Do I Fit In?
At this point only my aunt, my sister-in-law and maybe my friend, Bev, are still reading, but hey, a reader is a reader! I’ll continue with my story of trying to fit in.
Most of the girls in my class had lived in this area their whole lives. In fact some of their families went back for several generations. Some of those girls still live here and are now raising their children and grandchildren here. (We returned to this area after being away for something like 15 years or so.)While immigration brought people to the “new world,” Indiana was the “new West” at one point in history. Some people to this day think that Indiana is the end of the world. (They are the ones who are town historians and "belong" here.)You can take that anyway you like. People continue coming to this area to visit from all over the world, but only because they think that Jimmy Dean’s ghost walks around here. (Or maybe little James Dean clones. But then, that would make this blog science fiction. )
But what made our class a little bit distinctive was that here we were in the bread basket of rural Indiana, and we blessed our bread with mostly Quaker prayers, a Baptist prayer or maybe the open-minded United Methodist prayers (only to be chastised by the Wesleyans’ prayers,) and our teacher was a Jewish man. I can’t remember anyone really mentioning this bit of background, except maybe like describing where something was located to someone from out of town. "Yup, yup, you go to the corner of First and Sycamore, and turn left at that Jewish teacher's house." It's not meant to be a judgment or a criticism. It's just some way to distinguish each person and that alone made him "different." Otherwise, we all looked the same. No one was staring or gawking or whispering about his worldview. And he really did bring a different perspective to our lives. We all liked him. He was tall. (Don't miss this--we were very basketball crazy back in those days in Indiana.) He had curly, kind of kinky black hair and now I could easily see him blending in on the streets of Israel.
I don’t recall exactly the moment when I realized he was Jewish. I’m not even sure if he was a religious Jew. I knew he smoked like a chimney because while our little rural school only had about 9 or 10 (small) rooms, the teacher’s lounge was always filled with blue smoke and he definitely was the culprit. (It was a very small school. We knew everything.)He was the only man teacher in our school, so that really made him stand out, and besides Mr. James, the janitor, who I think was a farmer from around here, he was the only male in the building most of the time. And he didn’t quite fit the profile of even the teachers. Our principal was a petite, older woman of obvious ultra-conservative Christian religious persuasion and whose mean streak included showing kindergarteners her iodine-soaked-to-look-like-blood paddle. (Kept us all in line, and she was the reason girls had to wear dresses.) But yet, he fit in perfectly.
And maybe because of this, I knew someday I would fit in out here in the sticks, somehow, someway. He knew all about me and apparently didn’t blink an eyeball about it. He didn’t teach us conventional stuff, either. He had this passion for Edgar Allen Poe and would turn off the lights and read a little every day. (That was my favorite thing. Beating hearts behind walls. Eueew, scary.) He made us write, and oh, he also had an art contest one time.
His sister was an artist and was visiting him, so he had this art contest and he had her judge them that evening at home. First prize went to my (now) good friend Linda Leckron. She was a straight-A student, who later was a cheerleader and graduated 2nd in our graduating class. She always did everything perfect (that’s why she picked me to be her roommate in college and why we were in each other’s weddings.) Who could beat someone like that? And frankly, you liked her so much, you were glad she won everything.
I can even remember that her picture was of a clown. It was very good. It later would remind me of the clowns Red Skelton used to paint. He was another Hoosier. Anyway, I cannot for the life of me remember who got 2nd place or what the picture was. But, I got 3rd place.
Now, you’d think everything would be hunky-dory, but for some reason, though I was quiet and never uttered much of anything, so I didn’t complain (teachers always said I spoke with my eyes. Pretty good trick, if you can do it,) Mr. Rosen felt like explaining to me how I got 3rd place. Here his sister was some artist and apparently quite good, according to her brother, but he and she (as siblings are wont to do) argued strongly over my picture and whether it should have a prize at all. It seems she thought I should get first place (yay! An artist thought I was good) and he thought anyone could go out and take a photograph of my picture, so it wasn’t really art. (I think he meant that he thought I should have last place, even though there wasn't such a place. At least this is how my 11-year-old-I'm-new-here mind took this info.) Well, at this point in his explanation, I sort of felt like an artist and wanted to slit my wrists. I didn't know his artist sister, would never see her, and all I cared about was whether I was going to get a "F" in art. But he gave into his sister a little bit and gave me a prize--third place. Only three places were given prizes.
I am not sure why he wanted to explain all this to my 11-year-old precarious ego new to a school and way of life. I just wanted to blend in and I could’ve lived the rest of my life without knowing that my picture had caused this major argument between adult siblings—one of them my teacher—or that said teacher hated my picture and thought anyone could do what I had done. I think I got a box of cough drops, so what was the big deal? (Linda got this big chocolate something—maybe one of those Russell Stover boxes. We all envied her with our stomachs.)
I took my picture home after it had been displayed appropriately as a prize winner, but I did not enjoy my status. I was thinking I never wanted to express my own personality again. Who wanted to be in a stupid art contest, anyway? I would’ve been perfectly happy to have just been one of the “losers” and gone happily and obliviously(I love adverbs) along, blending in. But my picture, as my life seems to always do, caused controversy among my classmates, who looked at my picture with new eyes--"is that really art??" (like a sixth grader cares,) and more importantly, between adults. And everyone in the class knew it. We were surrounded by cornfields, and though John F. Kennedy had one time driven by our school on the state highway while campaigning to be president (and I heard about it. Everyone went out and waved,) no one would notice us. I wasn't going to be the next Hoosier Picasso. And who cared if my picture could be taken by a camera? I made the whole thing up in my mind. I had never seen this place before. It was a mere longing in my heart (and it didn't look like Indiana.) Ol' Edgar could've showed up at that point, bricked me up behind a wall, and I would've yelled, "Thanks, Ed!"I didn't eat those cough drops. Let them melt in my bottom drawer.