During my growing-up years, I went to several schools. There’s no memory of most of my classmates, but a few — mostly the odd and bizarre — have been impossible to forget.
In first grade, there was Benny. We had a lot of cut-and-paste exercises, matching words with pictures. Several of us were around a table, working on one of these assignments, when Benny asked to borrow my paste. Mama had just bought me a new 5-cent jar (probably about 2 ounces). I was still in the cutting-out phase, so I passed it over to him.
When he removed the lid, the jar’s smooth, white, unsullied contents seemed to fascinate him. He poked a forefinger into it and pulled it out. There was a sucking sound that seemed to amuse him and some others at the table. Benny was one of those kids who liked to eat paste. He licked off his finger and stuck it back in — same sound, same licking.
By the time I got my cutting out done, my jar had been returned. But when I opened it, there was not one smidgen of paste inside. I looked at Benny. He just grinned and said, “I ate it all.”
I was too timid to ask to borrow some, and nobody offered after seeing what Benny had just done. So, I tried the only thing I had access to in the situation: spit.
It seemed to work fairly well. I got all the pieces stuck on, carried it very carefully, and placed it on my teacher’s desk. But a few minutes later, when she picked it up, the spit had dried and pieces went all over the place.
I got a good scolding. My teacher did not seem to care that Benny had eaten all my paste. Neither did my mother. It was the Depression, and nickels for paste were not easy to come by. I was much more wary after that.
DeWitt was the first boy I ran across who had two capital letters in his name. His head was shaped like an upside-down pear. It was bulbous from the ears up and narrowed toward his chin. Today, he’d be called spacey. DeWitt loved Bit-O-Honey candy bars; each bar contained about six mini-bars. They were a golden color and very tasty. I think they’re still around.
Everybody was on the playground after lunch one day. Somebody had brought a ball and bat, and we had a baseball game going. I was at-bat when DeWitt wandered up behind me. I hit the ball and then felt my bat hit something else on the follow-through. When I turned around, I saw that it was DeWitt’s mouth.
Blood was squirting everywhere. What we did not know was that he had five or six mini-bars of Bit-O-Honey stuffed into his mouth. When he bent over and this bloody, flesh-colored candy began to erupt, someone shouted, “His guts are coming out!” and another, “He’s gonna die!”
I stood frozen in place, expecting him to fall dead any second. Thankfully, he did not. But he had lost four front teeth and had two split lips. Fortunately, they were baby teeth and he had no permanent damage.
My teacher gave me a royal chewing out for not being more careful and watching where I was swinging. She did not buy my excuse that watchers needed to stay out of the way.
Craig was an unusual looking fellow. His ears and lips were too big for his face and his very thick glasses made his eyes three times too large. Craig really liked our spelling lessons. We started each Monday with a new set of words and did the same exercises each day of the week with them. So, each week’s spelling lessons were the same. By the end of September, Craig had worked ahead and had all his spelling lessons prepared through December.
The lunchroom folk came around early each morning selling tickets for the day. Craig had his quarter out and for some reason was popping it in and out of mouth as he worked on some math problems. Suddenly, it went down his throat.
Word of this mishap spread quickly through the room. Our teacher had to assure everyone that Craig was not going to die and that the coin would pass on through. There were a lot of questions about this latter process and suggestions on how it could be retrieved. Craig was embarrassed by the episode and refused to tell any of us (although we asked many times) when, how or if he ever got his quarter back.
Peck was one of the incorrigibles of our town. He began his career in crime early in life, stealing (mostly candy) from local stores. Some barred him from their businesses. Peck came from down in the poor section of town. Nobody knew who his parents were or if he even had any.
Miss Margaret, who had taught sixth grade since the beginning of time, was keeping several students after school one day to finish the work they had not done during regular time. Peck was in the group. When she came back from a trip down the hall, her purse that had been in a drawer of her desk was on the floor. It had been rifled through, and a cache of silver dollars was gone. A window was open and Peck was missing, also. She spied him ambling toward the town square a block away.
Yelling at him through the window did no good. He neither turned around nor quickened his pace. She hustled out the front door after him and managed to keep him in sight, seeing him enter the drug store. She arrived there out of breath and found him sitting calmly at the counter. The soda jerk was working on a milkshake he’d ordered. He denied that he’d stolen her money, but when the shake was placed in front of him, he flipped up a silver dollar on the counter to pay for it. Having no one to help her or to call on, Miss Margaret just went on back to school.
After sixth grade, Peck disappeared. No one seemed to know his whereabouts or what had happened to him. He did not show up for seventh grade, making the seventh-grade teacher very happy. For a year or so, Peck was a topic of conversation for many of the boys. We’d speculate on what Northern city he’d gone to and what crime boss he might be working for or which prison he might be in.