to go to the library to do research, or ask your parents or other adults about what they know about the particular state that you are reporting on, and I imagine it will require some work outside class. Not only will you write it, and turn it in, but I will also ask you to present a summary of it to the rest of the class, to give you some experience with talking in front of a group.”

She said that we would be using a new “reading program” called “SRA”, which she said, “Uses a systemized approach to reading instruction, that allows each of you to move forward with your reading comprehension at your own pace, working through the color levels.” I could tell that SHE really liked it. She showed us the big shiny box that it came in and pulled out a few of the things you could read to show us. They were pieces of paper, also shiny, in different colors. Each color, she said, was a “level”, starting at red and going up through a bunch of colors to blue.

“During reading time in class each day”, she said, “Just pick out a card at your color level, read the story, and then answer the questions at the end on a piece of paper. Just make sure you put the color, the number, and your name up in the top left corner of your answer sheet and put it in this box on my desk. Once you complete the reading for one level and successfully answer the questions, you’ll move up to the next level. Consider it a challenge, but you can take it at your own pace.” I had never thought of reading as a “challenge”, but I figured I was pretty good at it.

“In math”, she said, “We will be learning how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimal numbers, plus learn how to convert fractions to decimals and vice versa. Also about angles and shapes, what mathematicians call ‘Geometry’.” She picked up a book from her desk and held it up and said, “I’ll be assigning lessons from our math textbook, which I’ll be handing out in just a bit. There will be homework, but hopefully not too much.” Mom had already showed me how decimals worked and I was also pretty good at fractions, though I’d never changed them from one to the other. And I knew what “homework” was, because older kids talked about having to do it from school, but I hadn’t had to do it much before.

“In science”, she said, “We will be learning about earth and space, plants and animals, the cycle of life, the human body, electricity and magnetism, motion and sound.” She held up another book for her desk that was very shiny. “We have a brand new science textbook that I think is particularly good, with lots of great pictures and diagrams. I’ll also be handing that one out too.”

“And finally in history”, she said, “We’ll look at United States history, beginning with the discovery of the New World and the colonization of America, and continuing as far as we can get, even up into our own century. Along the way we will analyze the reasons behind events, looking at the broader themes of our nation’s development.” Then she picked up another, bigger book from the stacks on her desk. “And you guessed it”, she said, laughing through her nose, “Yet another textbook, to be handed out in a little bit.”

She raised her shoulders, breathed in air and blew it out, then clapped her hands together once. “But first things first”, she said, “I want you to have at least a small space that is your own here at school, and since we don’t have lockers, the inside of your desk will be that space. So we’ll have assigned seats.” Andy and a couple of the other boys groaned. A couple of the girls made a clicking noise with their mouth, I guess because they didn’t like that either.

For the first time, our teacher looked worried. She said, “I know some of you don’t like assigned seats, but I don’t want you to have to carry all your books home and back to school again. So at lunchtime, and for the ones you don’t have homework in after school, you can just leave them in your desk.” There were still groans and clicks and our teacher took a deep breath in and out.

“Okay”, she said, “Everyone stand up please and stand along the walls of the classroom. Then I’ll call each of your names again and I’ll assign you your new seat.” She looked at her little notebook for a minute, frowned, and then went over to her desk and picked up a clipboard, and then smiled instead of frowned. She then walked over to the desk at the front closest to the windows.

Looking at her clipboard she said, “Beth Westman”, then looked up and around the room at all of us. A girl raised her hand. Our teacher put her hand on the desk and said, “This is your desk, Beth.” Beth nodded and went over to it and sat down. Then she called one of the boy’s names to sit behind her. Then another girl behind him and a boy behind her, with a girl in the last seat at the back of the room. Then she called my name and her hand touched the desk at the front of the room next to that Beth girl’s. Then the kid behind me was a girl too, then another boy. And once the teacher did the line of chairs behind me, the person sitting next to me was another girl, Abby, who was the one that lived across the street from our new house. I figured that our teacher was doing it so no two boys or girls sat next to each other or behind each other, though I wasn’t sure why.

So once we were all sitting in our “assigned” seats, she called each of us up to her desk this time and had us take one of each of the three “textbooks”. Our history book was the biggest one, it had a picture of a bunch of those guys from a long time ago wearing those funny white “wig” things on their heads.

