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Roder — Standing in line to get a shot

By Mary S. Roder

We were in line to get shots. I have no idea what the shot was for. In first grade, when they tell you to line up to get shots, you do it

.I was gawking at all the commotion as other classes joined us. I didn’t see the nurse up ahead or the needle she was holding. The girl in line ahead of me did. She fainted. I still know the name of the girl who fainted and I don’t remember another thing from first grade.

Second grade had double desks and I got to sit in a desk with my best friend. I loved every class and at recess we had giants and swings to play on and a black fire escape to play under. Then I learned we were moving. My parents bought a farm in a nearby town and we would soon attend a very small school with a handful of classmates as opposed to a roomful of classmates.

I remember no long explanations from our parents or encouraging words from teachers to help in the adjustment. Our older sisters guided my little sister and myself into the room labeled Grades 1, 2 and 3 and left. The teacher, Sister Helen, told the others our names and classes began. Knowing the other was close by helped my sister and I endure the stress of being complete strangers to everyone else. With my arrival, the second grade class enrollment increased to three girls and four boys. It was March and much of the school year had been completed. On my first day one of the boys was given a lovely prayer book for achieving some goal.

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That was like throwing a gauntlet down and giving me a dare. He and his cousin, one of the girls, were very smart and that day was the beginning of my constant, and silent, competition with them in everything academic for the next six years.

During noon hour my little sister and I huddled together in my desk eating from our bagged lunches. Before long we became comfortable enough to join new friends as we ate. I usually sat with the other two girls in my class.

My standard lunch was made up of bologna or cheese on a slab of homemade bread, an apple and a cookie or a square of cake, sometimes topped with frosting. One of the girls in our trio had egg or ham salad sandwiches on store-bought bread, a pile of potato chips wrapped in a square of waxed paper and her fruit was a banana, an orange or an apple. Her cake was cut in narrow oblongs and was always frosted.

When it was chocolate cake there would be a layer of gooey white marshmallow below the chocolate frosting. Oh, how I longed to swap lunch bags with her.

A month after I started at the new school I received the sacrament of Confession for the first time. I became very conscientious about knowing what sins I committed and how many times. Once Tommy, the class trouble-maker, whispered to me during a test. He wanted the answer to a question. I told him I didn’t know the answer.

Then I forgot about the test and examined my conscience. I told a lie and I disobeyed by whispering during the test — two biggies. But if I told him I knew the answer, he would copy from me. That was cheating. Another sin — but mine or his? Sometimes those sins just wanted to pile up. I convinced myself I had done the best I could. One disobey and one lie wasn’t as bad as one disobey and one cheat. It was great news to hear an all-school picnic would highlight my last day in second grade.

That morning we emptied our desks, stacked the textbooks on shelves at the back of the room and jammed wastebaskets with the remaining accumulated litter; broken crayons, scratch paper, pencil stubs, eraser rubbings, etc. At noon we found food tables were set up on the boys’ playground close to the swings. It was the only school day all year the girls were on that playground.

After we had eaten, we played on the swings until we heard the bad news. Our mothers had not only brought food to the school, they also brought scrub buckets and rags. We went back into the building and each person scrubbed down his or her own empty desk. Then we returned to enjoy the swings while our moms scrubbed the floors. Three months of summer vacation lay before us.

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Mary Roder lives in Remsen, Iowa.

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