Oddchester: Humbling school events get fuzzier and funnier with time

Every year, before school starts, I traditionally run a column called "An Open Letter To Kindergartners On Their First Day."

It's about the fears of walking into a new-to-them classroom in a new-to-them school to meet their new-to-them teacher and classmates.

Those same fears apply to other milestone school years as well.

So here is "An Open Letter To First-Graders, First-Year Middle-Schoolers, and Freshmen On Their First Day."

To pass along some life lessons, I'll do what all good fathers do — relate a personal story that only tangentially applies to your situation.


To you, first-grader:

When I was your age, I really loved hot dogs.

On my first day of first grade, I begged my mother to pack a hot dog in my lunch. So she squeezed a Ball Park Frank into my lunch box Thermos, then filled it with boiling water.

Here was an unforeseen problem: The very characteristic that makes Ball Park Franks so amazing is the very one that causes issues when they're shoved through the tiny opening of a kid-sized Thermos. They plump when you cook 'em.

I opened my Thermos to find a frank plumped larger than the opening. I did the only thing my six-year-old brain could come up with (and, today, I still can't think of a better option): I used a plastic knife to break the hot dog into pieces and drank the Thermosful of hot water mixed with hot dog.

I'm not sure of the life lesson here. Maybe to be ready to improvise regardless of the situation.

To you, first-year middle-schooler:

I moved from Bay City, Mich., to Decatur, Ala., just before middle school. I was painfully skinny. I had just gotten glasses. I said "you guys" instead of "y'all."


In gym, we regularly played "war ball." During war ball, each player is eliminated by either being hit by a red rubber ball or throwing a ball and having an opponent catch it. Survival of the fittest. Dwan, the kid who wore a suit and fedora to school, was out first. And so it went until two remained.

Danny was on one side. I was on the other. Danny had facial hair in fifth grade. Danny held in his right hand a small, red, pressurized sphere the size of a small Confederate cannon ball. He threw the ball at me with an arm that was bigger than both my legs combined.

All I saw, literally, was red. The ball hit me between the eyes before I even had a chance to raise my arms. The ball glanced off my face and traveled straight into the air. My glasses went spiraling into the distance. In an involuntary reaction caused by the sudden brain trauma, I stuck my arms straight out in front of me. That ball landed in my arms.

I had caught it. Danny was out. I had won.

If this had been a movie, my catch would have gained me the adoration of my classmates. In reality, all I had to show for it was a giant face welt.

The lesson? I'm not sure they still play war ball in school, but if they do, forge a sick note.

To you, high school freshman:

During my freshman year, I regularly wore a pair of blue painter pants with suspenders. These were my "go-to pants."


Following one football game, I was standing in the school parking lot and leaning in the passenger window of a car full of girls, making my moves on one particular sophomore. I was wearing my go-to pants. At some point, the driver of the car pulled away.

My suspenders were hooked on something inside the vehicle.

I remember running maniacally alongside the car, the flailing action of which attracted the attention of half the kids in the parking lot. The other half were given a heads-up by my high-pitched screaming.

Eventually, I found myself lying in the parking lot with chunks of material missing from where those suspenders had been attached to my pants.

All of you will experience something similar, but you know what? It won't matter.

And that's the real life lesson here: Your family will still love you regardless. You'll laugh about it later. The details will get fuzzier and funnier.

Well, not for me. I mean, I remember that suspenders incident like it was yesterday.

And I'm sure everyone who witnessed it still talks about it to this day.

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