As I think about my life, there is one year I keep coming back to. It was an odd, transitional year. A final year at one school, a wrenching move, then a new school in a whole new place. Ups and downs, shocks and clear sailing. And some slow-healing scars.
Time machine? Set the controls for 1971.
I had spent the first six months that year in Mr. Como’s sixth grade class. He was a tall man, thirty-ish, with a distinguished black handlebar mustache. Even tempered to the last. Good teacher.
In the spring we did a class outing in Boston with a visit to a French restaurant (we all took French) and then, on the spur of the moment, to his house. His wife was there, equally nice, and it was cool to see how our teacher actually lived. This would be my lasting memory of Mr. Como.
My last day at Parker Elementary also sticks in my mind, at least the end of it. After saying goodbye to my classmates, I walked down the concrete stairs of the old school one final time towards the main road. The Who song “I’m Free” played in my head, like the soundtrack to a movie.
I was free of this school, but another, unknown school loomed in my future. We were moving as a family from Lexington MA to the Lakes Region of NH.
The summer I spent in New Hampshire was like the ones from 1968-70, with me raking beaches, trimming trees, watering flowers and mowing lawns. I had never heard the term Landscape Laborer, but that’s what I was. This fall, however, there was no going back to Lexington.
Soon, those circulars with Back-To-School sales started arriving. (God, how I hated that expression, back-to-school, with the stupid pictures of apples, schoolbooks, etc.) In late August, my mother drove us to the regional high/junior high school to register her three sons.
It was a huge, cavernous building, encased in a terrible green plastic material. The sunlight could shine through it, sort of. In any case, we only saw a little piece of the inside on our visit.
First day of school. Four of us, my brothers and I plus a neighbor kid, all waited for the bus by the highway. It would be a thirteen mile trip; no seat belts, no music, no guarantee of a good seat. Luck of the draw, always.
Home room was uneventful, but then came the twin horrors of learning to dial a locker combination, and then finding my new classes in less than five minutes.
Somehow I survived the first week, then the first month. I was starting to dread one thing in particular, however: gym class. For some reason, I brought my regulation tee shirt and shorts with the Kingswood logo, but always forgot to bring sneakers. It just never occurred to me. The only way I could participate was to wear socks, which looked totally dumb.
Even after bringing the damned sneakers, gym class was no picnic. We learned the basics of football and basketball, two things I had no aptitude for. The other kids noticed. If you were good at sports, you had their respect. If not, you didn’t. I didn’t.
One mean kid, Syd, started to single me out. He was our squad leader and looked for ways to tick me off. This came to a head in the locker room one day, where he slammed my locker door shut while I was getting dressed. I objected. He then pushed his open palm into my glasses and my upper head.
I saw cartoon stars for a minute, then noticed the gym teacher standing there. He sent us to the principal, where were both got suspended for one day.
My glasses were not broken but the earpieces were stretched out.
When I got back I was the center of attention due to the ‘fight’. I didn’t want a rematch, but Syd did. I spend the next month or so avoiding this jerk. Maybe I shouldn’t have.
Finally the holidays rolled around. Family time, good food, relaxation. No school.
I did make my peace with gym class, long bus rides, and life at Kingswood Regional School. Syd and a few kids like him receded into the background. I made friends, some of the best I’ve ever had. It all took a while though.
Nineteen seventy one was a rough ride, but perhaps it would have been rough anywhere. When you’re twelve and changing schools, anything can happen. I made it through in one piece, with wobbly glasses and definitely more cautious, but otherwise unscathed.
1972 was better, and 1973 even better. Hang in there, kids.