1st grade; Birthdays for Twins, Equal Rights and What Fish Hear Underwater


Me hamming it up at age 6. Surely everyone’s head buzzed with ideas, the sound of pebbles underwater and goofiness.

By 9AM in July in Utah, it was already hot. I was so excited to get my Baby Crissy doll with her own red buggy. At 10 feet long, and 3 feet wide, that baby doll needed it. She was grotesque with black eyes and retractable brushable red hair with a pull string. I squinted for a photo with her in my red plaid dress and long white soldier-powdered socks, feet still sore from The Cracks.

Twin birthday parties. Mom made 1 circus cake and 2 banana cream pies. Ice cream at my party and corn dogs at Jimmy’s. With 3 youngsters, ages 6, 6 and 7, chaos in July was normal. Dad would bring more over-or-underfilled factory ice cream quart boxes from his company refrigeration truck that night. My quiet, sensible party in the morning was with Girls Only, my twin brother’s the afternoon with Rowdy Boys. I had lost the Co-ed argument the year before, angling to invite my first boyfriend, Steven Rony. 

It was my first Equal Rights Argument

At 5, suggesting to “also invite Steven’s brother and um…more boys”, I lost. I didn’t yet know the Gettysburg Address. Damn. And by midyear, Steven had moved away and I would never get to see his green eyes and freckles or kiss him by the creek again.

I never sent my love letters written on dark blue teal paper with black Scotty Dogs to him. But my heart ached. And I cried a lot whenever “Mandy” came on the radio. “You kissed me and stopped me from shaking and I need you today…” Everything made me want to cry and go back to Heaven. Didn’t anyone else see how Sad the World was and that the Cottonwood’s bark made ugly faces just before a rainstorm?

My brain buzzed when other’s didn’t. Something was different and broken with my head. I could hear what Fish heard in mountain streams at American Fork and Spanish Fork-the gentle knock of a thousand sand grains against rock. As a toddler I used to scream uncontrollably and bang my head and feet on walls like someone had flipped a light switch and something took control of my body. My body had raging fits like a sneeze attack. All I could hear was that rinsing river sound of pebbles against rock or against gunnite underwater in a pool and sometimes I would faint. I wouldn’t know that I had Bipolar 2 (depressed to suicidal cycling every 3 days, not manic) until 40 years later.

Mom had written in my baby book “You don’t think like other children”.  Maybe that was after the Co Ed discussion. It was kind of her not to write “You are Alarming!”

Science suggests that a sense of justice is innate in babies. I took justice and everything else to the Nth degree. Dramatic Overload.

Carson, for example, was a skinny red-haired boy in a bow tie and pink shirt that kept getting beat up at recess. One day in early fall, he was pushed off a big piece of 3 foot diameter corrugated pipe partially buried in gravel (a playground designer in 1973 thought that sharp corrugated culvert pipe would be great for kids). Carson’s lip was bloody. I took it upon myself to rescue him and bring him straight away to Mrs. Thompson who was 200 years old in sensible oxfords.

We interrupted her Quiet Time Without The Children. She peered at us through her half moon spectacles and grizzled with bandaid breath “Well, now it doesn’t seem so bad. And you, Suze why did you think it was your responsibility to bring Carson when he clearly could walk by himself?” Though she was only the size of a pin-curled twig, she made my knees quake. “Well, I’m…I’m his Friend.” “I see that. In the Future, when Carson hurts himself, he shall go directly to Miss Crumpleworth, is that clear?” she reprimanded. I was incredulous “But, but the other boys..they Pushed him!” “And do you have PROOF of this?” Mrs. Thompson countered. “Yes, yes, his bloody lip, see?” Said I. “That is not proof, Miss Wannabe. You two are dismissed. Go back to recess.” This bewildered me for years until writing it just now. Was she trying to stop Overreacting? Drama? Tattling? It worked. The beating on me and my friends continued but I never trusted another teacher again to tell. It got drowned in the gunnite pebble swimming pool in my head.

During the school year, I contracted tonsillitis every 30 minutes. Mom and I were going to Dr. Smith all the time to refill prescriptions of penicillin tablets and soldier foot powder. Those penicillin pills were hard to swallow and barely palatable  even if crushed by a spoon and mixed with honey. It might as well have been liver and onions. I did notice some time later that on one of our camping trips while hiking in the golden yellow aspen, that Hamm’s beer tasted bitter like penicillin and earwax. No amount of honey could disguise bitter.

On days when I was sick at home, which was most of the year, Mom would come home from teaching at lunch. We would fold laundry and watch Ryan’s Hope in the basement while eating salad with homemade ranch dressing and black pepper. I would sit in Dad’s big red recliner chair because it was cool on my fever but warm on my little bones. Some days I felt well enough to invent a puppet show for Mom complete with the Disney 45 record “Glllinhhhggg” to turn the page.

At Christmas, I got my favorite childhood gift ever-Ballerina Barbie. I played with her for years until I made the mistake of giving her a Bic Makeover. Dark blue eyeshadow didn’t suit her at all.

Just after Christmas when the Wasatch snow was 3 feet deep, I got strep throat and a really high fever. I had hallucinations of Boris and Natasha Badinoff smashing dishes in the hallway. My parents let me sleep in their bed and Mom tried to soothe my throat with Necco wafers. Necco wafers, like Circus Peanuts are Candy From Hell. Chalky discs that taste like black licorice no matter what flavour you choose. I kept trying the Wafers in the dark, hoping the Damn Flavour would actually change. It didn’t. I imagined Gramma Knutson trying to trick her children with these. “Kammen hereren…bettah..” “No!” It’s unbelievable that Someone actually still makes theese and sells them at Michael’s Craft Store.

When I was well again to return to school, I was behind. Learning to Tell Time seemed impossible and made as much sense as f(x) and natural logs of e- later in life. I panicked and quickly copied another student’s crayoned paper with clocks before it was due. I cheated. I was probably Going To Hell. And there would only be Necco Wafers to eat.

The Best Part of First Grade was the Birthday train. In May, since me and my twin’s birthday was in summer, We each still got one of our own. Not just made out to “The Twins” as some birthday cards would be, but EACH! Made of construction paper,  my train engine was signed by Mrs. Thompson with bear stickers. Each of the cars was a different colour signed by each student and held together by golden split folding tacks. 

The caboose was always red with “Happy Birthday!” in cursive bringing up the rear.

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