When I was in sixth grade, my world changed. That was the year after we Annexed: The Year of the Big Bee, the year Deanna went to High School and my school only went as far as sixth grade. That’s the year Mrs. Taylor was my teacher, and at the same time, she was the Principal. Sixth grade was the year I became a Big Person.
No more high-schoolers went to my school, so I guessed nobody climbed up that full flight of stairs to classrooms up there. Deanna went to The Creek on the high-school bus with Diana and Bob, while Mike and I went to the same school we always did. Deanna put her hair up in giant hair rollers and ratted it and attached a tiny bow that matched her dress, right in the middle above her bangs. She looked like those girls on American Band Stand,. She got up super early, put on a dress, ’cause slacks were against the rules for girls once we got Annexed, and walked half-way to Diana’s house to catch the bus that drove right by our house anyways. Only so many bus stops were allowed on each mile.
Because of the dress code, I had to wear slacks under my dress, if I wanted to play on the monkey bars, which of course I did. Anyways, sixth grade was back on the main floor, where the third grade was before we Annexed, and my grade was the highest, so we got to do special things, like put the flag up in the morning, and take it down at the end of the day, and fold it in a proper triangle without ever letting it touch the ground, because if we did, the flag would have to be burned. Sometimes I helped out Mrs. Markley, who taught Kindergarten, and or helped the walkers cross the street at lunch time. There was no traffic anyways, so nobody really needed help. Crossing guards was another new rule.
I liked Mrs. Taylor because she trusted me so much, and because she told the us about a girl who said “vanilla envelope” instead of “manila envelope” and how that girl got embarrassed when she got corrected in front of all her friends, even though she was old enough to know better, and correcting her was really doing her a favor. A person should consider a persons feelings before they say something and always correct them gently and in private. That was good advice. “Vanilla” seemed way more logical than “manila” for those brownish envelopes, ’causes they were about the color of vanilla ice cream; and why the heck are they called manila, anyways?
Mrs. Taylor said we were Big People, so we knew how to behave, even if she wasn’t in the room. She was right. Lots of times she left us to do our own work, math sheets, or reading carrels with comprehension questions at the end of each unit, or social studies, ’cause she had Principal work to do. Sometimes, when Mrs. Taylor got tied up with duties, we had extra-long recesses and lunch hours. That’s how I got to be an expert at jacks and Chinese jump rope; I had lots of time to practice.
Mrs. Taylor said we were on our honor and she knew she could count on us not to cheat on our papers because then we would be cheating ourselves, and we could be trusted not to create a ruckus. She knew we could behave like the Big People we were. We did. Everybody except Linda. She couldn’t help it; she had a super-hard time learning things and even harder time playing nice with people, and she could hardly ever remember the rules. Most everybody just ignored her, but I felt sorry for her and tried to be her friend, which she failed to appreciate one single bit. Sometimes she got teased and she hid her head under her sweater. All us kids were together since Kindergarten, except for Patsy who failed third grade and was one of the smartest kids in our class, and Gordy who moved into a brand new house on my bus route, and Betty M, who moved away to live with her Mom for a while, then moved back with her Dad, just in time for sixth grade. Betty M. was beautiful; she had a bunch of big sisters, so she knew all about fashion, so she dressed mod and her hair looked like chestnut silk falling down around her shoulders with the sun dancing on it, just like a Breck girl. My best-friend-on-the-bus, Betty S, moved away and Diann and her five brothers moved in, so I had a new best-friend-on-the-bus. I wore a pony tail most of the time until Frankie’s mom, who was a beautician chopped it short, when Mom said she just wanted my hair thinned a little so it wasn’t so bushy all the time. Mom said the whole thing made her sick to her stomach. I missed my pony tail ’cause that kept my hair out of the way. Sometimes Mom poofed my hair up high and fastened it with a barette, which looked pretty cool. Dalene wore her hair poofy on top too, except she got the top part cut short, ’cause her hair was like a quarter-horse’s mane, and it refused to curl; anyways, that’s what her mom said. Mine curled all by itself.
Deanna told me I had to start wearing a bra. “Your nipples show through your tee-shirt,” she said and she clicked her tongue in the back of her throat just like mom, only Deanna rolled her eyes at me and snapped her head away so fast her ratted-up hair bobbled on top of her head, which was like saying she’d rather not look at me at all, without using any words. “Put a bra on,” she said over her shoulder. I was minding my own business laying there on the carpet: the new wall-to-wall kind that we just got and was soft as Uncle Ellis’s new sod lawn and smelled like a new car instead of old sneakers, and was just perfect for watching TV.
Deanna must’ve put a bug in Mom’s ear, ’cause next thing I knew, there was Mom with a Playtex training brassière, just as happy as can be, smiling away the way she did when she had a king size Hershey bar to share and she knew I was going to be as happy as a lark.
The person who invented torture must have dreamed up brassières. Deanna said only old people, like Mom, called them brassières, so I should say bra. And don’t say boobie-hatch ’cause that doesn’t mean insane asylum anymore like Mom thinks. Boobs is what I had to call my bowls, now that they were growing and I needed a bra; but mostly don’t talk about them at all. And never talk about peters or even say peanuts around boys; and never-ever tell boys about my dreams.
I felt a whole new set of rules coming at me, now that I was a Big Person. Being responsible and taking care of others, that made a lot of sense, even when nobody was looking. I could do that. Still, I was pretty sure I would never remember all the rules, especially the ones that made about as much sense as a bag of peanuts.