Second Grade

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When I was three-and-a-half feet tall, I was in second grade in Mt Sterling, Ohio. We lived in a small home across the street from the railroad tracks and the grain elevator. The trains rumbled by on some schedule that I never discovered. At first they woke me at odd hours of the night. The whistle would blow, the ground would shake, and our whole house would rattle. But before long I was sleeping right through it. The trains receded into the background of my life.

Mt Sterling was the only place I lived growing up where I was close enough to school to walk. I walked with my two school-age sisters: Marsha, who was in third grade and therefore the most knowledgeable about all the hidden rules of grade-school culture; and Lani, who was in first grade, and wide-eyed at everything we told her. The way to school was not long, a few blocks at most, but when you are only three-and-a-half feet tall, a few blocks seems like a very long way to be allowed to walk without an adult. We walked past piles of smoldering leaves, swishing our way through leaves that hadn’t yet been raked into piles. We walked past a candy store where we were occasionally allowed to stop and buy lollipops, candy dots on strips of paper, or paraffin lips. The candy cigarettes were strictly prohibited.

I was not very happy in second grade in Mt Sterling. For some reason that I could not understand, I was always in trouble with my teacher. She was always returning my homework covered with red marks and with a large, red ‘F’ circled at the top. I had to stay in from recess almost every day filling in blanks in a dull workbook while my classmates cavorted in the schoolyard. At that age it did not occur to me that the problems I was dealing with were not my own. I thought I must be a bad kid even though I was very compliant and always tried to do what the teacher wanted. It made me miserable not being able to please my teacher.

She was an ancient woman, far older than the brick building she taught in. I was sure she was one of the first settlers, and I could imagine her felling trees and fighting off Indians. She was not as old as I imagined her to be, but she was old enough to have taught my uncle. He had made an indelible impression on her, so much so that she told my mother, “I just can’t stand the sight of him. Every time I look at him, I see his uncle Frank.” The poor woman was persecuting me for a years-old grievance against my uncle.

Mt Sterling was also where I saw my first science fiction film. It was called The Atomic Submarine, and it about scared me half to death and gave me nightmares. I looked it up not long ago and rented it from Netflix. Definitely a B movie. It’s one claim to fame is the one-eyed, many-tentacled alien since reproduced in episodes of The Simpsons. I was not frightened by the sight of the alien, however. It was the way the crew members would die when they were alone. It seemed horrible to me the way they were slain by an unseen enemy when there was no one around to offer aid or defense.

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