Then she took us on a “tour” of the school. She said that even though most kids in class had been here last year and already knew where stuff was, that a few of us were new, like I was, and needed to know, plus it would be a “good refresher” for the others. That “tour” was the best part of the whole morning in the school, because we didn’t have to sit and we got to see all the inside parts of the place. She showed us all three stairways, which we went up and down to see different parts of the school, where the bathrooms were, one for boys and one for girls in the same place on each floor. The hallways in the school went all around the place, like in a square kind of “u” shape. There were three floors, and each one had the same kind of u-shaped hallway, with stairways at each end and that main one in the middle. All the doors to the different classrooms were in those hallways.

The little kids’ kindergarten and first grade classrooms were on the first floor. I remembered that first time Molly showed me Burns Park and the school, when she used to live here, and we looked in the windows of her first grade classroom. I knew the kindergarten rooms were on the first floor too, and when we all walked by them, I peeked into the windows on those doors and saw some kids but didn’t see David.

The second floor had the classrooms for the second and third graders and the library, which was like the library in my old school with bookshelves all along all the walls and that desk for the grownup in charge of it. There was also that “office” part where all the grownups were who weren’t teachers, but did stuff for the school. That main “principal” woman, who was in charge of everyone else, had her little “office” inside the big “office”, which I thought was kind of funny, and kind of neat, even though she was just another grownup.

And then the third floor, OUR floor, had the classrooms for the fourth, fifth and six grades. That made sense too, because as you got older you got higher. All the boys in my class thought the fifth grade classrooms were the best in the whole school, because they were up high, on the top floor, AND they had windows on TWO sides, rather than one side, like the other classrooms.

Then there was the “gymnasium”. That’s what our teacher called it, though all the kids called it the “gym”. Our teacher liked using more of the longer grownup words instead of our shorter kid words. The gym was just like the one at my old school, though I’d only been in that one a few times, when there was too much rain outside to go out for recess. It had that really shiny wood floor where you could see the long skinny boards which were all painted with different color lines and circles. There were those basketball nets on both ends, and what the teacher said and even the sound of our feet walking made echoey sounds, which made the big room seem even bigger.

That grownup guy who had the clipboard when we all came into the school this morning was there and he told us all about having gym class instead of recess. He said he was “Mister Baum”, and he said we’d have gym class every day. I remembered that when we walked in from playing soccer, a bunch of the sixth grade boys called him “Coach Baum”. That was interesting, because he seemed like that grownup man who was the coach of our Little League team, calling us boys “gentlemen”. And he also called the girls “ladies”, which was the woman version of “gentlemen”.

I figured there were different kinds of grownups in charge of you. At home, it was your mom and dad, which a lot of grownups and even some kids called your “parents”. Then there were the grownup women who were in charge of you at school who were called “teachers”, or that one in charge of the teachers called the “principal”. And then the grownup men who were in charge of you when you did regular sports and exercising stuff were called “coaches”. Teams had coaches, so I guess it made sense that the grownups that were in charge of you at school for that kind of stuff would be called “coaches” too. He even was in charge of gym class for the girls, so I guess that was why he called them “ladies”.

The coach guy said that we were supposed to wear different clothes for gym, a regular white t-shirt and blue “gym shorts”, which he said we could get from a “sporting goods store like Moe’s”, and he gave us a piece of paper to give to our parents about what we should get. He showed us where the “locker rooms” were, one for the boys on one side of the gym and for the girls on the other, where we could each use a “locker” to put our regular clothes in when we had to put on our gym clothes for gym class.

He said we would have class outdoors while the weather was still pretty good and practice all the different “skills” for the “President’s Council on Physical Fitness”. That was pull-ups, sit-ups, broad jump, 50-yard dash, softball throw and 600-yard run. He would record how many we did, our “time” for the running ones, and our “distance” for the throwing one. This whole gym instead of recess thing got me really worried, and mad even. I mean I was okay having gym, but I didn’t like not having recess anymore. That had been the best part of school, when we could go outside, and talk to each other without the teacher being around. And the teacher really wasn’t in charge of us unless we did something bad.

And finally there was the auditorium, which was my favorite place in the whole school. It was in the very center of the building and had no windows, which I thought was really neat because it was like this giant secret inside part of the school, all the other rooms in the school had windows. I mean I really liked windows, because you could look out and see what was on the outside around the room you were in. But I also liked the idea of the giant room, that no one could see from the outside, and imagined all the kids sitting there with no grownups deciding how to do stuff by telling their ideas and then voting for the best ones.

