Sunday, August 30, 2009

Memoirs of Second Grade

We lived in a rancher in Kansas City when I was in second grade. I remember it well. It sat back a little ways from a busy street, Barry Road.

It was the year we got our first puppy, a purebred Sheltie we named Lassie. She was only $75 because she had a broken leg which was in a cast, but she was sweet and beautiful. She yelped and whined all night long for three nights, and Daddy told us to just ignore her and for goodness sake, don't let her in bed with you. We obeyed, but it was the longest three nights of my childhood.

Second grade was also the year I went by my middle name, Marie. We had moved to Kansas City in the middle of the school year, so everyone in school was already connected to their clique. I was the new kid in town, wore glasses, had curly hair in a straight-hair era, was poor but didn't know it, and hated my weird first name. Hated it.

I asked Mrs. Schmidt one day if I could go to the bathroom and she kept saying "wait till I've handed back all the tests." She would call up three students at a time to hand back their tests, alphabetically by last name, but it felt like by first name, I had to pee so badly. I was wearing a fashionable yellow maxi dress that day (as fashionable as poor kids can be) and stood at her desk while she handed back my test. All the while a warm yellow puddle gathered between my shoes on the floor. I was standing there with two other kids, petrified. That's all I remember. I've repressed what happened next.

I do remember it was the same year my parents took in an abused wife, Norma (not her real name) with her three children. I think Vince was 13, Debbie 11 and Darlene 10, something like that. Every night Vince had to pull out the sleeper sofa in the living room and put it back every morning. I slept in a room with my two sisters and Lassie. Norma and her daughters shared the third bedroom, somehow.

I remember the hot, early summer day the father, Jed, showed up out of nowhere, demanding his children back, threatening to do something if Norma didn't comply. All six of us kids had been washing the station wagon in the driveway. Daddy came out of the house and Mama quickly gathered us like chicks from a falcon's swoop. I wondered if Jed had a gun or something. I had never seen my father scared before that day nor look so valiant and strong. My mom made us wait in a back bedroom while Jed and Daddy talked. Ted was big and angry and wore a business suit. I never knew a daddy could be mean till I saw Jed; I thought only nice people like my daddy wore business suits. It all seemed so wrong. It was all wrong. Jed took his family back, including Norma. I never saw them again.

Norma, we found out later, became mentally ill and wrote demonic letters to us girls which my parents destroyed without letting us read. Then when I was about 14, she mailed a new batch one day. I wish I'd never read it. She claimed to be a prophetess with the power to take us away from our evil parents. I tore up the letter, cried, and had nightmares for weeks. Shortly thereafter I heard Norma had shot herself to death.

That was the only traumatic thing I remember about living on Barry Road. My sweet memories include the only neighbor I remember from that place. Mr. Van was his name, and he lived next door in another rancher, with just his wife. I remember thinking how big their house must have seemed to them compared to a house the same size with nine people in it, and wondered if they were lonely. I don't remember a single thing about Mr. Van's wife, not even her name. When the crab apples fell off the tree, all over his backyard, Mr. Van asked me if I'd like to earn a nickel to pick them up and put them in paper sacks. (They call bags "sacks" in the Midwest.) I can't recall if he paid a nickel for each crab apple or a nickel to fill the sack, but being an outspoken people-pleaser, I agreed. We were poor, I was bored, had nothing better to do. And, I was a better recruiter than employee so I figured it'd be easy money. As always, I roped my little sister Andrea into helping me. Now that I think about it, it was probably a nickel a sack but it sounded like a good deal at the time, especially since I did more talking with Mr. Van and his quiet, forgettable wife while Andrea did the actual work. Some things never change.

But I digress.

We were never allowed by my parents into Mr. Van's house. In fact, I do appreciate now how protective my folks were without smothering our social lives. Somehow picking crab apples and talking in the yard with a couple who took a shine to us created a warm bond. I remember the day our moving truck pulled away from the house, onto the busy road, past Mr. Van's house, and toward our next house far, far away. My parents kept calling the U-Haul a moving van, and I kept crying, "It's not a van. There's only one van, and that's Mr. Van, and I'm going to miss him so, so much! Why do we have to keep moving every time I make new friends?"


Kelly Langner Sauer said...

Oh, how I related to this post! We moved so many times when I was younger - the houses all have memories... Thank you for sharing some from your childhood experience! What an enjoyable read!

Laurie said...

Zoanna, I love your first name. I don't even think it's weird, but I can understand how you must have felt.
Is God so gracious to bring along Mr. Van (and his wife) at just the right times? How very sweet is that! Reminds me of "my" Walt and Mary Woodson (Mary was Walt's wife and I DO remember her!) Have I shared about them? I may yet!

It sure does peeve me that you had to pee in class. I remember having to convince teachers that a bathroom break was legit. I know those breaks were abused by some, but I always sensed the injustice of having to be convincing enough to be allowed to go! What is with that???!!!
Weird (and sad) about "Norma". How frustrating for your folks who were trying to help. God has His ways and means... even if we don't get it or wonder at His ways and means!
Hmmm. "The truth of the business suit"
I remember similar truths dawning on me... Like, just because because a woman has children does not make her a devoted Mom or just because a man is married does not make him a faithful husband.
But I digress... (and I'm thankfully not speaking of my own Mom or Dad.)
Thank you for sharing your memories.
How memories help us see God's mercy and grace more clearly!