I just finished having lunch with my childhood best friend, Jonas. The meal was great, and the conversation was even better. We discussed end-of-life issues, politics and beards. On this last, I have great envy of Jonas, who grew his first facial hair in, I think, fifth grade, and definitely had a fuller beard when we were in high school than I do today. On the other hand, I have more hair on top of my head than Jonas does, so I suspect the jealousy goes both ways. Jonas and I get together every month or two, and we’re both glad to be in each other’s lives. I love him very much, but . . . Jonas remembers some things differently than I do, and I secretly fear he is correct. In other words, before I remember some parts of my childhood, I need to check with Jonas to make sure I’m not full of beans.
Today, I happened to mention our second-grade class, taught by Mrs. Fullam, and that I was just writing something about it. Jonas wanted to know more, so I told him I thought we’d had a class newspaper—I’d written the 500 or so words below based on my memory, although I didn’t mention this to Jonas.
“You mean ‘The Mouth of the Eagle’?” he said. “I think Janet Larson started that. I know she drew the eagle. John Dunn wrote a story on the invasion of Czechoslovakia for it. I may have a copy of it.”
As I said, I love Jonas, but who the hell remembers those kinds of details. Even worse, Jonas, like me, is turning 60 this year—what’s he doing with a copy of our second-grade class paper? I don’t have anything I’ve ever written, and he’s got a more than 50-year-old paper? Not only that, in my memory, odd though it may sound, the newspaper was designed to get me to stop interrupting the class. Unless Charlotte Fullam used a copy of it to train me like a puppy, it appears my hazy rememberies are more fog than memory. Not wanting to waste the time I’d put into recording a fantasy, I reproduce it below, abandoned mid-sentence. I’d call my sister to check other memories of mine, but I’ll first need to check with Jonas to make sure I’ve got her name right.
I am a terrible craftsman/draftsman with an artistic soul, or so I like to tell myself. The first phrase of that last sentence is undoubtedly true: I am unable to reproduce reality using pen, paintbrush, pencil or crayon. Unless I take as validation comments like, “That reminds me of a mountain range” or “That makes me think of a beach” or “That’s kind of like a dog, if dogs had five legs,” nothing I’ve ever created with my hands has ever looked like the object by which it was inspired.
My second-grade teacher was the sainted Charlotte Fullam. Her beatification brought with it the ability to listen to me without bursting into either guffaws or tears. She had to keep a straight face when I confessed to her my shyness—after standing on my chair and calling out for the class’s attention. Still, I thought I was shy. Mrs. Fullam didn’t snicker when I said I thought my voice was too soft—after she’d spent a morning competing with a little Keith who hoped to fill all available silence with words, words, words. Still, I believed my voice was a whisper. Charlotte Fullam didn’t laugh out loud when I spoke told her I was afraid I was forgettable and would be forgotten—when she probably wanted to forget me but couldn’t. She didn’t break a smile or offer me a large cup of reality.
Instead, she suggested I start a class paper.
That is a saint.
The class paper, designed I’m sure to distract me from being a distraction, would record the events of Jonas and Ginger and Janet and all the other kids in the class, which meant I might need to listen to my fellow students instead of pleading for their attention. It was a great ploy on her part.
Mrs. Fullam suggested I have a picture of myself on the masthead, which I’m sure appealed to my vanity. Remember, this is in the days before computers, before easy access to copying machines, when purplish alcohol-smelling dittoes were the only schoolwide form of reproduction. (In this context, that last phrase is completely innocent since what Freud would call my “latency phase” lasted most of second grade. In first grade, I discovered how good lying on my bed on my belly pretending to be Superman felt; in third grade, I started fantasizing about kissing girls in my class and rolling downhill with them. In second grade, though, I was an earnest if ill-behaved young man.) Since ditto technology didn’t allow second chances, I took the safest route with my editorial self-portrait—I drew a worm with two dots for eyes and a shy smile. It was the best I could do and I was much more interested in generating copy than in drawing myself.
My self-portrait, though, somehow became a source of amusement to my classmates. it was nothing like my classroom presentation,