Monday, August 14, 2006


First Grade - Lawrenceburg, Tennessee
Finished First Grade – Harriman Elementary - Harriman, Tennessee
Second & Third Grades – Walnut Hill Elementary – Harriman, Tennessee
Fourth Grade – Harriman Elementary – Harriman, Tennessee
Finish Fourth Grade – Lawrenceburg, Indiana
Fifth Grade – Shwab Elementary – Nashville, Tennessee
Sixth Grade – Florence, Alabama
Seventh, Eighth, & Ninth Grades – Waverly, Tennessee
Tenth Grade – Florence, Alabama
Eleventh Grade – South Harriman, Tennessee
Twelfth Grade – Harriman, Tennessee

I attended these eleven schools in my first twelve years of education. Discounting for there being some comfort from at least a few familiar faces in some the classrooms, they collectively represent nine first days at school. There was no psychology in those days, so believes my mother, but regardless of what my mother says, it did exist to me and these were very traumatic events in my life. She thinks all the moving around and the first days of school were an exercise in character building. “All that psychology and trauma stuff is just in your head – get over it!”

“But momma, that’s why I don’t have any real friends outside of family. I didn’t grow in the same place with anyone!”

“Why, there are kids that would have loved to move around like you!”

“Well, I wish we’d brought some of them along, maybe now, I’d have a friend or two.”

Seriously, I would have never made friends at all had I not been so darn good-looking and witty. Instead, I would have run from the school buildings screaming and hidden out in the woods and/or hills nearby.

I did make new friends along the way, but I have no idea where there are today – did they ever leave that little town, did they ever think about me as I thought about them? Probably not, and honestly, I did not waste much time on them either.

Two of the most intimidating first days at school were the transitions made in the middle of my first and fourth years of school.

The first grade was made more terrifying by the mere fact it was my first year in school. Not only did I have to endure leaving the comfort of having my mom nearby twice in the same year, but also all those strange new faces magnified my isolation, embarrassment, and fear. I remember standing in front of the class, hearing the soon to be familiar announcement “Everyone, this is Mushy (not his real name). He is new here so be nice to him and make him welcome”, and breaking out in full face contorting, lip quivering, sniffling, air-sucking, snot and slobber dripping bawl - right in front of God and everybody!

Luckily for me, the teacher, a handsome redhead, if memory serves me, took me into her arms, lifted me onto her lap, and held me for a few minutes. During this time, her son, who was also in the class, got very jealous, and came up to her side. She lifted him onto her other leg and sat there holding us until we calmed down.

The transition in the middle of my fourth year was also a cultural transition. We had moved from the Deep South to Indiana, and since my dad was now working construction as an electrician for TVA, we bought our first “house trailer.” A “trailer” is not to be confused with today’s “pre-manufactured home,” these were small and the wheels stayed on, aired up, and ready to roll! So, not only was I knew, from the South and had a strange accent, I was also “trailer trash!”

It took me a few weeks to make friends there, but somehow, maybe curiosity about and the amusement of my accent actually helped win a few over. I also took a lot of ribbing about “losing the war” and words like “supper and yawl,” but I overcame the abuse with a few burning phrases of my own.

“You go’na eat supper? That’s dinner man!”

“Yawl go eat what you want to eat and I’ll eat what I wa’na eat.”

“Yeah, well, ‘yawl’ lost the war Johnny Reb!”

“Yeah, well we thought yawl was fightin’ fer our women, so when we found out who yawl was really fightin’ fer, well, we just quit!”

They were usually left stammering around for some appropriate comeback, but it never seemed to come.

But first days at school are distressing and there is no one to go through it with you. You stand alone, seemingly defenseless and naked, before a class of students who moments before may have hated each other, but now have the common cause of mistrust and turf defense to bond them together against an outsider. To them you are there to make them look weak or dumber than they already were, or to make them look stronger or smarter than they were, but they do not know which yet. You are there to take their girlfriends or to bust up a perfectly good clique – “and we can’t have that.”

So, in comes the teacher to save you and announces, “Everyone, this is Mushy (not his real name). He is new here, he lives in a trailer down by the railroad, and has just moved up from the Deep South, so be nice to him and make him welcome.”


Marie said...

Three cheers for the redheaded teacher.

