My fifth year was a rough one.
My memories of it are hazy, but I was made to deal with losing my status as the baby of the family when James Elliot Jensen came along. James was boy number five. He was joining, from oldest to youngest; John Carl followed by Erick Hans, Edward Patrick and then finally me, Keith Lowell.
As if this wasn't enough to adjust to I started public school that same year.
There were two kindergarten classes at Home Gardens Elementary, a morning class and an afternoon class. I attend the morning class. I can recall fragments, bits and pieces, shapes, colors, moods. I remember coloring, taking naps, eating graham crackers. I remember the Jennies.
I immediately disliked the Jennies. These two girls, both named Jenny had perfectly kept long blond hair, with bangs. They were neighbors, Jehovah's witnesses and incapable of imperfection. When I spilled punch on my white shirt one or both of the Jennies would be the first to notice, and they'd make sure everyone else noticed. When I got a word wrong while reading out loud the Jennies hands would shoot up lightening fast almost as if they knew in advance that I'd blow it. I hated the Jennies. The Jennies weren't at school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. They were light years ahead of their class having been taught at home by their perfect parents. School was a place for them to learn their place in the social structure and that place was up near the top, far above me.
My one clear solid memory of Kindergarten involves making hand turkeys. A hand turkey is created by dipping your hand in a tray of paint and then using it to stamp a hand print on a piece of construction paper. Draw a beak on the thumb, add a couple of thin turkey legs to the bottom, decorate the fingers and, voila; a hand Turkey.
The kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hendricks must have been lacking in imagination as we were making hand-turkey's for Mother's Day even though we'd already made them for Thanksgiving.
My Thanksgiving hand-turkey hung proudly on that household art gallery known as the refrigerator. I decided that my new Mother's day hand-turkey should face the opposite direction. This seemed to me a stroke of creative genius and I was excited as I stood in line waiting to reach the tray of paint. The few kids in front of me each took their turn handing their right hand to the teacher and having her stamp out a hand print with it. I saw that the construction paper was in a pattern. A red piece was followed by a blue piece, then yellow, then green. I wanted yellow and by counting the number of kids in front of me I figured out that letting two kids go ahead of me would put me in just the right place.
As I reached Mrs. Hendricks I handed her my right hand while sticking my left in the tray of paint. I stamped out my turkey to be on the yellow construction paper and smiled big, beaming with pride. Still clutching my right wrist the teacher looked at me, not with amazement and adoration as I expected, but with disgust. She reached down with her free hand and crumbled my yellow construction paper into a ball which she pitched into the trash as I looked on, terrified.
"Get to the back of the line, and next time follow instruction or you will not be making a hand-turkey."
I held back my tears and I went to the back of the line, passing the smugly smiling Jennies on my way. The Jennies and the mechanical way this joyless old woman stamped hand after hand, snuffing any potential for individual expression got to me and I became more resolved to have my left hand stamped on yellow paper. Of course now I had no kids behind me to trade places with.
I reached the front and again gave the teacher my right hand. She smiled at me, figuring I'd learned my lesson. She stamped my hand print on the blue construction paper. She moved the blue piece out of the way and I made my move. My left hand shot out, into the tray of paint and onto the yellow sheet of paper. She grabbed my wrist and twisted her face into a terrifying growling site. I tried to pull away but she held tight, her nails starting to dig into my wrist.
The site of an adult out of control with rage, holding my wrist, the pain of her nails digging in, it was all too much. I reacted with defensive instinct, planting my still paint covered right hand on her face and pulling my left hand free. I grabbed the yellow paper and ran to a far corner of the room.
All of the kids were staing at me the way you'd stare at a bloody automobile accident on the side of the road. The Jennies shook their heads in unison. Mrs. Hendricks stood for a moment in shock, a blue hand print, MY blue hand print laying the foundation for a hand-turkey across her face. She looked fit to kill as she floated across the room towards me and pulled the paper from my hands. I started crying as she tore it in half. I stayed in my corner while the rest of the class went out to recess. By the time my mom arrived the teacher had regained her composure and she very sweetly explained that I was "having a difficult day."
Mom took me home, set me up with some yellow construction paper and I made her the best left handed turkey the world has ever seen.
My mom tried not to worry. All kids had a little trouble adapting to school she told herself. And I was just getting used to having a new baby around. There was nothing serious to worry about of course. I was a bright kid and I had a an insatiable appetite for books. School and I, she was sure, were going to get along just fine.