Swiftly slithering along the stone wall
my father built with his two hands, the
garter snake followed our journey
down the road to the school bus.
Past the swamp with skunk cabbage
and its distinct odor, past wild blueberries
hidden within its depths, my sisters and
I chatted along the mile of road.
Past Peter’s house, the boy who threw
the stone hitting me in the middle of
my forehead leaving an ugly lump.
Unprovoked and done because he could.
Past the pretty flowering apples trees
of the elderly lady who shouted from
behind curtained windows to stay off her yard.
At the end of Cedar Street was our bus stop.
Across from the Old Sturbridge Village.
Weather was hot this June day. My
second floor classroom with the wooden
floor creaked under our shoes. Inkwells awaited
our pens for penmanship class. Our teacher
stood in the middle of the double-wide slate
blackboard and wrote a new word: ambidextrous.
She demonstrated the word’s meaning for us.
She never walked left and right as she wrote.
Standing in the middle, she began writing in
cursive with chalk in her left hand. Then she
switched to her right hand, and wrote perfectly
shaped letters in white chalk. Next we tried to
write the same way but were unsuccessful. She
wrote: “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
Left and right hands the same. All letters of the alphabet.
Without questioning the meaning of the sentence, we
carefully wrote this in our penmanship journals.
Today visitors would come to see how
well we had learned to write in cursive handwriting.
Some of us wrote diligently, but the little boy behind
the girl with blonde braids was busy dipping her
braids into the inkwell with indelible black ink.
He got into BIG trouble for that. Our brick school
building was hot on the second floor so the
teacher opened the door in the back to the
fire escape to give us air in the classroom.
One visitor walked around and observed
our perfectly shaped letters matching the
models on the black chalkboard and commented
with uh-hums of approval as she
walked past our desks during our timed writing
session. The fox and the dog would
probably have pounced on the next visitor:
a pretty bird flew in the open fire escape door.
Confused, it flew in a helter-skelter
manner. Squeals erupted; ohs and ahs
followed as the bird flew past our heads. Total
and utter chaos ensued until finally,
one unlucky girl had a deposit made on her
beautiful cursive handwriting. Our teacher
brought a brown paper towel to clean up
the bird dropping. I wonder what grade the
unlucky student got for her smeared cursive writing?
Holding back her laughter, our teacher tried
to get us to remain in our desks. How could we
do that with our flying intruder? The other visitor
must have enjoyed this moment! Maybe we
could go out for recess now? Finally the bird exited to
tell others in its flock about the misadventure
it had in our classroom. Off the bus again, we
hurried home, paying scarce attention to the swamp
and poison ivy. No heed to garter snakes along our route.
Excitement filled the kitchen as our metal lunch boxes banged
the countertop. Munching on freshly baked oatmeal cookies,
we told our mother about the very unusual day at school.