When I was a little girl, I lived on a farm in east central Illinois. The grade school I attended was in a tiny little town called Seymour. The red brick two story building contained an office, four classrooms with two grades in each room, a cafeteria, and a gym. One teacher taught two grades, alternating with one group while the other group studied. The school’s kindly principal, Mr. Shelton, taught seventh and eighth grade and coached the basketball team.
Only boys were allowed to play on the basketball team.
I was the first kid on the school bus in the morning and the last off at night, an hour ride each way. The ride was roughest in the wintertime, and sometimes the walk through the snowdrifts from the corner to my house, about 1/8 of a mile, was pretty rough for a little kid.
The school had a cafeteria that served hot meals, provided we didn’t forget our lunch money. The best meal they served was deep-fried fish and French fries on Fridays. The worst was a ham salad and corn fritter combination I just couldn’t stomach.
When I graduated from the eighth grade in 1956, our class, as far as I can remember, included only three girls and four boys.
Sounds sweet and old-fashioned and safe, doesn’t it? Read on.
Most of the students were farm kids, but there were also a few from the town. The town kids I remember were girls, and most of them were meaner than junk-yard dogs.
My friends and I were knocked around a few times and threatened often. We complained to teachers a couple of times, and we were all called in to “clear the air.” But it never stopped for long. When the bully girls were on the rampage, we shadowed the teachers to stay safe. And when we went to the restroom or the girls’ locker room, we stayed together, hoping to find safety in numbers. We weren’t total wimps. We stood up to the girls from time to time…and promptly got slapped or slammed against the lockers.
To add one more cliche to those I’ve already used, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. At least, it used to. The bully girls didn’t kill us, and they didn’t destroy our lives. Did it help that we farm kids were already physically and mentally strong? That our parents and teachers didn’t coddle us? That we were expected to be tough and solve our own problems?
I don’t know the answer to that. I wish I did.