The day Sandy started school began like most of the rest, gray and dreary. Not only was it not the first day of school, but it was not even the beginning of the day when she started.
Old lady Smart, Nadine’s mom, brought Sandy in the middle of the week, during the noon recess.
“Sandy is our new foster daughter,” we heard her explain to the teacher, “She is in the 5th grade. I want her to go to school here for a Christian education.”
We had no idea what a “foster daughter” was, so we just snickered as we checked her out. She was shorter than Freddy, with mouse-brown, straight hair.
Her red and white checkered dress was clean, but a little faded and at least one size too big. She was wearing tan cotton stockings that were bagging around her knees, and brown penny loafers without the pennies.
“She has a sister named Judy who will be coming to stay with us also,” old lady Smart was telling our teacher, “She will be in the 7th grade.”
“Oh great!” I thought, “Another ‘foster daughter.’ I suppose?”
What appeared to be a bashful quiet girl, we were soon to find out, was quite the opposite. Sandy had little or no interest in boys, especially the likes of Pinky and me. Why she made friends so easily with Josette and Roberta it was plain to see. With last names as crazy as Thumbler, DeSpain, and Reynolds, they all had something in common!
We also discovered soon enough that she liked to tease boys that were smaller than herself, then beat them up when they got mad enough to retaliate.
For the most part though, the three of them played amongst themselves and more or less stayed out of our way. That is until some of us older guys got bored with recess activities and began casting around for some mischief.
Translated, for us it meant fun.
Pinky was the first to notice that Sandy spent a lot of time quietly scratching various parts of her anatomy. Although the back of her neck got the most attention, her fingers of relief wandered from time to time to her armpit, belly, and occasionally her crotch.
After pointing out these facts to me, we spent more time than was really necessary staring at her. It was as though her fingers were magnets with uncontrollable power over our eyes. Every time her hand would move, eyes would leap up from our studies to follow her movements.
It wasn’t long before Pinky and I had this little game going between us. When we saw her hand start to move we would try to touch the corresponding part of our body that we thought she would scratch next before she had time to get her fingers in gear for her private relief.
I don’t remember that she ever caught on to our private game, but it certainly provided plenty of snickers and laughs between the guys.
Now, Pinky’s home was also a home for homeless cats, so he was well aware of what that scratching must mean. Fleas! If cats scratched fleas then logically Sandy must be scratching fleas, too. Within minutes of this `logical’ conclusion she was the object of `flea-bag’ jibes and ridicule among a large portion of the classroom.
It was the next day, however, before someone got the nerve to call her a flea-bag to her face. I don’t think I will ever forget the look of desperation and fear written on her face as those words first fell on her ears.
It was like she was no stranger to ridicule, but that she had never expected its conception here, and she dreaded its birth. Perhaps she had been promised a new beginning, a new family, a new school, new friends, and now a monster from her past had raised its ugly head.
The shear terror in her eyes, and the body movements of a mouse cornered before the cat, I saw in an instant, but I, never-the-less, took up the chant with the others.
“Flea-bag, Flea-bag! Sandy has a Flea-bag seat.
Stand back! Stand back! They’ll jump to twenty feet!”
We all jumped back in mock terror a full twenty feet and continued our chanting. When I say “all,” I refer to perhaps 2/3 of the classroom. The other 1/3 to their credit walked away and refused to participate. Josette and Roberta displayed their true friendship almost with one accord.
Wrapping their arms around Sandy, they shouted back at us,
“If she has ’em, we have ’em, too!
Run for your lives ’cause we’re going to give ’em to you!”
In an instant Sandy accepted the friendship, seized the moment as a game, and lit out after her tormentors intent on passing her “fleas” on to us.
To any adults looking on, this might have appeared to be a game of tag with a twist, as we fled in mock terror, then in turn chased them to return the “fleas” to the “flea-bags.”
