It's the fifty-fourth week of my Tuesday's Truths series! It is also the day after Labor Day, which may be the first day back to school for a number of children. Readers of this blog will surely have memories of their own school days, and especially that first day back to school after a summer vacation.
I came across this PEANUTS strip in my newsfeed this past Friday this past Friday. It caused me to think of my elementary school days, when the first day of school meant having to write about one's summer vacation.
And here's a nine year-old's essay on her summer vacation. (Warning, like Sally, the essayist sounds like her summer — and other times — have gone down the drain too.)
My mother and father sit on the steps of our front porch talking about how hot the summer has been. They have a small transistor radio outside and I am singing softly along to a song called Puff the Magic Dragon. It’s about “frocking in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.” I don’t understand all the words------especially the part about “Jackie Paper” but I like it anyway.
I stand behind them leaning against the screen door. It is late at night, and usually at this time, they would have made me go to bed. However, we’ve just returned home from celebrating my ninth birthday with a dinner at a nice restaurant, while my sister spends the evening with my grandparents, and since school won’t be starting for a few days, my parents aren’t sending me to bed early.
I am happy because I have finally learned how to ride a bike. My sister already knew how as did most of the other kids on the black. It was my dad who had taught me; he had taken me to the parking lot at the high school down the street and had explained that he would love me whether I could ride a bike or not, and felt I was going to continue to feel badly when everyone but me could ride.
I have some coordination problems because I don’t see very well, and I’d been afraid to try to ride. Now, I’m so happy I’ve learned and can’t wait to ride my bike to school. As I stand on the porch, I think about riding a bike to school, and I’m so glad to be able to stay up late. I hate going to bed before they do because I am always afraid I will miss out on something.
I usually lie in bed trying to listen to what they are saying in their hushed tones, but I often can’t hear their conversation because they have the volume of the TV turned high. I know they don’t like it when I don’t go right to sleep, so most nights I pretend to be asleep.
But, sometimes when they watch The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and, I hear Ed McMahon’s booming voice shout, “And now here’s..." I wait for his voice to drop. Then, I take a deep breath, and shout out in unison with him, “Johnny!”
For some reason this makes my mother angry. She yells from the den, “Go to sleep!” Then my father comes into my bedroom with his belt to hit me so that I learn to do what I’m told.
Tonight is different. We are enjoying the night air and watching the fireflies, when from out of nowhere, a yellow Chevy with a statue of the Virgin Mary dangling from the rear view mirror slows down as it passes out house. I recognize it to be the car of Juanita and Jose Sanchez. Usually, when my parents are sitting outside and they see the Sanchez car, they get up quickly and go inside our house. Mr. Sanchez always stops his car alongside our house. Then Mrs. Sanchez gets out and comes to talk to my mother.
Evidently, Mrs. Sanchez is constantly receiving subscriptions to magazines, and because her English is limited, wants my mother to contact the various magazine companies to stop the delivery of them. This has been going on ever since the day their daughter, Little-Sonia Sanchez, helped my mother.
It happened that Little-Sonia Sanchez, who lives at the other end of the street from us, was playing outside in a field kitty-corner from our house. A stray white cat that was big and dingy, and had a fat tail, somehow got into our home. My mother, who is very afraid of cats had begun to scream. My father was at work at the time and I was at school.
When she heard my mother scream, Little-Sonia came to see what was wrong. In all the years that the Sanchez family has lived down the street, my mother has never spoken to them. She seems afraid of the people who are different from herself. That day she was more afraid of the cat than the Sanchez family, so she let Little-Sonia inside the house to take the cat away and gave her a box of Fannie May candies as a reward.
From that day on, Mrs. Sanchez would stop my mother in the grocery store, at the post office---wherever she saw her---to thank her again for the special candy and to ask her how to stop magazine subscriptions.
My father had been furious to know the a Sanchez had been inside our house. “I don’t see why you don’t tell her ‘Adios,’ now we’ll never get rid of her,” he said, but now he suddenly starts laughing so hard that he can barely speak, but he managed to say, "Yesterday, garbage trucks were on the street, I saw that Sanchez woman run after them. Her hair was in rollers and I could see her nightgown hanging below her coat. I hear her yell to them ‘am I too late for the garbage?"
At this point, my father begins to cry because he is laughing so hard, “Do you know what the garbage men said to her?” He doesn’t wait for my mother to respond.
He takes a breath, then says, “The garbage-men told her ‘you’re not too late for the garbage, senorita, jump right in!"
