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Updated on August 22, 2012

Learning Early

She was the new kid in class grades K-6, once attending as many as three schools in a year. Terrible at sports, barely adequate in her studies and a complete failure at making friends, she found love and acceptance with the family pets. It seemed the family always lived in the country sometimes as close as a mile outside but often a grueling forty-five minute bus ride away.

Her saving grace was an imagination that surpassed her years. It allowed her joy that, for a time, replaced the aching hurt that came from not being invited to birthday parties, having no one to sit with at lunch or always being the last one “picked” to play on a team. In her mind she could be anything or anyone she chose. The dogs and cats attended her parties, played on her team and always, above all, were delighted with her presence. She learned to nurture by using an eye dropper to feed the pups of a mother dog that couldn’t nurse her large litter and patience and timing from watching the cats crouched in anticipation of springing on an unsuspecting bird.

In school she was at first awkward and shy but by third grade, sullen and indifferent. With each move, another new school, another sea of faces judging her as the teacher humiliated her with the standard, ‘Class this is our new student …”speech and another piece of her died. She had quit trying to belong and finally would not reach out to the few kids along the way that tried to offer friendship. She had learned that saying goodbye cost much more than she was willing to pay. The teachers found no particular talent in this student. Her Math skills by grade five were more like those of a third grader and by the time her records caught up with her it was time to move again. She would not feel the full effects of this constant uprooting until much later. You do not long for that which you refuse to desire.

At an imperceptible pace she internalized the lack of interest displayed toward her. If she were, indeed unlovable, stupid or inadequate she believed that made her responsible for others reactions to her and gave her the power to control the outcome. By eleven, chameleons could have improved upon their natural gift as her understudy. Whatever or whomever the situation called for it was in her repertoire. She was as multifaceted as a fine diamond and as authentic as a cubic zirconia. Years intended for developing a sense of self and a purpose, time traditionally spent planning one’s future were consumed with the maddening race to stay a millisecond ahead of the required personality. It would take her some twenty-five years to realize the futility.

Who do you want me to be?

Summer in this new town hadn’t been too bad. Lynn had the entire day to herself after finishing the housework. Since the efficiency she and her Mom lived in was right uptown she was close to everything. There was only one other woman that lived at the hotel and Mom said she was not to talk to her because she was not a decent woman. All of the others, male residents, occupied the single rooms and didn’t have a stove/refrigerator unit like Mom’s room. Mom said they had the nicest room in the whole place and besides, it was only two blocks from her job. They were very fortunate to have found this place.

The Burchard, in its day, had been a modest hotel for the Santa Fe railroad workers. The lobby’s only offering was an expanse of ten foot tall windows that stretched the entire width of the building. They faced the river and if one stretched their imagination past the train yards and the adjoining scrap yard, it could be considered rather nice view. Lynn had brought hers, along with the brown real leather suitcase with the belt fastened around it to secure the contents.

Her days of Summer freedom found her in the stores downtown inspecting each aisle’s content as if contemplating the purchase of a rare painting. Each item had an owner and if that guy from The Millionaire ever showed up to give her that check, her shopping was already done. At eleven years and nine months she could have been a buyer for Saks. She could feel the quality within the texture of a garment, spot bisque from thirty paces and distinguish Channel from a cheap knock-off. She didn’t seem to notice the raised eyebrows or close scrutiny of the clerks as she made her daily rounds. Grownups weren’t her judge she was fearless in this setting. She viewed, weighed and deemed items worthy or dismissed them as useless imitations.

When she wasn’t tending to her self-appointed position of quality control expert, she could generally be found walking the railroad tracks or perched on a log or rock at river’s edge, pondering thoughts no child should have to concern themselves with. This was the case today. School would start in eight days. She’d prayed, two weeks straight, to be stricken with a highly contagious disease or at least something serious enough to leave her bedridden and requiring a tutor. The torment of the last town and school had almost finished healing but summer was betraying her and leaving her to start again. Mom had tried to turn this into one of the woman’s every famous adventures. She had taken Lynn shopping the week before and put three new outfits on layaway. She reminded the girl that she would be able to buy her lunch at school this year instead of carrying a lunch box because she was starting Jr. High. Her mother, having attended two schools in her entire life, both of which were in the same town, held no valid opinions in the eyes of this girl who would soon be starting tenth school in six years.

