The Breathlessness of First Grade

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1966 was a year of breathless wonder to me. Maybe not in the sense of amazing adventures, but definitely in the sense of having the wind knocked out of me. I was six-years-old, and I guess it just came with my maturity.

The first time happened below the monkey bars (the highest one), from which I’d fallen. As I struggled to breathe, I remember some little girl screaming, “She’s dead! She’s dead!” By the time Mrs. Sherwood arrived on the scene, I was coming back to life and had not expired after all.

The second time took place beneath the elementary bully (the fastest one) below whom I’d been squished. Fully aware that he’d broken Ann’s arm the week before, I had tried sprinting away, but he tackled me nevertheless. Upon hitting the ground, I watched my loose tooth catapult in slow motion onto the grass in front of me.  As I eyed my incisor,  I hoped that I didn’t pass out before scooping it safely into my pocket. After all, the tooth fairy was shelling out twenty-five cents per enamel, and I desperately wanted to become one of those sticky-necked first graders who owned a candy necklace.

The last time materialized underneath the sloppy smooch of O.P. (the kissy one), against whose lips I’d been pressed. While I practiced my penmanship, he had caught me off-guard and suffocated my face. Tearful, I followed the code of all timid six-year-olds. I raised my hand and tattled. Mrs. Sherwood proved a veteran of all things first-grade. She moved me to the front of the room, and I never saw O.P. again (after all, we now sat four rows apart).

I moved into a double-desk with Rhetta and discovered the phenomenon of having my first, best friend. Together, Rhetta and I discussed the depths of Dr. Seuss’s literature and pondered on crayon names like “Burnt Sienna” and “Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown.” We shared Big Chief tablets, No.2 pencils, and quizzed each other on UIL Picture Memory cards. We were captivated by jumping rope, men walking on the moon, and every single syllable of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

As I think about it, Rhetta inspired my first book, “The Book A Bowt Rhetta and I.” And now, for the first time in print, I will include the book in its entirety:

1st grade book 21st grade book p3

Maybe 1966 did include amazing adventures despite the topples, tackles, and pecks. After all, it’s not every day that you experience the breathless wonder of a life-long friend. Thank you, Rhetta.