The giant auditorium room had five different doors. The main doors went out to the hallway on the second floor where the stairs came up from the main doors to the school. The door on either side went out to the first floor hallway where all the little kids’ classrooms were. And there was this other kind of secret doors that went from the back of the stage part of the auditorium into the gym. I think my old school also had those secret doors connecting the stage of that auditorium to the gym too. Finally there was a FIFTH door, on our third floor that went into the balcony, which was really neat, above everybody else sitting in the giant room, and I couldn’t wait to get to sit there for real. I also noticed that the auditorium didn’t echo like the gym.

I remembered when Molly first showed me the Burns Park school, and we looked in the windows to her classroom. I was actually kind of glad Molly didn’t live here anymore, because if the other boys in my class saw us playing together I think they would think that it was weird for me to be playing with a girl, specially one that was only in fourth grade when we were in fifth. It seemed like none of the boys I had talked to liked or played with any of the girls, or liked playing with any of the kids in fourth grade.

I think everyone in my fifth grade class figured I was the same age as they were, and I didn’t tell any of them that I was a year younger because I skipped kindergarten. I was worried that if they knew, they might treat me like they did regular fourth graders and maybe even think I was some kind of a spy.

By the time it got close to lunchtime, our teacher was still talking about stuff and I was watching the clock on the wall over the door of our classroom clicking each minute. If it was quiet in the room you could even hear it click. When the bell finally rang at eleven thirty, all the kids were quiet for a second because I think we were all wondering if we had to wait for our teacher to tell us we could go but we should go quietly, but she didn’t say anything. It was kind of strange because she looked at us all looking at her waiting for her to say something.

Then she smiled, laughed through her nose, the first time I’d seen her do that, and said, “When the bell rings you are all free to go, you don’t have to wait for me to dismiss you.” Most of the boys jumped up, and some of the girls, and ran to the door and then out in the hall, bumping our shoulders against each other as we did.

When I got out into the hall all the other kids were coming out of their classes too. Andy saw Mike coming out of the other fifth grade classroom down at the other end of the hall. Andy ran over to him, so I did too. There was another kid talking to Mike.

“So how was Kennedy?” Mike asked us, “Desmond was okay I guess.” He turned to look at the other kid he’d been talking with. “Thoughts Sir Arthur?” he asked.

“Yeah”, the other kid said, making a funny thinking face, “She didn’t do anything really horrendous I guess.”

“Kennedy assigned seats”, Andy said, “GIRL BOY even!”

Mike laughed. “Desmond hasn’t done anything like that yet. We’ll see!” He looked at me. “So you gonna join us at lunchtime fighting off the sixth grade hoard on the fields of battle?”

“Don’t you go home for lunch?” I asked.

“Nah”, he said, “Andy and I just go over to his house and make peanut butter sandwiches. He just lives at the edge of the park at the corner of Baldwin and Wells.”

“Where do you get the balls to play with?” I asked.

“We bring em from home”, Andy said, “And just stash them in the bushes in front of school when second bell rings in the morning before we go into class.”

We walked down the stairway to the main door of the school. Kids were all around us, mostly going down the stairs too and talking loudly. When we got out the doors, Andy ran over to one of the bushes by the library windows and grabbed a ball with white and black patches on it. He used his foot to scoop the ball up in the air in front of him and catch it with one open hand. Then he kind of spun it on his fingers in front of him.

“Yep”, he said, “Genu-wine soccer ball.”

“You know”, said that Sir Arthur kid, “We’re the only ones in the world that call it soccer. Everybody else calls it ‘football’. The REAL football, not our crazy crash into each other version!”

“I kinda like our crazy version”, said Mike.

“You would”, said Andy, laughing through his nose, “You’re so big you just bowl everybody over.” Then he looked at me with big eyes and said, “Don’t ever play tackle football with this guy. He will run you down and grind you in the dirt.” Mom had told me that was the one thing she never wanted me to do, play tackle football. I hadn’t played, though it made me mad that she had said I couldn’t, and I really wanted to try sometime.

“C’mon”, said Mike, sounding mad, “I would never do that.”