She had discussed this matter with Old Joe while he was trying to watch the Ed Sullivan show on the hotel’s tv last evening. The lobby was full but when she walked in a man who looked as if his face had gone through a meat grinder relinquished his seat.

“Old Joe”, the girl had tried to call him Mr. Ashton once and had been swiftly renounced and told to save her manners for someone who appreciated them - his name was Joe …Old Joe. “Can I ask you a question?

“Just got out of the Pen, armed robbery, stay clear of him.” The old man assumed she was curious about the new resident. ‘Words been given from the rest to leave you be. Here – get us a Coca-Cola", he handed her two dimes.

She was always guaranteed a chair in the lobby and a bottle of pop. Being the only kid, she found herself adopted by a well meaning, if not well bred, menagerie of ex-cons, construction and retired factory workers. She loved listening to their stories and besides having a fresh ear, being gullible made her a welcome audience to newly embellished tales of worn out memories.

“Old Joe,” she was having a hard time competing with the dog on tv who could bark The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Eyes still on the set, the old man acknowledged her, “Yeah kid, what is it?”

“Well, I was wondering. Were you ever scared – I mean so scared that you couldn’t hardly breathe and your stomach hurts and you can’t get your voice to work?”

Old Joe reluctantly turned his head from his most favorite show … well next to Bonanza. “Yeah, I been that scared. What’s scaring you?” His eyes narrowed and scanned the room for a possible intruder of this child’s fragile sanctuary.

“I’ve gotta start school – Jr. High – and I just don’t think I can stand it. I think I’ll die!”

Relieved that the girl wasn’t in any danger he scratched his head and pondered her problem a respectable amount of time. “How old are you girl?”

“Twelve in two months.” She knew Old Joe would have an idea.

“Twelve huh? Well them authorities ain’t gonna let you quit, not even on your Ma’s say so. This Jr. High place, it’s a bad one?” Old Joe made it through fifth grade but he didn’t know too much about this place the girl dreaded. He knew it must be pretty fierce to worry her so because he’d seen this little hellion go to it with the so called manager of this hotel and even the men didn’t cross him. She’d come to check their mail one day and the manager informed her that yes they did have mail and he would turn it over when her Mother turned over that week’s rent and not before. For good measure he’d added that if he saw her God-damned cat out in the parking lot again, he’d shoot it. Old Joe remembered the string of obscenities that had come out of that perfect little mouth. When it was over, she had the mail, an apology and the respect of all who had witnessed the scene.

“It’s not just that it’s a junior high instead of a grade school, Joe, it’s another new school. Me and Mom move a lot. We just came from Burlington and before that Galesburg and before that, about twenty other places. Every time we move I have to start another school and being the new kid is Hell. I hate it! I just don’t want to go! I’m sick of the kids making fun of me and chasing me home and beating me up” … tears made their way silently down the troubled little face.

Joe had been in many a bar fight, took a knife away from a drunk and never got a scratch. He served in WWIl, carried his buddy, arm missing and half his face blown off, back to the foxhole. He’d fell in love with a woman who’d ripped his heart clean outa his chest and still, it didn’t compare with the torture of watching this little one pour out her heart and him not knowing what to do for her. She was a pretty little thing. She dressed ok he guessed, though he didn’t pay much attention to how kid dressed these days, but she was always clean and neat and didn’t have patches on her clothes or holes in her shoes. She was plenty smart too. She had held her own in conversations with every resident in this place, even the encyclopedia salesman that had stayed for three weeks boring everybody with being so full of his self. Joe couldn’t think of a reason why this kid should have a bad time at school. He thought hard, but all he could come up with was the offer to walk her to and from school.

She wiped her face with the back of her sleeve and smiled her thanks to him. “It’s ten blocks, one way, Old Joe, and I” … she didn’t want to mention that he was barely able to make it up to his room some days ,”I know you have important things to do during the day. I’ll be all right. Don’t know what came over me – just being a candy ass, huh?" She knew there was nothing he could do for her. There was nothing anyone could do.