It is amazing, the good that one nice person can do.

jeff wilson said...

Dude, yer scaring me again. I went to kindergarten in Wichita Falls, TX., the first and second grades in England (first grade twice- still don't know what the hell that was all about), third through fifth in K.C. Mo., sixth and seventh (each in a different school) in San Antonio, where dad retired from the Air Force after 32 years, and then eighth through grad school in Ft. Worth.

My sister, born six years earlier, went to a different school almost each year until high school. Thinks I had it easy. We always thought that we would have been happier and had an easier time making and keeping friends if we'd have lived all those years in one place, the way our parents did. Always envied our cousins who never left Bell county, Texas. But as an adult, I appreciate more and more the wider view of the world that I had growing up. More cosmopolitan, less provincial and xenophobic.

My cousins now say that they were all envying us, living in England and traveling all the time. of course, my sister and I are both single, childless loners who don't mix easily, while the cousins are all slathered in kids and grandkids and friends they've known all their lives. We both developed our internal lives more, while they developed external lives, or somethin' like that.

One summer between England and Missouri, about 1970, we spent a few months in the summer in Nebraska where my dad finished his BA. I only remember spending a lot of time playing with the dog in the basement. No friends. No other memories. Aside from our pets, I think I had maybe two friends my entire childhood. But you know, there are people who live their entire lives somewhere and only have two friends. So, I guess everyone envies something the other has, but you've got to deal with the hand yer given. Your parents chose a life and you've got to go along and live it too.

Got lots of friends now, but still only one or two who're close. Don't have anything in common with the cousins, accept one who's dad was that Army MP colonel I told you about. They moved around too, as you can imagine. He's basically my older brother now. Talk all the time, and go fishing in Canada every year.

There are probably a hell of a lot of people like us out there, what with the way the country developed in the last half of the 20th century. The way I look at it now, most people have their lives, or the way they perceive their possibilities set down for them by time and place. We get to decide for ourselves who and what we are, and where we come from. Wouldn't change it for anything.

Mushy said...

I suppose I wouldn't change it either, especially since I now have a close family through my wife. Without them, I would be a lonely kind of guy, but am very happy.

You're right though...kind of scary to connect with someone with similar backgrounds.

More on that later...

Becky said...

I was an Army brat, so I moved around a lot, too, though not nearly as much as you did. Nice of the teacher to specifically call out your differences to help you make friends at a time when commonality is so important.

PinkJeweledCat said...

Dear Mushy,

I feel your pain. We moved four times when I was growing up. I didn't like it because we were there long enough for me to make good friends, only to have to say goodbye a couple years later. I married an Army man, and we've moved twice so far. We're moving back down to GA in late September, and after about two years, hubby will retire and we'll move one last time. I figure we'll most likely wind up somewhere near St. Louis, MO. We really need the stability for two of our sons, since they have conditions that are going to make them stand out from the other kids. It's my hope that I'll be able to make these moves as easy as possible on them. In case you're wondering about the time of my comment, the baby woke up and wouldn't go back to sleep. So I thought I'd come see what my friend Mushy posted today. Ta for now dahling.

Alisa said...

Oh man... have I ever been there and done that!

3rd Grade... Queen of the Holy Rosary
4th Grade... St Francis of Assisi
5th Grade... Paul E. Culley
6th Grade... Mabel Hogard 6th Grade Center
7th Grade... J Harold Brinley JR High
8th Grade... Blue Valley Middle School
9th Grade... Blue Valley High school

(at least the last 2 were in the same school district!)

I can empathize with your plight. It's easy to make a lot of acquaintances, but outside of the family, it's difficult to sustain lasting friendships.

Alisa said...

I would like to add on to my post:

My two younger sisters were very fortunate in the fact that when we settled down into our forever home, they were still in elementary school so they had the luxury of going through elementary, middle school and high school with the same group of kids. They have no problems developing lasting friendships and lasting relationships.

It kinda gives the nurture argument some credence in outside events influencing our development.

I'm not nearly as well developed in my social skills as they are, but I can walk into a room full of strangers and always find something to talk about with anyone.

Mushy said...

It appears there are a lot of us out there. Yes, I have always been pretty good at conversations, and in school I moved between different cliques easily, but was never included as a permanent part of either.