In spite of his Monday night bath, Jamie was looking forward to school starting. Two weeks earlier, he and his mother had gone into town to buy school supplies. He got a Big Chief writing tablet, a ruler, a new pencil box, a fist-full of Ticonderoga pencils and a new pair of bib overalls. It was a tradition that boys wore new bibs the first day of school. After that, they wore their usual clothes and saved the new ones for special occasions.
The store also had fancy painted lunchboxes for sale, but they were for town kids. They cost fifty cents and no one at his school could afford that. He’d carry his dinner in an old lard pail, which was better because it was bigger and held lots more to eat at dinner recess.
At home, he arranged his new pencils, tablet, ruler and pencil box on his dresser where he could admire them while he counted down the days.
Tuesday morning, Jamie did his chores in record time, gulped down breakfast, grabbed his school supplies and lard pail then raced out the door.
School was two miles from his farm, but he enjoyed the walk. The morning air was fresh and every so often, a rabbit or pheasant would burst out of the long grass next to the road.
At the schoolhouse, kids were coming from all directions. The Fishe twins, Keith and Ken who were in seventh grade with Jamie, rode bareback on two of their old workhorses with Nancy, their little sister, riding behind Ken. Harold Held cantered his horse down the road trying to catch up with them. His nickname was ‘Doc’ because he loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian. He made it his job to take care of everyone’s horses in the shed next to the schoolhouse.
“Hey, Jamie. Seen the new kid?”
Jamie turned and saw Homer trotting toward him. His new boots were tied together by the strings and hanging around his neck. “Hi, Homer. Not yet. Why are you here so early?”
Homer knew exactly how long it took to walk to school from his farm and arrived just as Miss Kuelmann rang the tardy bell and not a minute before.
“Aw, you know. First day and all, but I ain’t gonna do it again.”
“Where’s your little brother? I thought he was starting this year.”
“Naw, Wilbur’s only five, but he sure wanted to come along.” Homer frowned. “I dunno about him. I think he’s gonna like goin’ to school.”
Jamie socked Homer on the shoulder. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, next thing you know, he’ll start doin’ homework and I don’t think I could stand watchin’ ’im.”
As they wandered toward the schoolhouse, a new pickup truck stopped in front of the school. Jamie pointed and said, “Hey, look. That must be Sam.”
Homer turned toward the road and whistled in admiration. “Sure is a nice-lookin’ truck. Sure wish Pa had one like that.”
Miss Kuelmann came out and rang her bell to start school and then walked to the truck to meet Sam as he got out. The man driving waved and left.
While Homer sat on a step of the porch to put his boots on, Jamie went inside. The single classroom had been whitewashed over the summer, but other than that, nothing had changed. Miss Kuelmann’s desk stood on a raised section of floor in front with a blackboard on the wall behind it. A row of penmanship alphabet cards were above that and pictures of Lincoln and Washington hung on either side of an American flag. Jamie was disappointed because they still didn’t have electric lights even though the school in town did.
The shelves of books next to Miss Kuelmann’s desk were the only thing that interested him. Last year, he read all the books in the school library by Christmas. This year, there were a more and it might take him until Easter to read them all. He could hardly wait to check out the first one.
Homer came in, grabbed a desk and pushed it as close to the open door as he could and still be sitting in the schoolhouse. Then he flopped into the seat, crossed his arms over his chest and looked around the room with an unhappy expression.
Miss Kuelmann came in with Sam and showed him to a desk next to Jamie. When Sam sat down, Jamie waved and Sam smiled and nodded back.
Miss Kuelmann rapped on her desk with a ruler. “Everyone find a seat, please. First grade in front and seventh in back. Second grade, help the new first grade students, please.”
When everyone had moved together by grades, Miss Kuelmann picked up a sheet of paper and said, “We have a big class this year with twenty-two students. Would all the first graders please stand?”
Four tiny kids stood and Miss Kuelmann introduced them since they were too shy to talk loud enough to be heard. There were two boys and two girls, Charles Buntjer, Tanner Smith, Marilyn Ball and Carol Neuberger.
She motioned for them to sit down. “Everyone else, please raise your hand when I call your name. In second grade, we have Nancy Fishe, Carolyn Morrison and Leland Smith.”
They had been here last year, so they flapped their hands around in the air like they were swatting at flies.
Miss Kuelmann nodded. “Third grade includes Leonard Kling, Viola Mauer and Richard Peck.” Richard and Viola raised their hands, but Leonard didn’t until Richard nudged him. Leonard was a little slow and daydreamed a lot.
