As my memory for what I wore yesterday fades, or what I said last week diminishes, I noticed that somehow sixth grade comes in clear as glass. I’m able to remember bits and pieces of other years but there must have been something mystical about having turned 11.
I had my first male teacher that year — an older man whose wife had been my second grade teacher. He seemed very nice but then the girls all said to watch out because he rubs your back to see if you are wearing a bra yet. Even young as I was I thought that was a ridiculous, hurtful rumor. I dodged him just the same because in case it was true I didn’t want him to know I wasn’t allowed one yet.
This was also the year that Leighton School kids blended with us and when one girl stood up to introduce herself by saying she had a golden retriever, I wasted no time getting in line next to her and asking if I could meet her dog. We became joined at the hip for years and are still friends.
I was allowed into the Sixth Grade Chorus without needing to try out, something that would definitely keep me from joining the more elite group the following year. I loved the chorus and was only mildly nervous about getting up on stage for the spring concert. We had to wear a white blouse, light blue skirt and stockings. I had none of the above.
The only blue skirt my mother could find had to be hemmed six inches and that’s all my mother did was turn it under those six inches and tack it up. You could see the thick hem job from 20 feet away. I think she thought I would need it longer as the years went on but I had already reached my full height (or lack of it) by then. The white blouse only confirmed my lack of a bra and the thought of wearing stockings was too alien to fathom — as I had worn mostly knee socks all my life. Of course I spent the better part of my days pulling them back up, and when class got boring I pulled them up as high as I could get them and pretended they were go-go boots, imagining myself belting out “Downtown” right beside Petula Clark.
If I thought wearing pantyhose was embarrassing, it was nothing compared to the anxiety I felt as I watched the seventh- and eighth-graders in gym class. Those grades had to wear gym uniforms and the uniforms were little more than bathing suits with sleeves. They couldn’t make me wear one. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I would take an F if necessary. I would drop out of school. I would definitely cut the elastic out of the legs to see how far the material fell if I lost my case but it never came to that.
By some stroke of good fortune new uniforms were handed out. To be safe I ordered a medium even though an extra small would have sufficed. The downside to that maneuver was that when doing sit ups, the spotter who was holding my feet down got a straight shot to my dainties.
Then there was the Sixth Grade Dance and a boy actually asked me to be his date. I told him I couldn’t dance and he said it didn’t matter. Turns out it did matter because when I refused to dance with him he ran to the bathroom crying and my friends told me I was being mean. Me, mean? That’s crazy talk and I was mortified so I sucked up my pride and started hopping around the dance floor to protect his feelings. This was my first lesson on what it entailed to be the female of the species.
I remember the air raid training we practiced quite often, not fully realizing the severity of it all. I only felt it took up valuable time that could have been better spent. And Stop, Drop, and Roll was so heavily preached that I was certain I would have caught on fire at least three times by now.
I even remember my coat. It was white with navy blue pin dots. I just happened to be wearing that coat when I got hit by a car. Somehow I didn’t ruin it. I just ruined my knees.
Sixth grade was also the year I started washing my hair more than once a week because a Leighton boy called me “greasy head.” I wasn’t into boys yet but I wasn’t into being called names either.
And for all my issues, I was never bullied, though I did stand up to a Leighton girl who was trying to be one to others. I told her to knock it off and with glaring eyes she told me to meet her after school.
Obviously I didn’t because I’m still alive to tell about it.