Avoiding Little Lessons in Hate
The buzzer rings at 6:30 am. I don’t yet call it an alarm, but it is alarming, and I dislike its rude reminder to wake. It’s cold in my pink room with its white furniture and shag rug. At least my tiny feet aren’t cold in the long rug fibers as I hop across the room to hit the button on the new clock that offers me a way to capture 9 extra minutes of sleep. [It won’t switch to the standard 10-minutes until years later.]
At 6:39 it rings again. Two minutes later a warning comes, although not from the clock.
“You’d better get your lazy bones up. I’m not driving you to school if you miss the bus again.”
I’m up. I hurry. And just before 7:00, I’m in the kitchen to fix myself a piece of peanut-butter toast. [I wasn’t to know that years later I’d have to catch that same bus for high school, at a painful 7:10 am.]
From the other room, comes an offer. “I’m up so I’ll braid your hair.” The pulling and scrapping of the scalp to produce these ‘French braids’ is not an activity I actually look forward to. Plus, few of the other girls wear braids. But I know the correct answer, “Ok, thanks.”
I say I want to get dressed first. Surprisingly, she adds “I picked your clothes out for you today, look in the bathroom.” That’s odd.
“Really,” I question. “How come?”
A typical answer is forthcoming “don’t get arguing or you’re gonna be late.”
I dread what I might see. But no. She’d pick out one of my favorite outfits; an orange skirt and matching vest top, with a cute, white peter-pan shirt for underneath. Ok, not bad.
So, I wash up and I don the duds and get ready for the hair pull. A bit before 8:00 the alteration to our usual morning routine is over.
I never get a bag-lunch to bring to school. I always have to remember to ask “Can I have lunch money?” The 30 cents gets me a round green token for a full lunch. The bag-lunch kids pay 2 cents for a much prettier square red token, that means they can grab a container of milk out of the metal crates in the lunchroom. Nicer token, but envy goes only so far since milk is not my favorite.
With little more fanfare, I’m off to the bus stop, wrapped in a coat as it’s still quite cold in upstate New York. “Going out like a lion,” I hear older people lament. Luckily, since I’m a bit late, I don’t wait for the bus long. The long yellow transport has a good heater going. Ah.
Getting to Class
When I get into my grade-school classroom, even before I reach the cubbies, my heart sinks. I now remember.
The classroom is decorated all in green with sweet smiling leipreacháns (Irish spelling as I learn much later). The cute, yet sneaky and a tad bit scary, creatures are holding the promised pots of gold. Taped to the back wall are signs as big as me, saying “Wearin’ of the Green.” I have forgotten to wear green as teacher told us to do. Her name is Mrs. Green as well, no kidding. That makes it worse. Am I insulting her?
A typical slow-poke, I am worse today. I don’t want her to see I forgot my ‘green.’ She’s always assisting kids at the cubbies, although usually not me. I don’t generally need her help, although I like her and wouldn’t mind the extra attention.
“Okay, missy, off with your coat” she is simultaneously describing her actions as she slips it off my shoulders. I am little in stature, and little in years, but I’m sensitive enough to see her short-lived scowl. Unusual for her.
“Hey, honey, did you forget your green today,” she asked nicely? I admit it, although the classroom has been decorated for days – who knows, maybe years in my mind – and I am ashamed.
“That’s alright, I have a big shamrock pin we can award you today.” She turns to retrieve it from her desk as I scurry along behind her. Oh boy, an “award.”
“Did someone tell you to wear this today,” she smiles and tugs at my orange outfit. I nodded my head and said my mom. Teacher smiles again, but with one of those smiles all kids realize isn’t real.
With her lips still turned up, she briefly says something to me, which is a kids-version of Catholics and Protestants, as she pats my arm. Mostly, I’m just thrilled with my large shamrock. I am fitting in with everyone else; all those who don’t feel shame for forgetting their ‘green’ like I did.
There was some tense discussion that night after I was actually allowed to wear my award home for the day. But it wasn’t until much later, I came to truly understand. Even now, decades later, when March 17th is upon us, as it recently was, I shake my head a bit. I search through my closet for some green clothes, remembering I’m content to celebrate and honor all cultures. More to the point, I’m thankful that I avoided internalizing this particular little lesson in hate.
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