Tuesday, January 15

2 Views on a Theme

One of the “smart” kids, Stephanie Kim

seemed to always be first at everything.

Long-division, spelling or basketball;

she was also first to get a pimply-face,

and was the very first girl in the entire 5th grade

to wear a real, live bra.

One day, when Billy was being especially dumb,

(pulling his eyes like this with both his thumbs) -

he chanted, “My mother is Chinese,

my father is Japanese,

and look what happened to me!”

Stephanie, hardly giving him the time of day,

said without emotion, “Hey, stupid,

I’m Korean, O.K.?”

We considered it pretty amusing

how she shut him down that way.

But then, when the boys began to tease

and slither around

making comments from the sides of their mouths,

so totally fascinated with her chest -

every last one of us seemed powerless

to help poor Stephanie out.

At long last, maybe three weeks or so,

she just broke-down

and cried and cried and cried ~ alone.

* Though not readily broached in public conversation as adults, ask anyone directly - man or woman, and they will all have something to say about the growing-up ‘changes’ undeniably evident beginning about 5th and 6th grade. As natural biology was happening to little girls, little boys (though mostly uninvited) were automatically a vital part of that incredibly important and often traumatic brief moment in time when the whole world seemed to focus on the introduction of new underwear.

How we survived it all is truly a golden question.

Mr. Aycock

frightened us with the dark brown scar

exactly below his right eye

(a bullet wound from the war).

His classroom discipline not far

from military ethics it seemed,

as we kept score

of his many offenses against us:

the quick temper,

the moral speeches ~

as we listened, unblinking,

willing breezes to drift mercifully

over the window sash

and save us

from the heat of his passion.

Until one day, he did something good.

He just canceled arithmetic

and spoke to us point-blank

(this bachelor fifth-grade teacher),

in simple words we all understood

he explained the beauty of nature

creating great changes within

making us so different

from girls to women,

and boys to men ~

eloquently conquering at last

the relentless enemy sniping

of young boys who saw

that Aviva Lee

wore a bra.

* Only six years after the introduction of the birth control pill and two years after The Beatles' shocking debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1966 supposedly found us in the early convulsions of the American sexual revolution. About three years later one of my cousins would join a hippie commune and my brother would be longing to experience the music at Woodstock. Social mores were changing radically; old taboos were tossed aside as quickly as television sets suddenly became affordable to the average family and media became associated unavoidably with the prefix “mass”. American women, having tasted financial independence during World War II factory and civil works jobs, were expanding their sights and flexing for the yet to come emergence of the Feminist Movement. Who knew?

Oblivious to the technical details of aggressive cultural change, we kids were up to our necks in the daily dance of growing-up. Reserved and dutiful conformists within the classroom (subversive “pencil-drops” were still a few years away); we struggled to both assert and protect ourselves outside on the playground. The battle of the sexes was an old and sacred theme; boys vs. girls contests from spelling bees to foot races to playing cigarette tag were a relished and necessary practice in the constant attempt to keep everyone in their place.

Puberty interrupted all of that. It was especially confusing when the “early-bloomers” among our feminine ranks began to exhibit – however unwillingly – the most disturbing social change of all. We girls who were not as yet so affected were as uncomfortable with the prospect as the boys were, except their focus was decidedly of a much baser nature. We loathed them for it, but at the same time we seemed incapable of defending one of our own. It was a shameful reality in the ultimate disruption to a childhood on the brink of extinction. We were afraid.

About 30 years later, I encountered the Aycock name again on a patient chart at the Phoenix dental practice where I was working. It was his great-nephew. I finally had the opportunity to thank him vicariously for that time-stopping afternoon at Lorne Street School in the asphalt shingled bungalow nearest the bike racks, when the unspoken pain of growing up was presented to us as an ageless and ennobling distinction of our future selves.

**class pictures are representative only
* from 'Station Wagon Wars' ~ growing up in the 60's by cTanner

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