Today's October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge is by
Kathy Cannon Wiechman
The year I was four was a year of firsts for me.
I started kindergarten. I was younger than the other kids, but I was a precocious little brat and the kindergarten had gotten a recommendation from my nursery school teacher—my mother.
I’d been in school as far back as the womb. Mom ran a nursery school in our home, a home much different from friends’ homes. No carpeted living room with a sofa and chairs, but a playroom with linoleum floors and lots of books, puzzles, toys, and Highlights magazines. There was a “cot box” where naptime cots were folded and stored, and cubbies, which Mom called “lockers,” where the kids kept their jackets and boots. (My father made the cot box and cubbies.)
The dining room had kid-sized tables with tops that came off to reveal toy roads or peg boards. The back yard had a huge concrete sandbox, monkey bars, a slide, and an industrial-sized swing set. (Dad made those, too.)
So kindergarten wasn’t my first school experience, but it was the first time my mom wasn’t there.
Another first that year was ballet lessons. Mom thought it would make me more graceful. It didn’t work. I took ballet for four years, but I was a natural klutz. Still am.
I loved the pink tutu I wore for the recital and the ruffled pink parasol I twirled. I wore it again for Halloween, but October 31st was cold and Mom made me wear pink pajamas underneath. I was humiliated.
That year was also my first real vacation, a trip to Michigan with my friend Lynn and her parents. Lynn was an “only child,” a totally foreign concept to me. At that point, I was the middle child of five, and our family eventually added two more.
Lynn’s family was interesting. Her house had a freezer in the basement that always had Popsicles in it. And Lynn’s mom was an illustrator. I had never given any thought to the people who created the pictures in all those books on our shelves at home.
That Michigan trip was full of firsts: my first time staying in a cabin on a lake, my first time swimming in water that wasn’t in a pool, my first experience with no indoor bathroom, and my first extended stay away from home.
I don’t remember missing my parents or siblings, but I know I did. I do remember getting hysterical when I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, when the outhouse was dark and spooky. I was certain girl-eating bears lurked nearby. After that, Lynn’s Mom gave us a container to use in our room at night.
I remember swimming every day and going out in the boat with Lynn and her parents. One day, the outboard motor got stuck in sand when we rowed too close to an island to get a closer look at a fawn on shore. Lynn panicked and thought we would be stuck forever…or sink, but I was curious about the fawn and wondered how it came to be on an island and where its mother was.
We watched Lynn’s mother water ski, gracefully skimming along the water’s surface. Lynn and I used what they called a “surfboard” even though it wasn’t for use in the surf, but towed behind the boat. I remember getting a face full of water on our first attempt, but it was fun after we got the hang of it.
I also remember the long car ride each way. There was a bag of toys in the back seat to keep me and Lynn occupied. My favorite was a lift-the-flap book, another first. With all the books in our nursery school at home, I’d never seen one with flaps. I must have gone through it a hundred times. I don’t recall what my reading ability was at age four, so I likely stumbled over words, but I loved lifting each of those flaps to discover a picture underneath. Even on the hundredth time.
All these years later, those memories are as vivid as ever. I’m still a klutz, but I remember ballet’s five positions. I love lakes and boat rides. I can tolerate outhouses, but I still don’t like them at night. And when I love a book, I’ll read it over and over, happy to rediscover its secrets, with or without flaps.