Submit a Comment

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 5 years ago from On the edge

    ImKarn23 - so pleased you took the time to read and comment. My mother and her illness set me up for my first abusive relationship and believe it or not, in comparison to the abuse my second husband dished out, my first husband was not as hard on my psychological health - luckily for me, I guess, he was out partying and cheating more than he was around so I suffered more abandonment. And, his abuse was direct - he wasn't bright enough to play head games and as young as I was when we were together, I knew when the physical abuse was about to happen. That sounds so twisted, and it was, but that is normal for living in abuse - everything is an Alice in Wonderland scene of disproportion and skewed reality. It's funny, I never associate our dogs with him as far as bringing back bad memories of our relationship. I do want to take them to pee on his grave when they cower every once in awhile - eleven years after he's gone. He was a mean drunk and they suffered his rage more than once apparently.

  • ImKarn23 profile image

    Karen Silverman 5 years ago

    This was difficult for me to read, childhood education in abuse, narcissism, brutality - and abandonment..

    i lost myself in the animal kingdom as well - so much more honest and predictable..

    Unlike your story - it didn't end quite so...amicably - but it did end - even though i believe he's still alive...somewhere..

    it must give you some comfort to have been able to forgive and care for him in the end - it makes you such an amazing person..

    and yes - having his dog must be an...interesting reminder - every single day..

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 5 years ago from On the edge

    tjdavis - thanks for reading and I'm sorry you had these types of experiences. It can take a life time to over come, depending on the severity of social separation and the wearing down of self-esteem. Hope things are much better for you now!

  • tjdavis profile image

    Teresa Davis 5 years ago from Moscow, Texas

    I found myself in this person. I know how she felt. Rated up for beautiful and awesome!!!

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 6 years ago from On the edge

    Happyboomernurse - Being the new kid just plain stinks, doesn't it? It's hard to keep up with each school's cirriculum and almost impossible to fit in with a clique of kids. Thanks so much for reading and for your positive feedback!!!

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Very touching, well written story. The first line lured me in as I remember going to 3 different schools in 2nd grade, and like you, I'd moved many other times by the ripe old age of 7.

    Enjoyed your story even though it was so sad, because you had spunk and such a tender heart with the animals and I loved your description of Old Joe who also had a tender heart.

    Rated up and awesome for the great writing.

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 6 years ago from On the edge

    babygirl, thank you and you must write of your own story! I would so enjoy reading what you have to tell!

  • baygirl33 profile image

    victoria 6 years ago from Hamilton On.

    Again Pooh ,so great.

    That child is me.Don't know how you found me:))

    Guess I'm not so unique after all.One can sometimes think that.

    You give me courage to take excerpts from my own story and share.If only one were not so stiff-necked.

    Good story!

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 6 years ago from On the edge

    It is Enlydia. I don't have these things worked out chronologically yet because I write them as memory and time allow me but eventually I hope to have them all put into one book in proper order. Thank you so much for reading and your glowing compliment!

  • Enlydia Listener profile image

    Enlydia Listener 6 years ago from trailer in the country

    excellent writing...I am not sure if I missed it, but is autobiographical? I want to read all of it. You are a master with words.

  • stars439 profile image

    stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

    And excellent hub on what children must endure as they are growing up in certain situations. God Bless You.

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 6 years ago from On the edge

    The greatest compliment a writer can receive is another author reading their work. To have one of your caliber read mine, let alone leave such glowing comments, is such an honor. You inspire all of us, constantly thinking, writing every day and always so generous with your mentioning of other writer's work. My thanks to you Sir Epi.

  • epigramman profile image

    epigramman 6 years ago are such a brave, bold and courageous writer Miss S ....and you never seem to blink or pull any punches - also so honest and with so much conviction and passion in your words too. I went all the way back to the beginning of your time here at the HUB - scanning over your writing with myself being in awe, admiration and respect of what you have accomplished here.

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    ...and the trouble we could have gotten into

    A lovely idea though! I never really felt lonely when we lived in the country and I had all of my animal buddies to play with but school - that was a complete nightmare!

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 7 years ago from Minnesota

    Hi Pooh-Glad your writing your memories from childhood. I had a difficult childhood too but having a twin made it not only bearable but fun. We had our own life amidst the chaos. Whether it was in our bedroom or at school etc...We always knew we had eachother. I wish you could've been my triplett. Oh, the fun we would've had. Bless you my dear friend:)

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    Hi parkher - thanks for stumbling across this and sticking around to read. Thanks too for the high praise! If you check out my profile, it explains all this jumping around from ago to age. I will try to work on more of this if there's a real interest. Some hubs comes easier than others depending on memory and mood but I'll see what I can do. :)

  • profile image

    parkher 7 years ago

    I was just looking for tax information, and then I saw the title of this article off to the side and I clicked on it because it seemed interesting...I was drawn in immediately (I love to read), but then I was like well, what happened next??! I looked around to see if I overlooked the next page button, but no...Then I noticed the comments and I realized this was a real story and my heart went out to you and others who have had to suffer like this. Kids can be cruel but it makes me wonder where do they pick up it up it a learned behaviour or instinct? I enjoyed reading this "snippet" you put me right there in the story and I want more!