As the days and weeks passed the three of them became known at various times as The Three Musketeers, The Mouse-cat-ears, and The Rats-ears. They became the recipient of more and more jokes and teasing.
As Spring rolled around our attention was drawn away from devouring each other to seeking adventure among the trees that were leafing out behind the school. The boys were fashioning crude tree forts among the boughs, and choosing sides for battles over the princesses in our realm.
Into the realm there walked one day, an unexpected princes.
This princes looked vaguely familiar, and bore a resemblance to the brunt of most of our teasing. But could it really be her?
She wore a new dress that fit her so well that we couldn’t help noticing her developing titties. This girl’s hair was sparkling clean, and fell around her neck in pretty ringlets that rose and fell like tiny springs as she walked.
While I was considering whether or not we had a new girl in school, Pinky slipped up behind me.
“Some fairy god-mother worked a miracle on Sandy, didn’t they?” he whispered. “Count me out on the chase today. I’m going to get her for my princes at recess.”
Well, at recess Pinky had five competitors, including me. We were absolutely amazed at the personality change that had come over her. The defensive, tomboy attitude was gone. The chip on her shoulder was gone. She was all smiles, as one by one the kids in the classroom began to take an interest in her and the things she liked to do. By the end of the week she had talked Josette and Roberta into getting a perm also. Within the month nearly every girl in the room had her hair in curls, and were acting more lady-like.
Eddie Nye, though was different. He had three strikes against him coming into the game!
Strike one: He wore glasses with lenses as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, but what’s more one eye was always covered with heavy gauze and tape. Maybe that’s how he got the nicknames “Patches”, “Patch-eye”, and “Eddie-patch”.
Strike two: He had a younger sister named Mina.
Strike three: He was skinnier than Pinky, (but smarter).
However, he was very stupid outside the classroom.
In fact it was hard for us to figure out how somebody could get his homework done so easily, get such good grades and yet be such a dud on the playground or in the woods. Patches was the only guy we knew who could strike out at Kickball. I mean, how can you miss kicking a 16″ ball being rolled across the ground toward you! And when he swung the softball bat, he would begin his swing as the ball left the pitchers hand and strike out before the ball crossed the plate! He could throw the ball from right field to home-plate and have it roll up to the feet of the 2nd baseman.
Yes, Patchy was the brunt of many a joke. We joked about his coordination, his athletic ability, his brains, his eye, and his sister.
Yes, his sister. She was in the 5th grade, but was so tiny she was mistaken many times for a 2nd grader, and in some way which we could never quite figure out, he must have been responsible for her size.
There was one other important way in which he differed from the rest of the cannibal gang. His daddy had run off, leaving the family to itself. He had left them with a junky old car whose fenders rattled as it smoked down the road.
Patchy’s Uncle Bill lived with them for awhile like a make-believe dad. He was old and wrinkled and a half-wit.
Well, that’s what some of the guys in the Academy called him anyway. On rainy days he would drive the smoking car down the 1/2 mile gravel road to school to pick up Patchy and Mina. I don’t think I ever saw him drive on pavement.
Patchy was the only boy in the whole school whose father had run away! Several had daddies who had died, but none that had run away. That was impressive. And in our minds somehow that, too, must have been Patchy’s fault.
In fact he had so many faults that he resorted to buying friendship with Pinky by “helping” him with his homework. Soon he was a friend of convenience to almost everyone in the room.
We considered his scruples to be rather strange. He would buy his friendship with homework, but he wouldn’t smoke a free cigarette behind the woodshed with the friends he had thus bought. He wouldn’t play Cowboys and Indians with the guys, but he would play dolls with girls.
Patches, Mina, Sandy, Josette, and Roberta all had something uncommon in common. If they had been chickens in our hen house they would have been plucked and eaten alive by the other chickens the first week.
Sometimes as I look back on those early days I shudder as I realize how like chickens we were in that classroom, how really heathen we were as we graced the halls of our Christian school.