Sun Dress War
“Welcome to the first grade boys and girls,” Miss Kendrick said with a tight smile.
An air of anxiety rippled through the room, as the truth sunk in. First grade was nothing like kindergarten. Miss Kendrick, with her pinched face and permanent frown, was far from our twinkly, smiling kindergarten teacher.
Every morning as the class began we greeted the teacher in unison. “Good morning Miss Kendrick.”
“Good morning, Class. Will you please bow your heads for the Lord’s prayer.”
We all bowed our heads and murmured the prayer.
“Now everyone rise for the the pledge of allegiance.” We recited in the sing-song manner of children, and moved on to the song ‘God bless America’, or sometimes ‘America the Beautiful’.
One day Miss Kendrick frowned, deeper than usual. She stood in front of her desk, arms crossed. “I would like to hear each of you recite the pledge of allegiance, one at a time, starting with you, Stuart.”
After each recital, she gave a short nod of approval. My mouth went dry as my turn edged closer. There was a section of the pledge that just didn’t seem right. Why is that boy so special? I thought. It can’t be right. But then, what is it?
“ I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America. And to the republic for Richard stands…” I paused, casting a glare at Richard. Before I could utter the next line, the class erupted with laughter.
“Stop that. Stop that right now.” Miss Kendrick clapped hard. The laughter cut short. Letting out a frustrated sigh, she gave her head a slow shake. “No Lee. It isn’t for Richard stands.”
-A titter of laughter from the class. “It’s for which it stands.”
A shift took place. Beside the humiliation of the moment, I sensed that I had slipped into the dumb kid category, joining the ranks of Cindy and Mark. This feeling galvanized, weeks later, when Miss Kendrick passed out mimeographed pictures of a barn. “Pull out your crayons, Class, and color the barn red.”
“Yay, art, I thought, pulling out the luscious red crayon. With head tilted in concentration, I colored the barn twice, deepening the red and achieving better coverage. But, the barn didn’t look right. It needed something.
I pulled a crayon from the box and colored the door green. There. That looks good. Putting my crayons away, I looked around the room, hands folded, and waited for the other students to finish, pleased with my barn.
Miss Kendrick walked up and down the aisles, pausing here and there, to comment on a student’s work. She stopped above my desk. Her brows pulled together, lips compressed. Snatching my picture off the desk, she held it high for the class to see.
“I said, color the barn red. Lee can’t even follow simple instructions. She colored the barn door green.” Miss Kendrick made a show of crumpling my paper and fired it into the trash bin.
Some of my classmates ignored me at recess. They had always been friendly before, and had included me in their games. I grappled with a shift in my confidence. Sadness altered my Annie goals. To strong and brave I added liked.
One scorching spring day in early June, I arrived at class wearing a sun dress that my mother had sewn. The dress had straps with a pretty floral design. Miss Kendrick leaped from her chair and grabbing my arm, yanked me from my seat.
“This is disgusting,” she shrieked, shaking me hard. You are obscene.” The length of the straps had allowed the top of one little nipple to peek above the dress line.
I stood by her desk, tears streaking down my cheeks, while she wrote a note to my mother siting the obscenity of my attire. “You get home right now and change your clothes.”
No one in the class laughed. None of us even knew what obscene meant. They watched in shocked silence as I ran out the door.
“Obscene? How dare she.” My mother ripped up the note, with a temper to match Miss Kendrick’s.
“You are not changing your clothes. How could that dress possibly be obscene? You’re six years old, for God’s sake.”
I returned after lunch to the school. To make a point, Mom had dressed me with her white, pearl button cardigan. She rolled up the sleeves and added long white kid gloves. To complete my outfit, she crowned me with a flowered straw hat. I still wore the offending dress.
In a rage, Miss Kendrick spanked me. “I will not stand for this kind of behavior.” Her boney hand clamped hard on my shoulder and she quickstep marched me to the corner. Standing between the door and the chalkboard at the primo punishment corner, everyone witnessed my shame.
“You stand there and think about what you’ve done.”
I stood, face to the wall. I could not take off the hat, sweater or gloves, and remained thus in the sweltering heat for an eternity.
Sometimes Mom and Dad slipped up with their parenting skills. When angry, Mom revealed an unpredictable streak drawing from a wide emotional range. At her best, she was fun loving and inclusive. At her worst, explosive.
This incident didn’t require an explosion. Without thinking through to possible consequences, (Maybe that ‘s where I inherited my consequence deficiency) she settled on a clever message.
“This will show that old biddy. What a prude.”
“No Lee, There’s nothing wrong with that dress.”
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