My whole life I have cultivated a goody-goody image. None of my friends or family, including my parents, could ever imagine me doing anything wrong. I was the kid in the neighborhood parents wanted their children to grow up to be like. For most of my life, I was true to that persona, but I did have one “dark” year – fifth grade. I was a regular in the principal’s office that year.
I made the most trips to the principal’s office in winter. I was a regular participant in snowball fights, which were, of course, strictly forbidden. I also loved participating in another winter activity popular at our school, sliding down the hill just north of our school in shoes whose souls my friends and I purposely wore down to a smooth surface. When the snow turned to slush and we knew a snowstorm was coming the next day, we would make slush trails down the hill, knowing that in the morning after the storm, they would be smooth ramps of ice. It was “legal” for us to go down these ice ramps while crouched down, using our hands as rudders, but going down the hill standing up (our version of skiing) was a no-no. Some of us did it anyway, usually near the end of recess. A couple of times the ground duty, who lived in my neighborhood and knew my parents, saw me “skiing” and busted me, which earned me a one-way ticket to speak with the principal, whose name I cannot even remember today.
Snow “sports” aside, I earned the privilege of meeting with the principal in other ways. One time a secretary apprehended me in the hall for entering the school too early. I was showing one of my friends in a younger grade a picture I had drawn of an old-time sailing ship. I felt the act hardly deserved the trip to the principal’s office, but I should have known better, since my classmates and I had to wait at the doors of the school for our respective teachers to come and get us to let us in. Another time I visited the principal because three of my friends and I had decided to have an acorn fight in the oak grove just south of the hill where I skied.
I misbehaved other times, but surprisingly it did not land me in the principal’s office. I was a good student in Mrs. Carter’s class. She frequently praised me for my calligraphy skills, even inviting me to demonstrate calligraphy to her class after I had moved on the sixth grade. However, when Miss Whistler, Mrs. Carter’s regular substitute, came into class, something triggered in me. For some reason, I enjoyed tormenting Miss Whistler, who was akin to Cruella DeVil, in her late 30s or early 40s, but whose amount of grey hair was astounding. My goal when Miss Whistler was around was to get my name on the board with as many checks by it as possible and see what the consequences would be. I popped off in class, sassed her, and disobeyed every single direction she gave just to see how far she would go. One time my punishment was missing lunch, having to stay in the classroom with her while my classmates went to the cafeteria and recess. Amazingly, during that lunch period Miss Whistler and I talked as if we were old friends, but once it was over, we were back at war. Another time Miss Whistler’s punishment was sending me to Mrs. O’Brien’s fourth grade classroom across the hall, which was more like a vacation than anything else because I just sat there and did nothing. Once when I disobeyed her as our class walked to a school assembly, heckling a universally disliked classmate, she “vulcaned” me as Spock would do, grabbing me between my neck and collarbone. Instead of knocking me unconscious as Spock did, I had to endure her long fingernails sinking into me and making their mark.
The principal, ground duty and Miss Whistler never contacted my parents about my dastardly escapades at Oak Hills Elementary. I never shuddered in fear at being sent to the office because there were practically no consequences – no calls to Mom and Dad and no “rap sheet” created to send to Mrs. Carter that ever made her think any less of me. The first time my parents heard about my fifth-grade misbehavior was when, as a senior in high school, me and my friends were at my house reminiscing about the good ol’ elementary days. Their eyes doubled in size after I told them, as if to say, “You did what?” But after the initial shock, they started laughing right along with us.
I am grateful I grew up when I did. If I were in fifth grade today, I could never slide under the radar and live the double life I did during the 1986-1987 school year. The principal would probably call my parents after the first infraction and the consequences would be more severe. But by the same token, if I were in fifth grade today, Miss Whistler would think twice about “vulcaning” me.