Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Three: "To School" (Pt. 1)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 15th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As I begin elementary school, I experience freedom while my mother struggles with finding her balance for control over things of which she really has little.

The War Begins

Going to Kindergarten in September of 1956 proved to be a high water mark for me.

Up until that time my contact with other children had been somewhat limited. Because of my mother’s mania which had resulted in a basic mistrust of everyone, we didn’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. Even when we were in public, at church, the Ladies Aid, or anywhere else for that matter, I was beginning to become aware of a bubble that existed around us. It was almost as if anyone who knew my mom gave us a wider berth.

The folks who lived next door to us on the south, the Van Hecke family had three children, Julie, a year and a half older than me, Raymond aka Buzzy was my age and would be the best friend and comrade in arms of my young life for a few years, and Mary Ann was about three years younger than us at about my sister’s age.

When we were allowed to play together, Buzzy and I used to run all over his yard and mine where we’d play cowboys (minus the Indians) with our cap guns, and we would take turns shooting at each other seeing who could improvise the most dramatic dying scene. It’s a funny thing looking back. For all of the mileage I got out of that cap gun, I would never even dream of strapping on a gun later in my life. Childhood play does not necessarily lead to gun violence later on. But then, we did not have all the violent video games to feed on during our teen years in those days either.

The neighbor kids were Catholic so they went to St. John’s school. Buzzy and I would never be in school together, and the family moved away to another town when we were in the 3rd grade anyway, and by then we had outgrown the cap guns. But going to different schools had somehow put a distance between us, and at school I was finding different friends and different interests.

Longfellow Elementary School was only five blocks away from our house, and on the first day of school in 1956, I recall my mom walking me there. In those days, Kindergarten was still only a half day, and I was a morning student, so that morning saw a throng of mothers walking all their sons and daughters who lived more than a couple of blocks to school that day. Some of them like my mom even stayed for a half-hour or so just to make sure that we were all getting on well enough which I was. Miss Blackmore, my teacher seemed a decent enough lady. She snapped her fingers a lot, but other than that, okay, and I liked the energy of the class. My whole Kindergarten year would turn out to be like this day pretty much. Free.

And Mom went home. And I came home at lunchtime. And this is the way it would go.


Sometimes she would get paranoid about something, and she would call the school and leave a message with the secretary that I was to come home straight after school. I was not to go anywhere else on the way home. I remember one particular event happening in the 3rd grade. And the principal, Miss Olsen herself, came to relay the message to me, and I recall her asking me not unkindly in the presence of my teacher Mrs. Jansen if I’d been planning on going anywhere else on the way home. Was it the day for Bible Club next door at Mrs. Edwards’ house after school? No? Or perhaps I was going to stop off at Gerth’s Barbershop and get a haircut? No? None of these?

Nope. I had this completely blank look on my face and gave her my negative reply. No, I’m just going home. I had no idea why Mom would call. And I can still see Miss Olsen looking at Mrs. Jansen and both of them shrugging their shoulders resignedly.

By the 3rd grade, Miss Olsen had logged a lot of time with my mom who had been imagining or embellishing one thing after another, and that made it bad for me when something did happen. The worst of these occurred during the previous year when I was in the 2nd grade and one of the students a boy named Dickie (I kid you not) pulled out his penis during a discreet moment in the back of class one day and exposed himself to me. I should have been flattered, but I was terrified. Here was this cute kid smiling at me exposing himself in a public place, and I didn’t know what his intentions were, and the worst part was . . . I liked it.

Well, stupid me! I told Mom about it, however, I left out the part about my liking it. And don’t ya know The War began! You see, I needed guidance. I wanted to know what I could or should do, but nobody every asked how I felt. Oh noooo! She just began a war with the school which never really ended. However, in the end, and looking back on it all these years hence, I believe the school from this point forward started looking out for me if it hadn’t already been doing so.

Mom called the school and reported the incident, but she also started lobbing incendiary bombs as she did so. She started calling other mothers of children whom she knew in my class to tell them about the incident. One of them whose daughter was in my class reported that while she hadn’t seen the incident she did notice that she’d seen Dickie’s fly unzipped. Aha! That was all my mom needed for support.

The school via Miss Olsen thoroughly questioned Dickie and me separately, and, of course, Dickie denied everything, and I could not and did not blame him in my heart. I would have done the very same thing. Both sets of parents were called in and counseled, and since there were no other eyewitnesses except the one girl who saw his pants unzipped which was really insufficient evidence, the matter was dropped. But my mom was livid! And as time would go on, I got the feeling that her ire at the whole thing transferred onto me. It became all my fault for having dragged her into the whole thing in the first place as if I ever asked her to overreact to anything in my entire life!

Dickie and I were instructed to stay away from each other which we complied with willingly. We barely said boo to each other the remainder of the school year, and we were never placed in the same classroom again eventually losing all track of each other. Who could blame us. We’d been napalmed by Geneva.

Me ~ 2nd Grade Drama Queen

That 2nd grade year in poor Mrs. Snyder’s room had already proven to be tumultuous enough, but later that year, a new kid, Alan, would move to our neighborhood just around the corner from my house on Westminster Street and so he would go to our school. Being my age, he was placed in the same classroom. On his second or third day there as we were getting into reading groups, I said something to him, I don’t recall what it was, but something that he took the wrong way, something which he misunderstood, and he got angry and immediately ignited, and he kicked me in the stomach. Hard!

It hurt! A lot!! I doubled over, and I realized, hey wait, I didn’t do anything to deserve this, and then I got angry, and I exploded! Not good! And I realized then as I was doubled over that I was standing next to someone’s desk, so I grabbed it and I heaved it at him. Even in the 2nd grade, I was a big enough kid that I was able to take a desk full of books and manage to toss it a couple of feet, but thank God it was full of books and it landed nowhere near Alan.

The class just stood staring at the show, and Mrs. Snyder who was nothing if not a great disciplinarian had immediate control of the situation, and we were both roundly marched off to the office for the inquisition where Miss Olsen got our mothers in there quickly and sorted the whole thing out. My mom was not happy that I’d been kicked in the stomach, and after being examined by our family physician I was pronounced healthy and sound, and Alan’s parents thoroughly apologized. All ruffled feathers got smoothed, but the great thing was that afterward when Alan realized what had really been said, and everything turned out to be okay between us, we became the best of friends and would remain so throughout the rest of our elementary years, and I sorely needed this.

(Next, my mom's church fights which have an accidentally positive outcome.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Child Abuse, Child Development, Childhood, Childhood Memories, Memoir, Memories, Memories From Childhood, Memories From My Young Days, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experience, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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