I watched the dress rehearsal for the musical that kids in my school will perform tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. They’re doing a version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The play has 120 kids participating in some way, and they range from third to fifth grade. Those third graders seem really young. Maybe that’s the reason that tonight I found myself thinking about my third grade year. It wasn’t the greatest year for me, but there are moments that have stuck in my mind.
I didn’t really like my teacher that much. She had a look that was not that different from a certain bike riding character in the Wizard of Oz. She was nicer than that, but the image is hard to shake. Here are a few of my memories:
Memory One: I’m sitting in the next-to-last row in a room that seems to have a LOT of rows. Across the aisle from me is David Rizzo. He’s the class clown, and I admire him for that. Once, I had been at his house, and he showed me a jar full of mercury. His father was a dentist. Somehow that was the explanation for the jar of mercury. The mercury was so heavy that when you tilted the jar and it flowed to the other side, you could feel it hit the wall of the jar, like a thud. It was really cool to shake the jar. The mercury would split into little pieces, and then you could just roll the jar around and the mercury pieces would merge into one blob again. Now that I think of it, water sort of does the same thing, but mercury is shinier.
Anyway, David Rizzo was doing this weird thing that he could do with his eyelids, where he folded them up, like he was folding up the visor on a cap. You could see the underside of his eyelid, all red and blood vessely. He would fold both lids, take his hands away, and the folded lids would stay folded. It looked really gross, but it was getting great reactions, so I decided to try it. Unfortunately, when I finally succeeded with one eyelid and turned to show David, my teacher saw me and called me to the front of the room. I had been in mid-giggle when she caught me, so I was smiling (and maybe laughing a little) as I walked to the front of the room. The teacher instructed me to sit down on the floor at the base of her desk so that I was facing the rest of the class. She said she was very disappointed in my behavior. I had to sit there for the rest of the lesson and was then allowed to return to my seat.
Later, at recess, David gave me his critique of my performance, not the eyelid folding, but the “come to the front of the room” walk. David was much more experienced with this walk, so he had some words of wisdom to share. “Man, you do not smile when you get called to the front of the room. You definitely do not laugh. That gets teachers really mad. Here’s what you do. You frown or look really sad or sorry. You bend your head forward like this.” He tilted his head so that his chin was hitting his collarbone. “Then you walk like this.” He took slow solemn steps, like he was going to a funeral. It was very impressive. I knew that I hadn’t done the best job, but I hadn’t realized how amateurish I must have looked.
The next day, David got in trouble for something. I don’t remember what, but when he got called to the front of the room, he kicked my desk to make sure I was watching. He then proceeded to give an Academy Award worthy performance of the contrite transgressor. I marveled at the sincerity he could feign. I vowed to do better next time.
Memory Two: My teacher read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud. I was completely transported. I was cowering in front of the White Witch, the sticky Turkish Delight coating my face. I watched in disbelief as Aslan was strapped to the stone tablet awaiting his fate. I could not believe that he could die. I was waving my sword in the battlefield alongside Peter and Susan. I have no memory of the people around me in the classroom. All I can see are the images from the story, and the teacher perched on her desk with the book in front of her face and no one at the foot of the desk. It’s the first real story that I remember loving.
Memory Three: Karl Mueller asked our teacher if we could challenge the other third grade class to a kickball game. Our teacher said yes. I remember nothing from the game, but I remember that we won. I also remember that having watched the World Series that fall, I had seen what players do when they’re celebrating a win after a really big game. Remembering that image as we were returning to the classroom, I leaped into the air and landed on Karl’s back, piggyback style.
It seemed appropriate at the time.
Karl, unfortunately, was not prepared for my celebratory leap and subsequent landing (perhaps because his eyes were on the front of his head!), so the two of us went crashing to the ground and bowled over John Myers in the process.
Fortunately, I now knew how to walk properly when I was called up to the front of the class.