First grade: Tuff-Nuts all the way around

Published 10:59 pm Friday, September 2, 2011

Just how Mama got me in first grade when I was only 5 years old, I don’t know. She must have paid off the teacher, “Miss” Barney Burnett, or maybe even the school board. Given the fits that I was pitching to go to school, Mama probably would have resorted to anything short of murder to get me in.

My best friend in all the world, Betty Kay, turned 6 in June and she was going to first grade. Kindergarten had not been invented yet. All my playmates in the neighborhood were already going to school or about to start. I didn’t want to be left at home by myself so I did what I did best at age five. I pitched a fit.

And that worked. I got to go to school.

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That was the biggest day of my life. Aunt Eleanor and Mugi, my grandmother, came from Eufaula to see me off. Mugi made me a dress with a sash that she tied so tight it made my tongue stick out and made me have to go to the bathroom. “Don’t want it to come loose,” Mugi said.

I had a new pair of shoes that squeaked and pinched my toes, but I didn’t care because they were “school” shoes. Mama pulled back my hair with barrettes and that made my hair frizz out on both sides. I looked like a girl. I did not like that.

I got a blue writing tablet with a picture of a horse on the front, three yellow pencils and a book satchel. I was going to go home for dinner, so I didn’t get a lunch box even though I wanted one.

Our mamas took Betty Kay and me to school the first day. Mugi and Aunt Eleanor peeked out from behind the curtain and watched us go.

My teacher, “Miss” Barney Burnett, was about a hundred years old and smelled like dusting powder. But she was nice. She said she was so happy to have two pretty, sweet little girls like me and Betty Kay in her room.

She wouldn’t have thought we were sweet if she knew that we fought all the time and wouldn’t stop until one of us drew blood.

That’s all there was to the first day of school. That was Friday. Monday was Labor Day so we didn’t go to school.

Back then, children were smarter than they are now. We learned all we needed to know between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Then we got to stay home all summer and play.

On the first “real” day of school, I squeaked off in my new shoes and was as happy as I could be until I got in my room. “Me and Betty Kay” didn’t know any of those children except William Junior and Bennie Carol and they didn’t play with us.

William Junior went off and played with the boys and Bennie Carol played with a girl that could play songs on the toy piano. Everybody else just made it, “plink, plink.”

When we went out to play, I went down the sliding board and my dress slid up and my bare bottom stuck on the metal and brought me to an unexpected stop. Before I could get going again, the third-grade boy behind me came zooming down and knocked me headfirst the rest of the way down. That hurt.

I spent the rest of play period trying to figure out how I could get out of going to school.

“Nobody will play with me except Betty Kay,” I whined to Mama.

“Most all of those children are Baptists,” Mama said. “They already know each other.”

I didn’t know what a Baptist was but I knew they weren’t nice. I didn’t like Baptists and never wanted to be one.

But Mama said I’d pitched a fit to go to school and I had to go. So, the next day, I took my Teddy bear, Tim, and I put my Tuff-Nut pocketknife in my book satchel.

If nobody played with me, I’d just play with Tim.

Every morning, I put my Tuff-Nut pocketknife in my desk where Mrs. Barney Burnett couldn’t see it. But those Baptists knew I had it and they didn’t know what I might do with it. Me and Betty Kay were good friends but we’d fight each other and we might fight them, too.

Before long, I could pump those wood-bottomed swings higher then anybody else. I tried to go over the top but “Miss” Barney Burnett would holler, Oooooh. Don’t do that. You’ll get killed.” So I didn’t.

I could skip two bars on the monkey bars. The Baptists started playing with me and I learned to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the toy piano.

School got to be more fun so I left Tim at home.

I left the Tuff-Nut pocketknife in my book satchel … just in case of a backsliding Baptist.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor at The Messenger. She’s a lifelong Methodist.