Teacher: Miss Carpenter
This was the first year of the new school building, so it must have been strange for everyone. Rather than the here-and-there classrooms in the church building, it was an actual school with actual classrooms. Grades 1-8 were all housed in one building. The Main Office was smack in the middle of the building, right where the main entrance was, so there was a kind of natural split. First through Fifth grades were to the left, and Sixth through Eighth and all the “extras” like the library, the art room and the music room were to the right. Kindergarten was still held at the church several miles away, and I’d guess it was partly because Mrs. Reid was accustomed to it, partly because of space, and partly because it seems a natural break. As a First Grader, the other end of the building might as well have been in Kansas. Even our recesses took place in a different area out back, and two natural hierarchies developed: First through Fourth grades and Fifth through Eighth.
Two physical characteristics of my teacher that year stand out in my memory: eyes and fingernails. Miss Carpenter had these seemingly huge eyes that she would roll in your direction in such a way that you knew you were in trouble. In my mind they seem almost caricatures now, but I remember the way she would do it and it did a good job of stopping whatever it was you were doing to have earned it. Also, if you didn’t stop it, you might get the next step: the fingernails. They probably weren’t as long as they felt, but they were strong and they felt pointy, especially in the soft tissues around the bones in your shoulder. She was trained in the ninja arts, I’m sure of it – you wouldn’t be aware of her approach and then BAM. Fingernails.
For a lesson one day, Miss Carpenter brought in Miss Appling, the seventh grade teacher, who was about six feet tall. Jesse R. was the shortest and smallest kid in our class and he was made to stand next to her in front of the class as some sort of example about size. I don’t remember the lesson, but I do remember the way Jesse looked up at her. It was like one of those slow camera pans you see in movies that illustrate just how big the bouncer/robot/Godzilla is. At the end of it, his head was looking almost straight up.
I received my first in-school spanking in First Grade and, oddly enough, I didn’t deserve it. “Suuuuuure you didn’t,” you’re probably saying. As a matter of fact, I didn’t. I’ll go on to say that, over the years, I received plenty that I did deserve, and missed out on several that I should have gotten, but this first one, I didn’t deserve.
We were lining up after gym class, and I was towards the middle of the line. The boy at the back of the line was asked to go hold the doors for us, as was the routine. Knowing he was coming up my side, I stuck my foot out as if I were going to trip him, but giggled and pulled my foot back almost immediately. Unfortunately, David S. was a bigger fooler-arounder than I, so when he got to me, he tripped himself and laid the blame on me. To quote Jasper from The Simpsons, in his role as substitute teacher, “That’s a paddlin’.” Now, I shouldn’t have been fooling around in the first place, I’ll agree, but the spanking was for tripping, and I didn’t deserve it. I think it set me down a path of tomfoolery, as I might have thought, “I’ll get in trouble whether or not I do stuff, so I might as well do stuff.” I don’t know that for sure, but it’s a theory I’ve oft entertained. It should be noted that this was also the day I learned about the “if you get a spanking at school you get one at home” rule.
One of my friends in First Grade was named Birch C. Yep. “Birch.” His family was from Maine, so I assume a love of trees was involved. One day we were lined up at the water fountain after recess and Birch was wearing what people these days call a “trucker hat,” one of those with the plastic snaps in the back for adjusting the size. I thought it might be harmless fun to unsnap the snaps. I thought wrong. In the process of unsnapping them all at once, some of the snaps broke off rather than unsnapping, and his hat was worthless after that. I felt really bad about it, but to this day I think I still owe him five bucks. I saw him a few years ago (like, 12), but I don’t remember if I paid him then or not. Next time I see him, I’ll do it, I swear.
Another lasting memory I have from First Grade is the dreaded penmanship tests. We were full-on into the business of writing letters and I wasn’t very neat about it, apparently. My worst grades were those in penmanship. My parents, as an incentive, told me that if I got an “A” in penmanship, we’d have pizza for dinner. As this was a rare treat back then, I tried my very hardest and managed to pull it off some how. We had the pizza, but the only thing that stuck with me from that experience is my love of pizza, I’m afraid. If this blog were hand-written, none of you would come back. It has been suggested that my signature looks like an EKG reading.
First Grade is also the earliest I can remember meeting Dave O., even though we didn’t become friends until much later. He was in the class ahead of me, so we didn’t mingle much except for at recess. Still, I count him a good friend to this day and we regularly correspond, so I thought it was worth mentioning.
Second Grade wasn’t nearly as exciting.