“Yeah”, said Andy, “That’s what you tell us so we’ll let you play. I’d rather play soccer against you any day.”

“So Arthur”, Mike asked, “You going home for lunch?” Arthur nodded. “Will you be back for soccer round two before afternoon class?”

“I don’t know”, said Arthur like he wasn’t sure, “I went to Discount Records yesterday and they’d just got in that new Kinks forty five, ‘You Really Got Me’, and it’s smokin’. I want to go home and listen to it twenty times!”

I’d never heard another kid say “smokin’” before, except for the older boys on that “American Bandstand” show on TV. Arthur pretended to play a guitar with his hands and tried to make a sound like one of those electric guitars, “Der der der der der. Der der der der der.”

Mike shook his head and laughed through his nose. Arthur walked away from us still pretending to play guitar and saying, “Der der der der der. Der der der der der.”

Mike looked at me and said, “Well you better join us, we need you. We don’t want the sixth graders to completely kick our butts!”

“Okay”, I said, nodding, “When I see you guys out there I’ll come right over.

“You live close by?” he asked.

“Right over there”, I said, pointing at our new house.

“Damn, you’re closer than Andy”, Mike said, “Maybe we should go to YOUR house for peanut butter sandwiches!” We walked through the park towards my new house.

“So who would you vote for for President?” Mike asked me, “That is if you were old enough to vote.” Noone had ever asked me that before. I knew mom liked President Kennedy, who was on the Democrat team before he got killed, but I think she didn’t like Johnson as much, because he was from Texas, which was in the South. But she didn’t like that Goldwater guy at all who was running against him.

“I guess Johnson”, I said.

“Did you see that commercial?”, Andy asked, “My mom was watching it on the Today Show this morning. The one with that girl picking the flower and then that nuclear explosion? If we elect Goldwater he’ll get us into World War Three!”

“But, ‘In your heart you know he’s right’”, said Mike, “Isn’t that Goldwater’s campaign slogan? It should be more like, ‘In your heart you know he MIGHT’, push the button that is.” Andy laughed through his nose and nodded.

“Or in your guts you know he’s nuts”, Andy said, and I remembered mom saying that same thing about Goldwater.

“Definitely Johnson”, I said.

We crossed the street by my house on the corner and they kept walking up the street to Andy’s house. I was glad they did, because I saw mom back out in the driveway working on that round table, and I didn’t want her to see them and try to talk to them and make me embarrassed. She just never was like a regular mom like some other kids had.

Mom and dad had bought two old tables at that university “warehouse” place and mom had already stripped off the old paint and sanded the top of one of the tables. Now she was squirting this clear brown liquid out of a can onto the top part and then rubbing it around with an old towel. She saw me and smiled and lifted up her hand with the towel in it and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and not the towel.

“Hey Coolie”, she said, “How was the first morning of school?” She usually called me “Coolie” when she was happy, but she hadn’t called me that in a long time.

“I guess it was okay”, I said, “For the first day. Our teacher said we’re going to do this ‘SRA’ reading program and we’re going to do adding and multiplying decimals and changing between fractions and decimals in math.” I usually just told mom or dad a little bit about what I was doing so it sounded good so they’d keep letting me do things myself, and not try to help me. Only little kids needed their mom and dad to help them. I was a big kid now. Next year I’d be in SIXTH grade, the highest grade in elementary school.

I FELT like a big kid. All the new fifth grade kids I had met this morning and in the park in the last couple weeks seemed way more like older kids, talking more like Margie or Aunt Pat or Dad’s college students who helped us move the stuff from our old house here. These kids seemed a lot older than my Allmendinger Park and Bach School friends who were the same age.

When I went into the kitchen to make myself a sandwich for lunch, David was already there eating a sandwich he had made for himself. As I pulled out the Wonder Bread, Oscar Meyer Baloney, Kraft American Cheese slices and the French’s Mustard and made myself one, I asked David about his morning, because I figured that’s what big kids would do with their little kid brothers. He looked at me while chewing a mouthful of food.

“It was strange”, he said, talking while his mouth was full chewing his sandwich, “We sat at desks instead of tables and they gave us these books that were about numbers and reading, but not stories like regular books. The reading book had kind of dumb stories.”

Was it ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’?” I asked. He nodded.

“Yep”, I said, “Pretty stupid.” I felt so much like an older kid big brother, that was neat.

