Tom Cramer was born in Chicago, and grew up on the southwest side. He will be writing a series of nostalgic posts about growing up in the 1970s, and invites readers to share their own memories in the comments.
All the seasonal back-to-school hoopla makes me think of my own rocky introduction to elementary school. Kindergarten: God was I scared. I didn't want to go at all. I hated to wake up early in the morning. I remember having trouble falling asleep the night before. The next thing I know, my father bursts into my bedroom, snaps open the blinds, letting a flood of sunshine fall across my little fat face, all while humming the bugle call "Reveille." He was having a blast.
Me, not so much; I was shy as hell. I didn't know how to relate very well to kids my own age. Since my closest sibling is my sister, who is 14 years older than me, I was always surrounded by adults, and spoiled by attention. This was different, but it was kind of exciting too -- a room full of happy, active kids my own age. Thank God the teacher was a patient, calm, blond-haired angel named Ms. Svec.
I loved story time, where we would all sit still and listen to Ms. Svec read to us. I remember going outside for recess, or more specifically, the times I couldn't go because I was in trouble (probably for talking too much -- I had quickly warmed up to all the other kids.) I remember not being able to stay inside the lines when we colored. But the one thing that sticks out in my mind is the primary colors. I think it was kind of a transparent paint swatch type of thing, where all the swatches were fastened at one end, but you could select and move different swatches over each other. Red and Yellow made Orange. Red and Blue made Purple. Blue and Yellow made Green. It fascinated me. No wonder I ended up in the printing industry so many years later.
The start of first grade had me happy and confused all at the same time: Ms. Svec was my teacher again, only she was now she was named Mrs. Jennings. Apparently she got married over the summer. Not cool. Didn't she know I loved her?
This year was my introduction to getting bullied, overcoming bullies, and standing up for myself. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and there was a tough kid who lived on my street named Danny. He had a brother one or two years older named Donny. So Danny was used to being the low man on the totem pole. Once we started to walk to school, he would grab me by my jacket as if to show he "owned me." He was used to fighting, or probably more accurately getting beat up by Donny, but I wasn't and I was timid.
It started to bother me when the other kids noticed and started to tease me. It took me a long, long time, but finally I stood up to him. We didn't fight, but he knew I was sick of the whole thing and prepared to do so. He finally stopped. But the damage was done; other kids had noticed I could be picked on and of course they wanted to pick on me as well.
I had this awful fake fur winter coat with a hood. It was an electric blue fake fur, and the jacket was reversible, the idea being that when it was really cold you could have the fur side touching your skin. I never liked it that way, and so I usually had the fur facing outwards. I think it made me look like a little blue teddy bear with my round cheeks. And for some crazy reason, the coat reminded the other kids of this brightly colored candy, Razzles. Anyway all the other kids started pretending they could "pick" razzles out of the fur and eat them.
It was amusing the first day, but I quickly tired of it. Eventually, so did everyone else except one annoying kid named Glen. One Friday after school I finally snapped, and for the first time, I beat someone up. I mean, I wailed on this kid. What I didn't really think through was the wisdom of beating him up directly outside our classroom window.
On Monday, Mrs. Jennings asked me to stay after school. Those who overheard gave me the "ooh, you're in trouble" treatment. I can't remember exactly what she said, but she was pretty fair and reasonable. Basically, she explained that I didn't seem like the type to fight, I should think about why I did it, and if I found myself in a similar situation, she said, "next time make sure you're off school grounds."
She was a cool lady.
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