My Best Childhood Year

“And that it may be true, at least in poetic terms, that beginnings are like seeds that contain within them everything that will ever happen.”

Dana Shapiro, “Hourglass”

Was fifth grade the year that marked the last of my free-floating, unambiguous childhood self-confidence? I was 11 when it began. Looking back, I can see its outlines.

We had moved from a city of 80,000 to a town of just 3,000 when my dad became head of the chemistry department at Carthage College, in Illinois. 1952. I started fifth grade that year and faced a very different way of life. Small town life. Carefree life.

It was a new beginning.

Carthage was the county seat, so this charming little town was built around the large town square with its ornately huge County Courthouse. Shops filled the square around it. At Halloween, everyone – kids and grown-ups alike – dressed in costume and gathered around that Courthouse Square for merriment and goodies and fireworks. It was magical!

I was the only “four-eyes” in fifth grade, graced with those pinkish, plastic-rimmed glasses for children. I had been upbraided by my fourth-grade teacher more than once, when I forgot to bring them, sent home with a loud and sneering, “Can’t you remember anything???

I was also the tallest person in my class.

My spirit was, for a bit, guarded.

Now, though, I had Mrs. Hobbin, the kindest of teachers who read us a chapter from the Hardy Boys’ mysteries every day after recess! Her Aunt Gertrude imitations were classic! She would be the best teacher I’d ever had.

Now, I had two new girlfriends: Leanne Kennedy, who had beautiful, thick blonde braids that went nearly to her waist; and Lynette Lyndrup, who was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. And I was their best friend! Homely, gangly me! The three of us were inseparable.

Now, I had two boys who paid close attention to tall, bespeckled me! Billy Gelhar would carry my heavy French horn home for me and we would sit on the steps of my house talking in the way that 11-year-olds talk. Awkward, but nice. And Bobby Boone, who was THE cutest boy in our class, left ME a box of chocolate covered cherries on May 1st, the sign of affection especially meant for sweethearts! Homely, gangly, tall, bespeckled me was the subject of envy and, “Aw, you lucky!”

I had a new instrument to play after having learned the cello for two years. There was no orchestra, and I was -well – large (as in tall…) for my age, and they needed a French horn player. I had glorious times in that band as the only horn player!

Carthage grade school was a sporty place, and I’d never done any kind of sport beyond swimming. Recess was not a time for just hanging out. Kickball and baseball were the going thing. Everyone played. Kickball was a modest success, but baseball was achingly embarrassing! My dad, who had three girls, took me downtown and bought a ball, a bat and a glove for his eldest daughter. Evenings, after supper, we worked long and hard. He was a patient and encouraging teacher.

The next time we were playing baseball during recess, I hit a home run. Ka-ching! I belonged.

I would have the honor of winning the fifth grade Easter hat competition when mother made one out of a round aluminum jello mold, filled with vegetables; the carrots’ filmy green tops draped fetchingly over the edge. Tied with a ribbon under my chin, it managed to stay balanced long enough for this wonder to be duly appreciated and declared the victor!

I had a pear tree next door to climb and sit in for as long as I wished. A place to dream.

I blossomed in that year!

Unexpectedly, we moved back to the city we’d left after that year. Sixth grade. Everyone had broken into cliques, and I didn’t fit anywhere. My whole world changed in an instant. I would spend much of the rest of my school life trying to fit in, measure up and be accepted.

But seeds of acceptance and worth and friendship had been planted in that small town, and they would grow their graces as I grew up. With each new beginning, I would find new ways to blossom.

As I look back now, in my elderhood, I do find myself smiling at that one perfect year, though, whose seeds would, invisibly, mature and nurture my future for nearly 70 years.

And I am so okay with that!