Thursday, December 08, 2005

Red-Headed Kid

I was thinking of this grammar-school kid, red-headed, freckled, always wore faded jeans and a faded red shirt. He was in a few of my classes. He sat behind me once, tapped me on the shoulder, and said very proudly that he had gotten five words right on a spelling test. He had a funny way of speaking. "You got five WRONG?" I said. No, he said, looking hurt, five right. There were 20 words on the test. I was amazed.

Miss Borg, my third grade teacher, was a single woman, very homely. This was at Public School No. 6 in West New York, N.J. She decided, one day, to line up all the children according to their intelligence. At first I wound up in the top 25%. I was relieved. But then she told me to move down--down toward the end of the line. Humiliating.

The kid who was last on the line was the red-headed kid. He began to cry. I think that even Miss Borg recognized that she had done something wrong. She never did it again.

Miss Horowitz, my first-grade teacher whom I became friendly with as an adult, told me that that red-headed kid had just one pair of trousers, blue jeans, and efforts were made to get him to wear better clothing. Today I still associate blue jeans with poverty.

I remember all my grammar-school teachers--and my high school teachers. And all the little girls I had crushes on. In almost every grade I was in.

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