I loved the school I went to when I was a little girl. All grades, K-12 went to the same school. Grades K-4 stayed on the ground floor. Grades 5, 6, and 7 climbed the six stairs to the next set of classrooms. I knew when I was in 5th grade and I climbed those stairs, I was almost grown up. High school was up another full flight of steps. That’s where the teenagers went to school. Teenagers were like people from another world. Someday, I would be a teenager and go all the way up to the top of the stairs and carry my books and have a locker to keep my coat in. That’s the way things worked at school. Until we Annexed.
If I paid attention and if I was my usual puzzle-solver, I could have figured out something was up. Dad and Mom kept taking us to House for Sale, and saying “This would be the berries,” about just about every house they saw, even the ones Mom called “a Handy-man’s Delight”. When we went camping, we visited a brand new school Up North. Nobody, but nobody, visits schools in the middle of summer. “This is just the berries,” Mom said like always and she smiled down at me and Bonita and Deanna and smoothed out my collar, which was already just fine the way it was. Dad walked around knocking on doors, picking at the brick and listening to the walls. That’s what he did when he wanted to see if things were built sturdy. He nodded approval to himself and cleared his throat.
“This new school cost over one million dollars,” he said. “Wouldn’t you like to go here?”
“For sure,” I said, ’cause then we would be close to the lake all year long. I could smell the seaweed and sand and pine needles all the time. Now that would be the berries, for darned sure.
“No!” Deanna said, ’cause she would miss all her friends. She stuck out her bottom lip so she looked just like her Tiny-Tears, who she stilled loved, but never, ever played with anymore, ’cause she was too big for dolls. That got me thinking about moving away from my best friend Connie and my friend Betty from the bus, and Beth who played flute with me and sometimes beat me out of first chair.
“Do they have band here?” I asked.
“For Pete’s sake. Of course they have band,” Mom said. ” She smiled like she knew that would make me the happiest girl in the whole, wide world, just like she did when she gave me my last birthday present, nylon stockings and a tube of lipstick, and all I wanted was a microscope. “This is a Class A school. They have more than you can imagine.”
I doubted that. I had a pretty good imagination.
The Russells, from across the road moved away. No more Nancy for Deanna to play with, no more Doug for Bonita to play with. Instead some people from down-south named Jones, moved in with a red-headed girl who never wanted to play at all. Mom and Dad took us to the Russells new house, ’cause Mr. and Mrs. Russell were Mom and Dad’s friends, too. The Russells lived in a subdivision, like my cousin Debbie, but no sidewalks. They had a new hotdog dog named Gretchen. I hated that dog because of the needle sharp teeth she was always showing me, and because of the way her hair stood on end at the back of her neck when she growled. Nancy helped out at the florist three blocks away, so she took me and Deanna with her; I learned how to wrap stems in green stretchy tape, so they stood up at attention in the vases, and Nancy played CKLW on the radio and sang along with all the songs. I knew only a few songs, ’cause I heard them on the school bus, and lots of times I wasn’t listening all that close. Nancy knew all the songs and what number they were on the chart, too.
We never moved. We Annexed. Mom and Dad got really busy going to meetings, putting up signs and talking on the phone all the time. Deanna and I babysat for the Little Kids until way after bedtime. Deanna made everybody clean, so Mom would be super-happy, and Bonita and I gave the Little Kids horse-back rides and played stuff with them, ’cause, well ’cause we liked to. Sometimes I had to make supper, which fun, and I knew how because I watched Mom and because I was in 4-H Cooking, where I learned all about measuring and baking and following recipes. Spaghetti was my specialty; I was good at coleslaw, too. Later on, I impressed my friend Tonya’s mom and dad because I made coleslaw with no recipe. I never got so much praise in my whole entire life. That was the most fun I ever had making dinner.
Next thing you know, we were Annexed, and Deanna was going to school with her best friend Nancy again, ’cause that’s the school we Annexed to. Lots of people were against Annexing, and they got sorta mean: mailboxes got bashed in, and signs got sliced up by razor blades attached to fishing poles, and nasty calls went out to the people who wanted Annexation. But in the end, more people voted to Annex than not, so Annexed we were. Or so it seemed, ’cause that wasn’t the end of it.
My best friend Connie’s dad was a principal at a giant school in the city, and he afraid for his kids going to a highfalutin school. Ronnie’s dad and Gary’s dad, or a whole bunch of other kids’ dad felt the same way. So next thing you know another whole initiative got started, and by the time another year went by, my friends were split up in three different schools.
Sixth grade was the last the bunch of us were together. I’ll tell you more about that another day. That’s the year I had Mrs. T, who was a teacher and the Principal. That was way before Teacher unions or classroom prep-time.
My the time I got to high-school, I was making a whole new set of friends. Connie stayed my good friend; we saw each other every week in church and catechism. We both got interested in boys in a whole new way, which sort of changed the face of friendship. Deanna and Nancy stopped being best friends, even though they saw each other every day.
My best-friend-from-high-school-Judy never had a clue I got Annexed to her school, until we were both old enough to be grandmas. She said, that was a wonderful thing my Mom and Dad did, because they must have known their little girl needed more than my old school could offer, and it’s a pretty special for a little girl to been seen so clearly.
That’s probably true; I did finally get my microscope. And I did get a good education. And I did learn that change is so often a blessing. Still, I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad were thinking about more than one little girl.
It’s strange how change can get people all riled up. Some fight for change and some resist it. Sometimes change is harder than we imagined; sometimes we look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Sometimes change strengthens relationships and sometimes relationships dissolve. One thing is for sure, change is bound to happen. My preference is to get in the driver’s seat; or at the bare minimum, trust the driver with your whole heart and soul and help out the best way you know how, even if it’s just making spaghetti.