“You want to walk back to school with me when the bell rings?” he asked. I didn’t want to, but I figured there was another thing I could say that didn’t sound so bad.

“I could”, I said, “But us older kids play soccer before the bell rings. Us and the fourth graders play against the sixth graders.”

“Maybe I could play too”, he said, his mouth still full of sandwich.

I made a clicking sound with my mouth. Not the kind that dad did when he liked something, but the kind mom did when she DIDN’T like something, or like those girls had done in my class. “I don’t think you’re old enough. It gets pretty crazy with everybody running around. Somebody might crash into you by accident.” David wrinkled his nose like he didn’t like that I was saying no, but he didn’t say anything more and just kept chewing.

Just like Mike had said, about 12:15 I saw some kids out on the football fields in front of the school playing soccer. I could tell it was Mike being a goalkeeper because he was so tall so he was easy to see from far away. I started to head in the direction of the park.

“You headed back already?” mom asked, still putting that Linseed oil on the round table and rubbing it in, “The first bell hasn’t even rung yet.”

“I know”, I called out, still walking away from her, “We’re playing soccer.”

“Great!” she said, “Well good luck this afternoon.” Not even looking back at her I nodded, and started running across the street toward the football fields.

When I got to the goalposts where Mike was, he saw me, grinned and said, “There you are, good. Get out there. The sixth graders are kicking our butts as I suspected. That Billie Boyd kid thinks he’s god’s gift to goalkeeping, but he’s not, and the sixth graders are using him for target practice. I already sent Andy over there to try to help out.”

The way Mike was talking it seemed more like a pretend war than just a game, but that made it extra fun I guess. I nodded and ran over to that farther football field. There was this kid playing goalkeeper for our side who was shorter than I was. A sixth grader kicked a ball that went by him and through the goalposts.

“I’ll get it”, said this other kid, running into the trees after the ball. The kid playing goalkeeper nodded at him.

“Damn”, he said as he looked at me, “My boys are failing me out there. You’re that new kid in Kennedy’s class with me. Billy Boyd”, he said, sticking his arm out to shake my hand. That was something grownup men did a lot, specially when they didn’t know each other, but kids didn’t usually do it.

Following his lead I said, “Cooper Zale”, and I stuck out my hand and we shook, as another ball rolled through the goalposts behind him.

“I got that one too”, said the other kid who had gone after the first ball.

“Boyd you suck as a goalkeeper!” some kid yelled out, who looked like a sixth grader on the other team.

“What can I do?” he yelled out, then looking at me and grinning, “I’m a victim of circumstances.” This kid was definitely funny, I thought.

So I was on the field now standing near Billy trying to figure out what to do to play and help him and the rest of my new team. That other kid came back to the goalposts with those two balls he’d gone to get.

“Give ‘em to me, Gilbert my lad, so I can kick ‘em”, Billy said to that other kid. Then he pointed to me and said to him, “This is Cooper, by the way, the new kid in our class.”

“Hi”, the other kid said, waving at me, “I’m not really Gilbert”, he said, “I’m Gill.” He was kind of dorky and reminded me of Kenny.

Then he said to Billy, “I wanna kick them.”

“I’m the goal guy”, said Billy, “I get to kick them.”

“Let me kick one”, said Gill.

“Okay, just one”, said Billy, and Gill threw him one of the balls. Billy held it out in front of him, ran forward and kicked it like you punted a football. It landed in the middle of the field and Billy nodded his head and grinned like that was good.

Then Gill tried to kick one the same way, but it didn’t go very far.

“Hey… No fair!” yelled a sixth grade kid out in front of the goal, holding his hands in the air, “You only get one goalkeeper using their hands per goalposts!”

“Yeah yeah”, said Billy, waving a hand in front of his face.

Another sixth grader was coming down the middle towards the goalposts. He managed to get the ball around two kids on our team that tried to stop him. Now only I was between him and the goal. He tried to fake me out, but I just stood there, so he looked around and kicked. The ball zoomed by my head and Billy behind me managed to catch it.

“Yes”, he said, sounding really excited, “Billy Boyd, goalkeeper deluxe!”, and he made a fist with one hand as he looked at me looking back at him, as another kid on the other team kicked a ball through the goalposts behind him. It was that same kid from before.

“You still suck”, he said. Gill ran after the ball to bring it back.