Then my father roars with laughter as he repeats the words, “You’re not too late for the garbage, senorita, jump right in.”
“Hush,” my mother says, but she is smiling as she puts her finger to her lips, “Don’t let the neighbors hear you.”
I’ve been listening intently to the matter about the Sanchez family as I stand against our front screen door, directly behind the step where my parents are sitting. All of a sudden, I lose my balance, and fall to the bottom of the cement steps, landing on my wrist. I can hear it crunch as the weight of my body presses into it.
"I broke my wrist,” I cry out. My mother puts her fingers to her lips and murmurs.“Shh, its late, you’ll wake up the neighbors.”
My father then lights a cigarette and inhales deeply before saying, “I knew something like this would happen if we let her stay up late.”
“Well, you know what they say,” my mother answers, “after laughing comes crying.”
For the next few days my wrist throbs. I can’t even hold a glass of water. When I grimace, my mother says I am being overly dramatic. It is not until my mother and I are in the check-out line at the IGA Food Mart and run into Mrs. Sanchez, that my mother finally agrees to take me to a doctor. This is because when Mrs. Sanchez sees my wrist swollen; she begins making the sign of the cross over the injured arm. Everyone in line at the grocery store begins to look and whisper. My mother responds to Mrs. Sanchez in a loud voice saying that we are on our way to have my wrist X-rayed.
I feel victory when the doctor says that my wrist is broken. I want my parents to be the first ones to autograph my cast. I glow with a strange sense of satisfaction as they scrawl their names on the white plaster.
I am glad to have my arm in a sling because it makes me feel special. I am convinced that when school begins in a few weeks in September, the plaster cast will be sure to make me popular. I imagine that the boys will carry my books for me. I begin to think of things that I might say if people ask how I injured my wrist.
I daydream of what I can say about how I broke. Perhaps I can tell them that I was riding a horse while on a family camping trip and that the horse started galloping so fast that I was thrown off. I try to picture the kids’ faces as I tell them the story. Most of them had probably never been on a horse. I will probably be the envy of the class. Or, perhaps, I will tell them that I had gone to Sweden to visit my pen pal and that I had fallen while hiking with her in the mountains. Surely, that will make them find me interesting.
But, when school starts, I am quiet when the other kids ask me how I had wounded my wrist. I just shrug and look away. All the little things I had fantasized about saying stick in my throat. A strange fear has wrapped itself around me. I’m fearful that if I make up a story, someone will find out, then tease and mock me for falling off a porch.
The truth is I am not as afraid of people taunting me for being clumsy, as I am of having them know that my mother had not believed me that my wrist was broken, and had waited a long time before taking me to the doctor. I don’t want anyone to know that I am such an unworthy person that my parents didn’t take me to a doctor as soon as the accident happened.
The first day of school the teacher tells my class to write about our summer vacation. She hands out ruled paper and ball point pens. This is new for me. In prior years, my teacher had only let the students use paper with no lines and write with number two pencils. I don’t like lined paper because I can’t see well enough to keep my writing on the lines; it is always spilling over into the spaces between them. I’m not looking forward to using pens either. They make me uneasy because they are more permanent. Using ink makes it difficult to erase what I write. Now I am even more apprehensive about writing the assignment of how I spent my summer vacation.
Even though I have broken my wrist and have a story to tell, I do not know what to put in my essay. I stare at the paper and the words stay in my head. All I can write is my name and where I live. I have so much to express, but I am afraid to put it on paper. There was a time I felt safe about writing because it was in a locked diary; but one day my mother had found the key to it, read everything, and punished me about what I had written. Instead of concentrating on my thoughts, I look around the classroom and wonder what the other kids are writing about their summer vacation.
It is hard to write with my cast. I have broken the wrist of my right hand which is the one I use to write. I am not ambidextrous and with this cast, my penmanship is worse than ever; and, as a result the teacher writes with red ink all over my paper.
In the margin at the top of my essays she writes in bold letters “SEE ME AFTER CLASS!!!!!” She penalizes me for my poor penmanship and makes me stay after school to practice writing on the lined paper. She even tells one of the popular girls from the class that she will give her extra credit if she can stay and assist me by holding the pen in my hand so that I might be better able to form my letters to look like the Palmer Method of Script.
A chart of this method of cursive script forming the twenty-six letters of the alphabet on lined paper is posted about the chalkboard. As my fellow student forces my hand, from in its cast to make the letters like hers; having a broken wrist no longer offers the possibility of making me feel special.