Big Changes

Big Changes (part of my Blowing on Embers series)

My year in the yellow house was pretty eventful, but so was the next place we lived: Thrift Road in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was where my youngest brother was born, where I started school and learned to read—a lifetime passion.

The night before my first grade school picture was to be taken, I took a pair of scissors to my hair.

It was where our family listened to the 1952 presidential election results. “Who are we for, Mommy?” It was where I got my first pet, a blonde cocker spaniel-spitz mix we named Boots and where she died from injuries received when she was hit by a car a few months later.

It was where I went from measles to chickenpox in one fell swoop, missing an entire three weeks of school. (Remember, this was before today’s age of vaccines.) I was so sick! And it was where my across-the-road neighbor, Mary Ann, told me she was adopted and had me convinced I was, too, a conviction so powerful that it had me searching for proof among my parents’ papers for five years.

Charlotte was where I was terrorized by the hundreds—hundreds—of snakes that slithered out of a weedy field and across our driveway after a heavy summer rain with me in their midst. I’d never seen a snake, but I’d picked up from somewhere (certainly not from my wildlife-loving parents and not from TV—we didn’t have one of those) that snakes were to be feared more than death itself. I leapt onto the bottom rail of the chain link fence that enclosed our back yard, my tiny hands clutching the links for dear life, and screamed bloody murder till my parents came out to save me. My snakes turned out to be nothing more than slugs!

Thrift Road must have extended further then than it does now because I was able to walk to Thomasboro School, just a few blocks away. According to current maps, it’s much too far a distance for a first grader to walk. Today’s roads in that neighborhood (like Freedom Road and I-85) are also far too busy for children to walk them safely.

We had a school-wide assembly on my very first day where the principal, Mr. Curlee, announced that he had locked up all bicycles that had been improperly parked (whatever that meant). I thought that was so mean! Mr. Curlee terrified me.

I’d swear that my teacher, Mrs. Howie, was older than these mountains I live among today. For reasons I won’t go into, I thought she was mean, too. But she must have been an effective teacher. I started school at a distinct disadvantage: all my classmates had a year of kindergarten under their belts, but I’d just moved from South Carolina where there was no public kindergarten. As a result, everyone else in my first grade class was well ahead of me both academically and socially in the beginning. It must not have taken long for me to catch up, though, because my report card (yes, of course I still have it) was stellar in every way, even when I missed a full 30% of a grading period because of those childhood diseases.

My report card cover. How very Dick and Jane.

We lived in Charlotte a mere sixteen or seventeen months before returning to Florence. I’d been in second grade for just days when we made the move. When I walked into Briggs Elementary School, a few days into the South Carolina school year, as well, whose do you think was the first face I saw? Teddy’s! We were reunited! It was more than I’d ever dared hope for. I had long since resigned myself to the certainty that our paths would never again cross.

In my elation at this happy surprise, I told my newfound girlfriends that Teddy and I already knew each other, that he was, in fact, my long lost boyfriend. When they didn’t seem to believe me, I did what may have been—to this day—the boldest and most uncharacteristic thing of my entire life. I told them I’d prove it by kissing Teddy one hundred times! I had to chase him down at recess, but I did it.

We never spoke again.

My third grade class. For some reason, I don’t have a second grade picture, but with the exception of the teacher, the cast is the same. (That’s me way back there in the last seat of the row next to the wall.)  Miss Milliken was our second grade teacher. Our exotic, red-headed third grade teacher was Miss Whitlock. I adored them both.

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