My first examination of the school year was last week. It covered Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson—both of which I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned here. The test was two short essays and one long essay. There were several options of what to write on for the long essay. I didn’t write on empathetic suffering in Mariette in Ecstasy, and I partially regret that. Take two.
My personal experience with nuns is minimal. I attended a Catholic elementary school in New Hampshire, but there were only two of them left in the teaching faculty. The sister that taught music retired form teaching during my time there. The other sister was my first grade teacher. The main thing that I remember about her was her love of whoopee pies. I’m not sure if that is how you spell the word for the two chocolate cakelets with cream in the middle, but autocorrect made it that, so I’ll take its word. My Mac is obese.
The lunch table was the central point of middle school life. It was a market of junk food and crude jokes. Cold lunchers like myself eyed the platters of hot lunchers with gut-shriveling envy. On the rare occasion I would slip into the cafeteria area and grab some garlic bread or a plate of pasta after everyone had settled into their place at a table and after my bagged lunch was depleted. I felt a bit foreign approaching the lunch ladies, but they quickly became allies. “Just take it. No one should leave the lunch room hungry.” Continue reading
Walking down the hallway had never felt as victorious as it did on school picture day in second grade. Per usual, I was rockin the pinkish chipmunk cheeks and hair waxed into what the barber lady called the Macauley Culkin (back when that was a compliment). My mom had taken me to a thrift store across the street from my first violin teacher in downtown Manchester to search for suitable attire. I girded myself with the spoils of our hunt for that school picture—a tailored Italian khaki suit. Mrs. White said I looked like a little business man. I wasn’t exactly sure what a businessman was, but I figured they at least looked good.
The rest of my elementary school pictures didn’t quite live up to the standard I set in second grade. I peaked early. Around third or fourth grade—it depends on the person—many children lose their ability to be cute without any effort. Maybe this wasn’t your experience, but third grade was the year I first snatched the packet of school portraits from my teacher’s hand, glanced at them once, and slammed them on the desk with the little plastic window facing down. Besides perhaps one or two kids who always looked good (or felt so strongly that they always looked good that the rest of us believed them) most of the class did the same with their pictures. Some of the girls would let out a small sob and/or mutter something about retake day—an occurrence that became the first meaningful experience of redemption for many of us. The guys would either simply flip the pictures over like me or take them out, laugh, and show their friends. After seeing a few pictures from the latter group, most of us realized that we all looked a little ridiculous and felt better about ourselves. Trade with a friend, pass it around, laugh a little, stop laughing, grab the picture back, place it back on the desk face down until the bell rang. And, of course, sign up for retakes.