So I played “defense”, that’s what Billy called it, for the rest of the time until the second bell rang and everyone stopped. The kids who had brought balls found theirs and most everyone ran toward the school, though some of the sixth-grade kids just walked. Gill ran, but Billy just walked so I walked with him.

“I saw you talkin’ to Mike and Andy”, he said, like he wasn’t sure that was good, “And Arthur too earlier.”

“Yeah”, I said, “They seem neat.”

“Yeah maybe”, said Billy, “But they’re not super cool school like we are.” He saw another kid.

“Teddy!” he yelled. “Over here!”

This taller kid ran over to where we were walking.

“Meet Cooper”, said Billy, “He’s that new guy in our class. I was telling him that we’re the cool guys.”

“Yeah sure Billy”, Teddy said, looking at me and rolling his eyes around, “Good to meet you Cooper”. He stuck out his hand for me to shake it, which I did. Seemed like Billy and all his friends liked shaking hands, even though most kids didn’t do that.

“Do they call you Coop?” Teddy asked. I nodded. “Coop it is”, Teddy said, “How do you like Miss Kennedy?”

“She’s okay so far I guess”, I said as we walked toward the main door with a bunch of other mostly sixth-grade kids who had been playing too.

“She’s much better than Desmond”, said Billy. I wondered why he would say that.

“Why’s she better?” I asked.

“I don’t know”, said Billy, making his shoulders go up and down, “She just is.”

“Because you say so?” Teddy asked, sounding like he didn’t think that was right.

“Yeahhh”, said Billy grinning, “Because I said so.”

We got back in our classroom just before the third bell rang. All the girls were already in their seats. Miss Kennedy, our teacher, looked at all of us boys coming in at the last minute and it seemed like she was a little bit mad, though she didn’t say anything. I took my seat between those two girls, Abby and Beth, in the front row.

For a lot of afternoon class our teacher talked about and showed us the SRA program for learning how to read better. She told us again that each color was a different level and the idea was to “work at your own pace” to get to the higher levels. She said that the “Rose” level was the lowest, which was like you could just read “Fun with Dick and Jane”, and she figured we all could do that, so she didn’t even include the rose colored stories in the box. The other levels were “Red”, “Orange”, “Brown”, “Gold”, “Lime”, “Green” and “Olive”, which were all in the box. She said we probably should start at the Orange or Brown level, or we could even try starting at the Gold level, if our reading was really good.

Then we were supposed to read as many of the stories that were that color that we could, and after each story, take the test at the end. She said the questions were “multiple choice”, and each one had four answers, and we had to pick the answer that was best. Some questions might have one answer that was a little bit right, but you should choose the answer that was the most right. If we got most of the answers right on all of our tests on one level, we could move up to the next one.

“I am trusting all of you not to cheat”, she said, “And copy someone else’s answers, because you will only be hurting yourself”. There was no way I would try to cheat. I would never want her to think I was a bad kid, and I figured I was really good at reading so it would be easy for me!

She said that we’d also go to the school library so we could read regular books too, and even check them out and take them home like a regular library. She would ask us to do “book reports” on some of the books we picked out to read from the library. We would also use books in the library to do “research” for some of the “essays” she would ask us to write.

She had us look through our other textbooks. In the math one, there were chapters about “Decimals” and “Fractions” and “Geometry”. In the history one, chapters about “The Age of Discovery”, “The American Colonies” and “The Revolutionary War”. And in the science one, there were “units” that had a bunch of chapters in them, units on “Living Things”, “Earth and its Resources”, “Astronomy and Weather” and “Matter and Energy”. She showed us how each chapter was divided up into sections, and at the end of each section there was stuff that WE would be doing. Problems in math we would have to figure out and questions in the history and science books we would have to answer about what we read in the section. She said in science we would even do some “experiments”, which sounded really neat, like Tom Swift stuff.

But she also said that she would “assign” us problems to figure out and questions to answer at home for “homework”. I knew what “homework” was and I had had to do it once in a while last year in fourth grade, but she said that we would be doing it a couple times a week.

