Childhood Follies

by Paul Skinner

When I was a little over 2 years of age, I slept in a baby bed with rails on the side.  My mother gave me her account of how at night I would jump up and over the rails and escape into the kitchen and remove food from the refrigerator and have my own late night feast of Velveeta cheese, and whatever else I could swallow. I also removed pots and pans from the cupboards and scattered them all over the kitchen floor. My Dad’s solution to this problem was to build up the rails an additional four feet with 2-by-2 planks so that I would not be able to get out. However the next night I was able to jump up and climb up the additional footage and out of the bed. Mom and Dad decided they had to take drastic measures so Dad built a top or lid to keep me from climbing up and over the railing.  It must have worked because I was unable to break out of the menagerie. My Dad definitely put a lid on it. One could speculate that I may have run my Sippy cup back and forth on the railing in protest, because I was most likely the first 2 year old incarcerated in a baby bed.

When I was five, I remember Mom taking me over to Grant School in Moline, Illinois. My kindergarten teacher, Miss Carlson, was introduced to me before the first day of class and her famous last words after she, my Mother and I sat down were, “I’m sure Paul and I will get along fine,” she exclaimed.  I replied with a salute and said “Aye Aye Captain.”

During my first few weeks of kindergarten, Miss Carlson would sing along or even mime the words to opera records.  As a five year-old kid I never heard an opera record nor seen an opera.   I fought the urge to laugh.  Finally came the day when I spoke up after one of her performances and said, “You sing like a stupid lady.”  Needless to say that did not go over well. I was her first music critic (the kindergarten Simon Cowell). She scolded me verbally and shook my body while my head bobbled back and forth as though it would snap.  It was that day when I understood the psychiatric diagnosis Delusion of Grandeur.

Ms. Carlson did not care for some of my show and tell items, such as a canteen, army belt and cap guns (along with the caps) that my Dad had bought for me at an army surplus store.  If I only had a metal helmet and pearl handled guns I would have passed for General Patton (or George C. Scott). 
When it was my turn to present, I fired off my cap guns. Ms. Carlson quickly took them away and said sternly, “We do not allow guns in school!”  I guess I could not process this information; my Dad was marksman in the army and he used a gun, the U.S. military have guns to fight for and maintain our freedoms, and what would a western be without John Wayne brandishing his six-shooters. My next show and tell item was part of my Dad’s army collectibles, a green dud grenade; this too did not play well in Peoria.

I was in first grade when I fell in love.  I distinctly remember her name, Pamela McCarly.  She had brown hair, brown eyesand a peaches-and-cream complexion. At age six she still had all her baby teeth.  I remember Miss Scriven, my teacher, polling the class because the 1968 presidential election was around the corner.  Most of the students’ parents were voting for Nixon, some for Humphrey, and Pamela’s parents were voting for Wallace. I guess, thinking back, that would make sense because her parents were from Alabama.  At six-years old I knew nothing about politics, but if Pamela’s parents were Fidel Castro fans, I would have come to school in drab green fatigues with a huge Cuban cigar hanging out of my mouth.

After Christmas break I came back to first grade anxious to see Pamela. I was six and a half and more mature. My first-grade mind was open to having a steady girlfriend. It was the first day of class and I sat in my desk waiting for Pamela to walk in and give me the opportunity to say and do something impressive.  

She walked in with her winter coat on, same hair and pretty eyes.  She turned and saw me. I said, “Hi,” feeling an exuberant energy. She smiled back at me but my reaction was anti-climactic. Three of her front baby teeth were missing.  I guess I was the type of guy that would only be seen with a girl that had all 28 teeth, and four potential molars. You can call me shallow, but I quickly lost interest in Pamela.  My one-semester crush had ended.

I was finished with women for awhile, first grade had other adventures.  During recess, my friend Tracy Johnson and I would sneak back inside the school and go into the boys’ restroom.  We proceeded to pull paper towels out of the dispenser and put them around the urinal drains in order to plug them.  Our enthusiasm was unleashed as we began flushing the urinals until they overflowed. Pretty soon, as a lake of water was just about to reach the door and seep out into the hallway, we treaded lightly out of the bathroom and back to the playground.

This act of mischief turned into a ritual and we became, as anyone typically does, overconfident that we would never get caught. We knew that the only persons to walk in a boys’ bath room were boys, and it was a code among boys not to snitch.  

This went on for a short while until one day Mrs. Pool, the school principal, decided to poke her head inside the boys’ room.  She yelled our names “Paul Skinner and Tracy Johnson, why are you in the bathroom during recess?”  Fortunately, we had not lined the drains with paper towels yet. Mrs. Pool had now found our hiding place and we could no longer take pleasure in turning the boys’ bathroom into Lake Michigan.  Mrs. Pool ordered us back to recess, but no punishment followed.

I believe it may have been the janitor who saw us enter the bathroom and pointed out to Mrs. Pool that floods apparently followed our surreptitious visits.   Furthermore, he and Mrs. Pool may have cooked up this scheme to have her enter the bathroom. Not to mention, it did not take a Sherlock Holmes to find the evidence: the wet foot prints of two boys that were seen pointing away from the bathroom every lunch hour.  Truth be told, all bets were off if Mrs. Pool could potentially make a grand entrance into the boys’ restroom.

I think most kids remember being disciplined by the school principal for the typical small crimes: talking too much in class, hitting a class mate, or pulling up the hem of a girl’s dress.  Now the latter, and rightfully so, was out of the realm of gentlemanly conduct.

I saw my friends do this to two girls and decided to find out what this new fad was all about.  So I took part in this new activity. Each girl told Miss Scriven and she, in turn, informed Mrs. Pool.  Miss Scriven handed down the directive to each one of us that we were to report to Mrs. Poole’s office. Each of my friends went ahead of me and returned with tears streaming down their faces.  I thought nothing of it and when it was my turn to go I marched out of the door and down the hallway with a smile on my face, oblivious to the purpose of the visit.

I walked in her office and she had me sit down. She asked me about the skirt-lifting incident and began to explain that, “Young men don’t behave that way,” However, I spaced out and heard little if any of what Mrs. Poole said. Now  you would think that seeing three six year-olds coming back to class with tears streaming down their faces would set off an alarm in my head that I was going to face the same fate, but that was not the case.  Mrs. Pool told me to stand up and bend over.  I acquiesced and the only thing she said was, “Do you know it is wrong to pull up a lady’s dress?”  I said, “Yes,” finding it confusing as to what answer she wanted to hear.  The next thing I felt were two whacks from a paddle that connected firmly to my unprepared first-grade rear.  My tear ducts opened, as I stood up and observed the official school paddle held in her right hand. I too cried all the way back to class. I instantly became the male version of Eliza Doolittle and behaved like a gentleman.