All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Second-Grade

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They say that all you really need to know, you learn in kindergarten. Well, I didn’t go to kindergarten. And since I'm a slow learner, I didn’t get the important stuff till second-grade.

And there I learned that you should share everything.


(Except maybe for saliva.)


This was pretty apparent because Mrs. Crouch had stressed this from the front of the room. “There will be no face-kissing in our school play,” she’d clarified. Of course, a loud moan of embarrassment escaped from the chest of every seven-year-old, because no one wanted to talk about smooching. Well, no one besides Tony. Tony had an older brother and must have watched one too many Elvis movies. His self-contrived plan was to be Prince Charming while Susie playing opposite him as Snow White. Tony had even kissed Susie’s desk to emphasize his fervor. After all, Susie was the most obvious choice for the lead. At seven-years-old, she had the ivory skin, the jet-black hair, and the rosy lips necessary for such a princess. But she was traumatized at the prospect of canoodling on stage. Susie had a younger brother and knew boys couldn’t be trusted. So, she volunteered to be a skunk instead.


I learned that you should listen attentively.

(Or at least have big ears.)

Woodland animals were well represented in our play. We had a smattering of deer, squirrels and rabbits scampering all over the stage. But bunnies seem to be the most prolific. Possibly to signify their short gestation period or maybe just because second-graders like to wear hooded jumpsuits with attached ears.

 Christi was one of the rabbits. Initially, she wanted to be a dwarf, but the attraction of two auditory cavities formed from coat hangers sticking from the top of her head proved too magnetic. Christi’s mother made her rabbit ears extra-long, so Christi could look taller and hop higher.


I learned to live a balanced life.

(Or at least to use what you have.)

Homemade paper beards, glued stiff with cotton balls, worked well for the dwarfs. Pat and Jon, the Farris twins, were Sneezy and Doc respectively. Jon got lead dwarf because he had a plastic, toy doctor’s bag, which included a pair of rigid spectacles — a must for his Doc character. Keeping the earless-glasses perched on his nose was no small feat, especially when leading his little band in all of their Heigh-Ho’ing.


Somehow, Martha and Scarlet managed to land two of the dwarf roles as well. Possibly because they both owned ski caps or maybe just because they could glue some mean Elmer’s. Martha was one of the tallest kids in our class and I could never figure how she got to be a dwarf. Maybe this was a self-fulfilling prophecy as her adult height never much surpassed her second-grade stature.


I learned to not take things that aren’t mine.

(But that you could borrow the heck out of your mother.)

Annie got to be the wicked witch, because her mother had the perfect black and gold evening gown. To complete the ensemble, her mother also wigged Annie with an old hairpiece -- or possibly it was just a dried sea urchin. I was never quite sure which.

Of course, if there is a jealous witch, there had to be an envy-inducing mirror-mirror-on-the-wall. Darla was the logical choice. Not only did her mother have a fur stole she could use, but Darla was also known for being able to keep her head when all about her were losing theirs. Armed with an empty picture frame, Darla delivered her short, tenable statement with authority. After all, someone had to be clothed and in their right mind. It might as well be the looking-glass.


I learned that you should play well with others.

(Or at least learn to avoid them well properly.)
Ann Campbell was the most introverted in our whole class. So Mrs. Crouch let her be the echo and spend the entire play hunkered down inside the wishing well. Ann always seemed quite content sitting Indian-style in her protective barrier. She and I had one song together, in which I sang a line and she repeated it back, but most of the time, Ann was simply absorbed in reading the saga of Dick and Jane.


I learned that you shouldn’t hit people.

(Even when the thought crosses your mind.)

Somehow, since Susie had opted out, I was cast as Snow White. My mother made me a light blue dress trimmed in yellow and I memorized lines every day. Because our rendition was a musical, I learned the songs from a borrowed 45-rpm recording on my blue, Roy Rogers phonograph player.

 I must have been absent the day that all of the PDA directives were stipulated, and since Prince Charming Robby never kissed my hand during practice, I wasn’t much troubled over it. On the day of the performance, however, Mrs. Crouch insisted that the Prince follow through, which he did with the most expedient passion in all antiquity. In one fell swoop, Robby pecked my hand and threw it down so forcibly that I scowled at him upon my awakening rather than pining over him. Ah, the scorn of spurned love.

Yes, I learned a lot in Mrs. Crouch’s class that year. The memories are a bit yellowed, but as I’ve gone out into the world, these impressions remain dear. After all, to truly live a life of wonder, there has to be a little fascination of second-grade.