After going through these books for a very long time, I kept wanting to look at the clock on the wall over the door and watching for when the big hand moved to the next minute with that click sound, and we were a minute closer to 3:15 when the bell would ring and we’d be done. As much as I liked all the stuff we were going to learn in our textbooks, I didn’t like having to just sit there and listen to a grownup talk and not get to say anything unless I raised my hand and was called on so I could ask a question. Some kids in the class were raising their hands and asking questions, even stupid questions, so they could at least do SOME talking. Other kids were just looking out the windows.

When it was getting close to the end of class, the teacher said she had some “housekeeping tasks” to take care of and we could stand up and walk around the room and talk to each other, as long as we did it quietly. Billy, Gill and Teddy were standing by a window talking together, but Andy was just standing across the room looking out another window where you could see the football fields, so I walked over by him and looked out too. He noticed me next to him but kept looking out the window.

“So you met the ‘Billy Boyd Boys’”, he said quietly, laughing through his nose, “I saw you at lunch time playing defense over by Billy’s goal and talking with them.” Then he shook his head and said, “He’s something, isn’t he? Teddy’s okay but Gill’s a bit of a twerp.” I just nodded my head. I DID kind of feel the same way, but they were really nice to me and wanted to be friends. I looked over to where Billy, Teddy and Gill were standing and talking, and I could see Billy and Gill quickly turn away from looking at me.

“So you guys will all be playing soccer tomorrow morning before class, and again at lunchtime?” I asked.

“Yes siree”, he said, grinning now as he continued to look out the window, “Every morning, rain or shine, as soon as somebody brings a ball and there are at least a few people there from each team.”

“What about in the winter?” I asked. He laughed through his nose again.

“Rain, snow, wind, mud, slush, darkness or shine”, he said.

“When kids are in charge”, I said.

“Yep”, he said, nodding.

“Do girls ever play?” I asked. He shook his head.

“Not usually”, he said, “There were a couple of fifth grade girls last year who were really good at soccer who we let play with us against the sixth graders, but now they’re in sixth grade and I didn’t see any of them playing today. I think it’s supposed to be against the rules.”

“Who decides the rules?” I asked.

“I don’t know”, he said, “They just get decided somehow. Some kid says ‘hey, that’s against the rules’ and some other kids say ‘yeah’ and if nobody argues about it, then that’s the rule, until it’s not.” He raised his shoulders and then dropped them back down. We kept talking about stuff until the bell finally rang, and everyone got noisy and crowded at the door to the room to get out.

When I got back to our house, dad was back from teaching and was out in the side yard by the driveway, taking the legs off an upside down table. He looked up and saw me and smiled.

“Why’re you taking the legs off that table?” I asked.

“Hey Cloob”, he said, my old nickname that I hadn’t heard either dad or mom say for a long time, “How was your first day of school?” I wasn’t sure how to answer that, because dad taught school to those older “student” type kids, and he really liked it, so if I just said “okay” it might make him sad, and I wanted him and mom to be happy.

“It was good”, I said, which was partly true, since I had gotten to know some kids in my class and the other fifth grade, my textbooks looked like they had interesting stuff, and we kids had our own soccer thing.

“They have that SRA stuff”, I said.

“Oh yeah”, he said, then blowing air out of his mouth, “I’m not much for that program. It’s like bribing kids to read. I’d rather just let them find good books in the library and explore them on their own.”

“Well”, I said, “Our teacher’s going to let us do that too, I think.”

“Oh good”, he said, then, “Well I need to get back to work here. I’ve got to get these table legs over to my buddy who has a table saw that can saw them in half.”

“Why are you sawing them in half?” I asked.

“Well”, he said, “Your mom and I bought two old tables for five bucks each at the university warehouse. This one we decided we’re going to turn into a coffee table so we need to make the legs short.” Then he pointed at the other table sitting in the driveway with a bunch of newspapers on the ground under it. It looked like a regular nice table, not an old one anymore.

“Your mom already finished that one and it looks great”, he said, “She said they’re both good pieces of wood. So she’s happy, at least for the moment.”

I was happy they were happy, at least for the moment too.

2 replies on “Clubius Contained Part 25 – Fifth Grade (September 1964)”

  1. Hi Cooper, I assume you have fictionalized the name of your younger brother?

  2. Yeah. Per agreement between me and my brother. Gives me more latitude with the younger brother character since this is an autobiographical novel and not a strict memoir. Only a few characters, like my mom, dad, aunt Pat and my mom’s best friend Mary Jane have their real names.

    I appreciate you reading my stuff and the comment!


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