In the Beginning (with apologies to Alison McGhee)
In the beginning, she wore dresses to school every day. (It was 4th grade before pants would be allowed). Dresses her mother made for her and her sister. In those days, her mother made most of her clothes: blue gingham a-lines with white collars and red bows, lime green pedal-pushers with green and white polka dot tops rimmed in wide rickrack, and butter yellow sleeveless dresses with sheer striped jackets and frilly petticoats that peeked out at the bottom. She loved them all…even the blue wool coat-dress with white fur trim that everyone insisted she take off thinking it was winter-outerwear.
In the beginning she took a cold lunch in a pink metal lunch box. Usually bologna or peanut butter sandwiches on white bread with a banana and carrot slices. Once in a while there was a store-bought dessert, but being the eldest of her then 5 siblings, that was rare. Even so, every day when she sat at the smooth, cold lunch tables, she opened the metal clasp on the lunchbox anticipating a sweet surprise as though she were opening a shiny, wrapped gift at Christmas, hoping for a Hostess Snowball or Twinkie.
In the beginning, she cried every time her mommy dropped her off at her kindergarten classroom, scared of leaving the safety of her mother’s presence, and oh so shy, she was. She loved the smell of crayons and lead pencils and smooth workbooks. She loved story time and sat quietly on her rug while Pippi Longstocking led Tommy and Anika on wild adventures. Every morning as her mother did her hair for school, she would tell her little sister “Today I will come home and read you a story because at school you learn to read.” And every afternoon, she would sit with her sister and pretend to read a story because in those days you didn’t really start to learn to read until first grade.
In the beginning, she walked the mile or so to school, often alone. She would skip along the asphalt, sometimes singing silly songs to herself. When she felt brave, she would go “the field way” and breathe in the scent of blue mustard and sagebrush as she scuffed the dust from the narrow trail.
In the beginning her teacher’s had names like Mrs. Staples, Mrs. Roundy, Mrs. Foot and if you were lying on the blanket embroidered with your name during rest time and noticed a tear in your skirt? Well, they would shhh you with a finger to their lips, pointing you back to you resting place until the bell rang before they would help you find a safety pin to close the gap that showed your red Tuesday underpanties.
In the beginning, the running to her mommy waiting at the flagpole was the best part of her day, her chubby round hand held firm in the slender fingers of her mother’s artist hands.
Today she holds her mother’s hand in hers, the fingers still slender but dotted with age spots and wrinkles. And it is still the best part of her day.
Next week’s word: “Tape”