“We don’t have any fourth graders, but in fifth grade, we have Kathy Shaulis and Terry Smith.” Terry was a boy, but he usually played recess games with the girls.
Sixth grade was Doc and four girls, Michelle Drucker, Erica Nott, Jane Smith and Judy Sturtz. When Miss Kuelmann called his name, Doc waved both arms over his head, making everyone laugh.
Miss Kuelmann said, “Seventh grade is Ken and Keith Fishe, Sam Lily, Homer Meiers and Jamie Williams. Since there aren’t any eighth graders, that’s everyone.”
Miss Kuelmann set her class roster on her desk and said, “We have a new seventh grade student this year. Sam, would you please stand and introduce yourself?”
Sam slid out of his desk and stood. He was smaller than Doc with neatly combed short, blonde hair, which made him look younger than someone in seventh grade.
“My name is Sam Lily and I just moved here from New York City to live with my aunt. In New York, I went to a private school and I’ve never gone to a public school before so I hope you’ll help me learn how you do things. Thank you.” He nodded and sat down.
Miss Kuelmann said, “Thank you, Sam, I’m sure we’ll all make you welcome and you’ll know everyone in a few days. After attendance, we all stand, face the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ll lead since it’s the first day.”
After the Pledge, Miss Kuelmann handed out books and set up a schedule for the chores we had to do every day. Sam took out a sheet of tablet paper and wrote everything down.
Jamie leaned over and whispered, “You don’t have to do that, Sam. It’s the same every year. We’ll tell you.”
Sam shook his head and kept writing.
When the little kids got fidgety, Miss Kuelmann called a recess. Before she finished the sentence, Jamie heard boot heels thudding on the wooden floor as Homer ran out. He sat closest to the door so he wouldn’t miss a second of being outside during recess.
The first graders got up and shuffled outside together like a litter of kittens while everyone else walked to the door. Jamie went out and saw Sam head for the outhouses in the corner of the schoolyard. Jamie changed direction and caught up with him before he went in. “Hey, Sam. That’s the wrong one.”
Sam stopped and turned toward Jamie. “Wrong one? Wrong one what?”
“Wrong privy. Boy’s on the left and girl’s on the right.”
“Oh. They aren’t marked and look alike, so I didn’t think it mattered.”
“It does. Boy’s left, girl’s right.”
Kicking at a clump of grass, he said, “I’m Jamie.” And waved.
Sam half-waved back. “Hi, Jamie.”
He grinned and trotted to the big maple tree at the front of the schoolyard where he and Homer met at recess. Homer was in the tree, swinging from branch to branch so Jamie sat down on the ground and leaned against the trunk watching everyone on the playground. Sam came out of the privy, walked to the porch and sat alone.
Jamie tipped his head back and sent a question into the tree. “What do you think of Sam?”
Homer said, “Dunno. Seems kinda stuck-up to me.”
“How can you say that? He’s only been in school a couple of hours. Maybe he’s shy. Not everyone likes to meet people the way you do.”
There were no strangers in Homer’s world, only interesting people to meet and talk to. In town, he’d march up to someone he’d never seen before and talk to him as if they were old friends. After years of watching Homer meet people that way, Jamie couldn’t figure out how he did it. Jamie knew he never could.
He fired another question up into the leaves. “Why aren’t you over there talking to him? I thought you’d be doing that first thing.”
The branches stopped rustling. “Well, maybe, but he ain’t like everybody else.”
“Of course not. He’s from New York City.”
Homer dropped to the ground and sat beside Jamie. “I suppose. But I think there’s somethin’ about ’im that ain’t right.”
Doc walked over and sat next to Sam. Jamie pointed and said, “I’ll bet Doc’s asking Sam if he has any animals over at Mrs. Lily’s.”
Homer said, “Yeah. And if he don’t, Doc’s gonna give him some.”
Jamie laughed because Doc practically had his own zoo. He took care of their horses and cattle, trained dogs, raised rabbits and sheep, had a pet squirrel, watched out for the barn cats and was even teaching a crow to talk. He always seemed to have kittens or puppies to give away.
“Let’s go over and talk to Sam.”
“Naw, we gotta think about what games we’re gonna play at recess.”
“Well, okay. We’ve only got a few minutes left anyway.” Homer and Jamie talked about games until Miss Kuelmann rang her bell.