Stories from the Muddy

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Friday, September 17, 2010

I Learned Something About the World That Day

By Naomi Lewis

           When I was five and my little brother, Malcolm was three, about 1953, we started out for a walk on the farm one sunlit day.  I figured I knew everything about the farm I needed to know and I would give him a tour.  My daddy had been digging post-holes to make a new corral, and we came upon one of these freshly dug post-holes that didn’t have a post in it yet.  We stopped and inspected it.  The dirt in the bottom looked loose and soft and inviting.  So what could a girl do but jump in – knees first.  It wasn’t soft or inviting.  In fact, my knees didn’t reach the bottom.

Both my feet were hooked over the edge of the hole and I hung like a little bird gripping the ground with the back of my toes.  I said to my little brother, “Go get mama.  Go get mama.”  He just stood there crying.  Fortunately, for both of us, Mama came looking for us and he didn’t have to find his way back to the house alone, and I was rescued from my vulnerable position.  “I couldn’t get out, Mama.”

She just said, “Um.”  I learned something about the world that day.

Sometimes my parents went to the movies and a baby sitter came.  I was a very fast runner.  And I loved to run around the yard, especially when the babysitter was there.  She didn’t like to chase me, but she had to, especially about bed time.  I ran and she chased.  My little brother got in on the act and she had to chase us both going opposite directions.  She caught him and I stood my distance across the yard defying her.  Eventually, she wouldn’t come anymore to be our baby sitter.  All she would have had to do was turn off the porch light and I would have been there.  I was afraid of the dark.

But the neat thing about my parents going to the movies was that they’d bring my brother and me each a package of Neccos.  They were little thin discs of flavored sugar.  Do they still make them?  I don’t know.  There were lime ones, and orange ones, and maybe yellow ones.  The chocolate ones, were my favorite.  One time, I had eaten all the chocolate ones pretty fast.  I put my arm around my brother’s shoulder and asked him what his favorite flavor was.  He held out an orange one and I offered to trade him my orange ones, for his chocolate ones.  There always seemed to be more chocolates than any other flavor.  So I got a bonus of chocolate Neccos from his pack.  I thought I would feel all superior, being older, and smarter.  But I didn’t, I felt guilty.  I learned something about the world that day.

My dad's father worked on the ranch and one day, Grandpa gave me a dime and my brother a nickel and sent me alone to the bedroom to deposit our coins in our Kerr jar piggy banks with slots cut in each lid.  I looked at those coins and wondered why Grandpa would give my little brother more money than me.  I was the oldest, after all.  With my five year-old mind whirring, I decided and made a deposit in my favor, sticking the dime in my brother’s bank, and the nickel in mine.  When I went back to the kitchen, Grandpa asked if I’d done what he’d told me to.  I lied.  Then he commenced to tell me about the value of each coin.  I was speechless.  What could I say, uh, uh, I made a mistake, Grandpa?  I learned something about the world that day.

When I was five, my parents started talking about my going to Kindergarten.  My birthday was in May, so I had all summer to worry about it.  I had never been away from home or my parents in my life.  I was going to have to leave home and go to school.  As it turned out, it was a half-hour ride in what they called a car pool, though I never saw any water, with strange kids and strange mothers.

One day, over dinner, dinner was at on the farm, Mama, Daddy, and Grandpa started in about Kindergarten again.  The more they talked about how much fun I’d have, and how many friends I’d make, and all the things I would learn, the more my stomach churned.  The more they talked about Kindergarten, the more I thought my dinner wasn’t going to stay down. The more they talked, the more I yelled I wasn’t going to school.  So when I filled my plate back up with roast beef, mashed potatoes, and peas, it was no surprise to me.  It just made me sick thinking about going to school.  I warned them, I was not going to Kindergarten, but that didn’t stop it.  I learned something about the world that day.

I went to Kindergarten.  I was just a little twig of a kid compared to some of the more robust students in my class.  An Indian girl named Rephanelda was twice my size, and had wild black hair.  My mama had taken me to movies, I knew about Indians.  I was afraid of everything when I was five.  After my experience with the post-hole, I wasn’t totally confident in myself.  There was another girl, Cheryl, who was also bigger than I, who wore a satin jacket, a relative had brought from the Philippines, with a giant red dragon embroidered on the back.

My teacher was Mrs. Colvin who wore a black, silky dress with red match sticks all over it.  A big, wild Indian, a girl with a giant, red dragon on her back, and a teacher with firey red match sticks all over her dress, looked like a recipe for disaster to a spindly, quiet, five year-old who would rather be home rocking in her rocking chair, listening to the radio and looking at "The Little Engine That Could."
I clung to my rubber dolly and my nap rug as the only familiar things in this world, but the worst was yet to come.  Mrs. Colvin paired us up with buddies.  My new buddy was Rephanelda.  As she bore down on me, I started to cry.  Then she put out her hand and took my little bony, white hand in her big, fleshy brown hand and showed me the toy room.  We selected a pile of blocks and together we built a block house.  I learned something about the world that day.

That year I learned where North was.  North was at the front door of our Kindergarten classroom.  And to this day, when I don’t know where I am, and I’m confused about which way is which, I just close my eyes and picture where my Kindergarten door would be.  When I know where north is, I’m not so afraid any more.

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