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    If we're lucky, yes we do, at least most of them. Thanks for reading Q!

  • QudsiaP1 profile image

    QudsiaP1 7 years ago

    Childhood is such a delicate phase usually dismissed by most. However, it is during this phase that we learn all the skills we will ever need.

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    No, Don Quixote does not fit the bill but good try. That character will be introduced later on. I agree that the travels we did allowed me much insight, well as much as I could gather at that young age, later travels taught me much more. I'm happy that your life took the other turn and you learned not to be a bully. I would appreciate any constructive editing suggestions you have and thank you so much for reading this snippet of my memoir. I will try to weave everything together eventually but I put out a little here - a little there and test the water. I am pleased to meet you also, thank you for coming by!

  • randslam profile image

    Rand Zacharias 7 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

    Don Quixote was a rusty knight on a sway-backed nag--does that come close?

    A good story, Pooh, but when you realize that most people never leave the 50-mile radius of their birth, maybe it's a blessing?

    Travel is education, but of course, bullying in schools foisted upon the "new kid" is the rule. The lesson I know from experience is not to take on the traits of the bully in later life--it tends to happen to victims of bullying. It takes the strength of becoming a "pattern breaker" to overcome the bullying with a productive life and personality traits.

    More flies with honey than vinegar rule applies here. I was bullied through high school and one day it just stopped--I was glad not to suffer any longer, and gladder in later years to possess and kinder, gentler personality--at least, when not emotionally stressed

    As for your writing style, as an editor, I see a few tenses needing correction, but more positively your style of story-telling reads purely and sincerely with great description and dialogue.

    Nice to meet you here.

  • Scarlett My Dear profile image

    Scarlett My Dear 7 years ago from Missouri

    Pooh, I'll never turn down a good buddy in my corner!

    And yes, Life is just weird! Nicely put.

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    Well, he WAS - stupid ass. Loved the jerk though and stayed with him the last weeks of his life - he and my husband became good friends, can you imagine? We were not about to put him in a Hospice, not that he would have gone. He was Michael Joseph's daddy and my daughter's. We still have his dogs. Life is just weird!

  • profile image

    ralwus 7 years ago

    rusty knight on a white jack-ass; ROFLMAO

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    Well, I'd never hurt you for the world but sometimes when I write of pain I've had it makes my life now feel all the sweeter. I hope reading it can do that for you. I'm sorry we lived worlds and years apart - I bet we would've been good buddies back then!

  • Scarlett My Dear profile image

    Scarlett My Dear 7 years ago from Missouri

    'Bout split my gut when I read your comment about the rusty knight on the white jack-ass, Pooh!

    Again... just love your stories! This one felt like you were speaking about my own childhood and emotions ~ a time when I felt very alone. Don't know how I feel about that. Painful enough, I guess, to have lived it ~ downright aches to think about someone else living through those same feelings. Seems to make mine all the more real.

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    Never fear, I have a rusty knight on a white jack-ass coming to my rescue, or so I thought at the time. Just a glimpse into what started to form my year's long opinion of myself. Thanks ever so much for taking the time to read this. Your time, writing, is so precious and I'm searching for new before they send a notice! Love and life, pooh

  • profile image

    ralwus 7 years ago

    More great writing PG. Reminds me of my school days, but I was athletic enough to compete and never got picked on, but I was moved around a lot too. 30 some schools by the time I finished and I was truant a lot in Junior High. Ach well, I survived it all anyway. Things today are so much worse I think for the kids. Keep writing, you're tops. CC

  • Poohgranma profile image

    Poohgranma 7 years ago from On the edge

    Thanks for taking the time to read my hub gr82bme. Yes, it can be a very lonely existence.

  • gr82bme profile image

    gr82bme 7 years ago from USA

    I know just how she felt. My dad was in the service and we moved a lot. Kids can be mean. We should start a HUB MOB about bullying


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