Second grade was amazing. Our second grade class was so big they had to split it into two groups. One group stayed in the classroom, and the second group, of which I was a part, moved across the street into the local church. There were about fifteen of us—not a very big class. My first memory happened on the very first day. Our teacher, Mrs. Ings, had had her hair done so she would look good on the first day of class, but it hadn't gone so well. Her hairdresser had tried to dye her hair, but had screwed up. Her hair was purple. I don't mean a little purple. This was Flying Purple People Eater purple. We made her cry, so it wasn't a very good start for any of us. The first thing that happened was that Craig, Rebecca, and I were separated from the rest of the class and given different work. We had been identified as “special” students, and they didn't want us held back by the rest of the class. In second grade, the three of us had homework every night that required us to read the front page of the New York Times, and we were quizzed on it the following day. They also started teaching us how to write in cursive. This caused me big problems in later grades after we had moved to Cape Cod, because they taught a different method on the Cape and I just couldn't make the switch. They had a reward system that would give you a star for satisfactory performance. The top prize was a gold seal, and the stars went from red (the best) to black (if your writing was unintelligible). I always got the black star, which brought down the class average, so my classmates were less than thrilled with me. In math, they started us on geometry. I remember doing triangles in the second grade and calculating the interior angles. Craig, Rebecca, and I ate it all up. It became a huge competition among the three of us to see who could learn things the fastest. No, it wasn't usually me—it was Rebecca. Craig was usually a distant third, but he was such a great kid that he'd just laugh and laugh. Craig was fun, but Rebecca became my enemy. I hated losing, but even more, I hated losing to a girl. Yes, I know that today that's not very politically correct, but get over it—I was just a little kid for crying out loud. It was during second grade that I started devouring books. I could read at four years old, and my favorite book was about Ernie Pyle, a World War II correspondent. He would write the most amazing stories of being in combat. It was just the sort of thing that a young boy with an overactive imagination would eat up, and I did. That book went with me everywhere, and I took it to bed with me every night. Reading it was part of my nightly routine. Even then, I found routine comforting. My education started early - in kindergarten. My mom had put a large map of the world on the wall in the bedroom I shared with my brother. Every night, she would point to a country and ask me to name it. Every country I got right earned me an extra minute that I could stay up later than my brother. I promise you I learned every country, even though there was a thirty-minute limit. This was also the time I started reading my book about Ernie Pyle. When I got to the second grade, I started reading adult books—any novel I could get my hands on. I would even sit at the breakfast table and read the cereal box from top to bottom. My mother encouraged my reading but I’m not certain she would have approved of everything I read. I found a book I probably wasn’t supposed to read. The book was Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. I learned quite a bit from that book before I was afraid my mother would catch me with it. I never did get to finish the book, but I did get to a lot of parts that I just didn't believe could actually happen. Ah well, I was soon to find more educational material. Just down the street from my house I met a kid named Tim. Tim was to become my best friend. On the day I met him, he was trying to shoot basketball in his driveway. I could see him through the bushes. Eventually he said hi, and I said hi back. He asked if I wanted to see something, and when I nodded, he brought over a dog-eared magazine about the nudist lifestyle. It had naked people in it! This was the first time I ever saw a naked woman or a man. Tim's older brother, Peter, spotted us and came over to claim ownership of the magazine, saying that Tim had stolen it from him. He then started telling us about the birds and bees, pointing out the appropriate naughty bits in the magazine. Tim and I didn't believe him, though. The very idea of what he was saying was simply too gross to even contemplate. Tim and I did a pinky swear and a “cross your heart and hope to die stick a needle in my eye” pledge that we would never, ever do anything like what Peter was saying grown ups did.
I didn't keep my promise to Tim and I'm still waiting for the needle in my eye. I’m sure it’s coming any day now.