When I was 9 years old and in 4th grade, I had very few friends and extra time to study my vocabulary words. This was mostly due to the fact that I didn’t shower or wash my hair unless it was Saturday. I’m not sure what the thinking behind that was. I guess I was under the impression that all the other kids in my class had noses that ceased to smell around Wednesday afternoon at 1:45 when Physical Activity Class began and then picked up again on Monday morning, 8:30 am in Mrs. Birch’s classroom. We had glue. And things to glue together. So, you had to be able to smell or you would miss all that great glueyness.
There were few other kids that were shunned as much as I was in 4th grade. One such sad person was a girl named Tia who constantly picked her nose. I mean, all the time. Her finger was up her nostril like a baby sucks their thumb. Only, she did suck her finger as well. You get the picture.
I didn’t like Tia, and I hated that kids would call after us and say ‘Leah-peah and Tia-booger‘ while tossing small stones, rotting vegetables and used appliances at us, but I didn’t like being alone at recess more, so I would walk with her around the perimeter of the play yard, kicking lone dandelions, staying away from the kickball kids and generally trying to blend in with the fence and the grass while staying just far away from Tia in case she was full and decided to waste one and flicked it in the air but close enough that when the next car fender was lobbed at us I could duck behind her for cover.
I would frequently steal glances over to the monkey bars where only last year I had been included with those kids. Before I stopped showering during the week. Before their noses had started caring. Dumb noses. Before I started wearing a grass-green colored cap to hide my greasy hair every Thursday and Friday. Its color helped me blend in more with the surrounding foliage.
Because I had so few friends, one of my favorite ways to pass recess and lunch was to create families out of tiny buds from the weeds in the south corner by the old swing set. It was a safe area because no one in their right mind would swing on the old swing set unless they were made to by a bully, were new to the school or had recently fallen off the climbing arch and were experiencing a concussion and none of those types of kids were likely to walk over and kick me or throw a handful of dirt in my face. The swing seats were made out of wood that was old and cracked and had faded dark blue splinters of 22 coats of paint just waiting to stick you all over your hind side. I would sit 8 feet away and feel sorry for any sad child that placed their bottom there and tell the entire story to my weed bud family.
‘Oh, look Smelly Sister! Look at how sad that is!. Oooooh. I bet his butt hurts pretty bad right about now. Stinky Mommy, don’t ever let Smelly Sister or Farty Brother near those swings. Not if you love them. Good Grief!’
Good Grief! and Good Night! were my dad’s two favorite sayings. He bellowed the last word with great gusto. When he did it while reading a remarkably strange article in the paper from his favorite chair in the living room, it sounded wonderful to me. When I said it, it sounded like a forest animal had bitten the hand of a dwarf. So I had to practice saying it. A lot. I had more than one teacher tell me it wasn’t appropriate to say either one at school. ‘Take that ugly, green cap off, stinky, and stop yelping like a hound dog just run over by a mixer truck!’ I would slowly remove the cap from my flat, greasy, lifeless hair and hold it behind my back, head slung low, and think about ways to fit Good Night! in a sentence with heliotrope, obtuse, Mississippi and linoleum, all words I found fascinating. ‘Can you believe the heliotropes on the linoleum in that Mississippi kitchen? Good Grief!, Stinky, it’s obtuse!’ I would say to my mom later and she would shake her head and ask me to pass over the chedderella cheese plate to go with her tomato soup.