grade school collage

"First Grade: Day of the Living Dread"

By Jeff Owenby

The only thing missing from Mrs. Brandt's desk area was a chained Pit Bull. My introduction to school was probably the worst entry in the ranks of elementary school and generally soured my opinion of the entire public school system. My first grade teacher was Mrs. Brandt. As an instructor, she was seemed horrible, and with her, I'd fine tuned an immediate hate relationship. She had the personality of burnt coffee grounds and the body of the Amazing Colossal Man. My first grade class was about as pleasant as a torrential bout of diarrhea.

Mrs. Brandt ran an indisputably tight ship complete with corporal punishment. We had one kid who was a regular and received a weekly paddling like clockwork. I must have felt that he got far too much of the glory, for I too was eventually granted audience with our lustrous head disciplinarian. Finally, as the months passed, I learned to overcome my own personal prejudices. I began to quantify, and consider my actions. I strived and strived until I understood our teacher, and on that great day of awareness, the knowledge of it all came to me in a flash of revelation. I hated her.

First grade was more of an ordeal than an education. The only thing I did well was lunch. I can recall on those first days of school, the sunny afternoons, and the grandeur of opening up my submarine lunchbox. Inside my peanut butter and jelly sandwich tucked away neatly in wax paper. The metal lunchbox trapped the wonderful smells of peanut butter and jam layered between bread.

The lunchbox itself was a beautiful creation, rendered with dynamic paintings of actual naval submarines. The underwater views of them seemed altogether mysterious and powerful. They were sleek, silent, and shaped oddly. The matching thermos was equally impressive sporting a picture of a sub commander looking through a periscope. The military in general had a profound effect on my play time and influenced my need for adventure far more than anything else I can think of. The submarine lunchbox was just a precursor to my future as a young soldier who would no doubt be emotionally and physically scarred in numerous neighborhood battles.

Meanwhile, back in class, lunchtime continued. Outside the classroom window, there was sun, and games on the playground involving the older kids. How grand life was outside that window when the last days of sun and crisp fall air were within the grasp of the partially opened glass. The milk in the submarine thermos was plainly the best milk ever poured.

The greatest things I'd ever encountered in that crazy year of discover in1960 were Crazy Ikes. These little plastic put-together creatures were intriguing, and the colors were so vivid that I couldn't get them out of my mind. It seemed incomprehensible that a guy should have to concern himself with the tedium of penmanship, and the banality of reading. Those beautiful Ikes awaited me on the school room play shelf. Each day I waited, but someone else always beat me to them. I was getting tired of waiting. I had "Ikes" fever. I would even dream about them, after all, there was nothing more to look forward to in school but lunch and Crazy Ikes.

More days passed, more lifetimes had been spent cloistered away inside a lunatic asylum run by a demented head mistress. Still no Ikes; I saw my life passing in front of me. Then it came to me! I knew what I would do. I would refuse to learn anything until I got to play with those Crazy Ikes. Of course, refusing to learn anything wasn't really in Warden Brandt's curriculum. So, despite my brief flights of anarchy, I learned how to make A's and B's and even G's on a special three-lined tablet. I learned passages of monumental literature such as "See Dick Run. Run, Dick, Run."

Finally, the day came! Some moron in the class had decided that he didn't want to play with them on that day. (I refer to the masculine sense as the girls in my class weren't interested in Crazy Ikes). The Ikes were mine at last. I played, I enjoyed wonderful moments of creativity with creatures whose DNA were comprised of bright colored plastic and snap-fit ends. I created figures, animals, and anything else I could think of in the small allotted time we had for personal growth.

Another toy that fascinated me to no end was a large wooden duck puzzle. The pieces were large and clunky, and it was so easy to put together. Psychologically speaking, this may have been a telling of my future as I seemed to gravitate toward entertainment challenges that were easy to meet. The puzzle still held a strong attraction to me though. I believe it was more the allure of large shapes that separate were interesting, yet worked even better as a whole assemblage.

Highlights of first grade beyond the incarceration of the classroom came during the evenings. The school often hosted movies in the gymnasium. The admission price was one can of food that would be donated to a local drive. Kids sat on the bleachers in a darkened gym, ate popcorn that was sold in bags for ten cents, and watched some of the finest cinematic moments in celluloid history. Often, we would return to see the same movie night after night until the schedule changed. Two of my favorites were "Toby Tyler" and "Swiss Family Robinson."

And so ends my tale of the first grade. Hopefully this little entry will not leave people scarred or emotionally damaged, but rather fortified in the knowledge that great strength is attainable through monumental suffering.