I said to someone online yesterday that third grade was awesome. And indeed it was.
It was the year my best friend showed up at Lincoln, because the alternative school she’d been going to closed. I had an excellent homeroom teacher, and Dan and Tim and Aaron all sat behind me, and one day I figured out one of Aaron’s puzzle tricks faster than he did. All of us were terrible at remembering to bring things for Show and Tell, and so we resorted each week to our pockets. In those years, I always kept things in the pockets of my windbreaker — stones and pieces of string and bits of balsa wood and my first jackknife and the acorn caps that we colored in with pencils until we’d worn the pencil lead down to a nub and the inside of the acorn cap looked like dark pewter. And of course marbles. That was the year we played marbles. Every day at recess we were up in the corner of the field, where no grass grew, drawing circles in the dirt and explaining the rules to newcomers: two in the game to shoot, and you got to keep any you shot out. I lost a great many marbles. But it was worth it, even when Dan showed up with his cheater marbles — miniscule white things that were impossible to move. He never lost any of them.
It was one of the years another friend and I went creeking after school. I still always wore dresses in those days, and we were convinced creeking was probably illegal in some fashion, and so whenever a car passed by us on River Street, we’d duck down to avoid being seen, me with my legs spread in a wide squat to keep my skirts out of the water. It was also the year we decided to go as Little Women for Halloween. We both checked the book out of the library in September, and every night we’d call each other up. “I’m on chapter five — what chapter are you on?” I got to be Jo, of course, because I had the brown hair. My mother sewed a dress for me — red calico with green ribbon and off-white plain eyelet trim, which came out less Christmasy than it sounds. (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!” I practiced my lines a lot.)
I kept D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths in my desk that year and read bits of it every day during silent reading. My mother still read to me every night. I’d settled in well at our new house, and I no longer got lost walking home. Walking to school in the morning still involved the shortcut past the pipe that was, according to my friend, actually a Civil War cannon, and through several backyards, whose owners had thoughtfully provided us with stepping stones, and through the valley that, in the spring, was nothing but violets. It was a good year.
That’s what I say about it now, anyway. Those are the parts I like to remember.
It’s also the year I started getting dragged to therapists once a week. I was a bad liar and never knew what to say every week when the same kid asked me why I got to leave school early that day. It was the year someone first called me fat. It was the year I began to have doubts about that Civil War cannon and the year I started to perceive, more than ever, that class divisions were something that some people actually cared about, and that those people were going to make my friends’ lives miserable as a result.
I always think of myself as having had a happy childhood. My grandmother always says I was miserable as a child. It’s hard to know whose sets of memories to believe, or even which ones of one’s own to choose. But this autumn, back in the city of my childhood, I’m going to cling to pieces of string and bits of balsa wood and go looking for some acorn caps.