Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This One Time, At Band Camp…

I’m kidding; I wasn’t even in band. I was in the color guard however, so I did get to travel with the band and, since my boyfriend played the saxophone, long trips to band competitions were the equivalent of really long dates. If you ignored the fact that you were on a cramped and drafty school bus with a hundred band geeks, that is. Hey, I didn’t say they were GOOD dates and, as usual… I digress.


When I tuck the children in to sleep at night, we share a ritual of telling each other what our favorite part of the day was. The Girl usually has some story to tell about the funny things that she and her girlfriends did during class (yesterday, she and her girlfriend laughed so hard, her friend peed in her pants! But, only a little and, god mother; don't tell anyone!) or about how she righted some injustice during her shift as a playground monitor. The Man-Cub, on the other hand, usually reports-in detail- about some loud and embarrassing bodily function that occurred to him or a classmate at some inopportune moment like say; during a sit-up in P.E. Last night, however, he sighed wearily and told me that he couldn’t pick just one favorite part of the day; he loved it all. Specifically, he loves second grade. Loves, loves, loves, the second grade! It is his favorite grade ever and, as he solemnly told me, he will never forget a moment of it.

Considering that he is, you know, his mother's son; I tend to believe him.

I started the second grade in the fall of 1975. Gerald Ford was in the White House, the Fonz was rocking around the clock on ABC and I wore bell bottoms without shame while skating around the roller rink to the lively tunes of the Bee Gees’ Jive Talkin’.

My school was quite old. New construction was a foreign concept and, increasing enrollment, a reality in our school district. So, in an effort to utilize every bit of available space, the second grade classrooms were located in the basement of the auditorium/gymnasium and dubbed the “Happy Hideaway” which was obviously, some school bureaucrats’ brilliant way to place a positive spin on the fact that we were, literally, being educated in hole in the ground (and it totally worked, by the way; we LOVED the Happy Hideaway).

My best friend at the time was a thin waif of a girl named Deborah Feiger. Debbie was beautiful in a way that second-graders cannot comprehend and over whom, adults fawn. She had blond hair that hung down to the middle of her back in cascading rivers of gold (I envied that hair with every ounce of my being, can you tell?) and huge green eyes. She was also the kindest person whom I had ever met, treating all living things with kindness and regard. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if she grew up to be a vegetarian pacifist working for the Peace Corps.

Debbie and I were in different classes in the Happy Hideaway but were inseparable on the playground. One day at recess, Debbie and I decided to collect a large mason jar full of black sugar ants; we had been studying insects in science and thought that our very own ant farm would mean the difference between merely getting by in the class and truly excelling. Plus, ant farms were cool.

There was an ant hill near our favorite tree; the Ladybug Tree (named because of a Ladybug infestation the year before) and, using a Ding-Dong from Debbie’s Happy Days lunch box, we led a trail of unsuspecting ants into a large mason jar which we then filled with dirt and sealed with a lid (the lid had plenty of air holes, Debbie was a pacifist, remember) just as the teacher on recess duty blew her whistles, signaling an end to our free time.

Debbie and I carefully carried the jar into the cement vestibule of the Happy Hideaway, down the twelve cement stairs and into the common hallway that anchored each of the partitioned classrooms. I saw our teacher, Mrs. Klecker, walking toward us, smiling her characteristic smile. When she spied the jar in Debbie’s hands, however, her face took on a most decidedly different expression and she gasped loudly. Then, she screeched at Debbie to “Get rid of those pests at once!”

This uncharacteristically shrill command on the part of Mrs. Klecker startled Poor Debbie so badly, she tripped over her yellow rain boots and the jar went sailing out of her hands and through the air. Time slowed down for me at that point and I actually saw what happens next in slow motion, or at least, that's how I remember it, today.

The jar went flyyyyying; Debbie made a valiant effort to reclaim it, leapppping forward, her small hands clawwwwing at thin air but, it was too late; the jar shattered on the cement floor, sending approximately one billion ants scurrying to every conceivable corner of the Happy Hideaway.

Time sped up again and I watched helplessly as Mrs. Klecker grabbed the first available second grader and clutched him to her like a shield while simultaneously leaping onto a chair and screaming bloody murder. Debbie hit the ground, trying desperately to scoop up as many ants as possible and I stood, mouth gaping open and unmoving, while fifty second graders scattered in every direction and two teachers joined in the screaming. Debbie eventually gave up on her effort to recapture the ants and the custodian, old Mr. Stevens was called in to vacuum up the stragglers.

I don’t remember much of what happened later that day but I can tell you that we spied black ants in various places throughout the Happy Hideaway for the rest of the year.

Debbie moved away the summer between the third and fourth grades. Her dad worked for the US Forest Service and he was transferred to Maryland that year. Debbie and I wrote to each other for a while after that; she sent me live holly leaves with one tiny berry and a wax sealing kit for Christmas one year and then we lost touch. I still think of her every time I see an old-fashioned wax seal on a letter or a black sugar ant and I still miss her.

And, you know…I still covet her hair.

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