A few years ago, I wrote a blog about Sixth Grade and how much I loved that little class in Santa Rosa. However, shortly before the end of that memorable school year, my parents announced we were moving and before we knew it, we were in Daly City, a place nothing like Santa Rosa and her cherry orchards. From our little quaint block, we moved to a house on a street with miles of similar houses. Concrete replaced contentment. My only consolation was an unobstructed view of the ocean, and the sound of its waves to soothe my sadness.
I did my last months of sixth grade at FDR, and moved on to Fernando Rivera for 7th and 8th grades. As wonderful and enriching sixth grade was at Brook Hill, seventh grade at Fernando was its complete opposite. I was still sulking about our move, and totally unprepared for junior high school. I didn’t have many friends.
To get to school, the neighborhood kids would gather at FDR to ride a doubledecker Greyhound to Westlake. High anxiety. To make matters worse, one of the boys who took the same bus began to threaten and terrorize me. He wanted to go steady, but I said no; so the rest of the year he’d threaten to beat me up, he’d bully me in the classes we had together, he and his friend would frighten me on the bus, and, by March, I ended up with an ulcer. I wasn’t yet 13 years old. I never told anyone until Ms. Donovan, my Spanish teacher, caught him knocking a desk over on me, and then the feces hit the fan. Principal office visits, parental concern, attention that only made me more anxious. The bullying stopped and, ironically, in 8th grade, this kid was as nice as he could be. Go figure.
So, seventh grade didn’t hold too many good memories….not until this morning. A couple months ago while at work, a waft of a unique pizza aroma was drifting down the main office corridor. What was remarkable is I hadn’t smelled that particular aroma in over 50 years, not since my early years at Holy Name. Remember in “Ratatouille”, when Igo, the critic, tasted the eponymous dish and was transported to his mother’s little country kitchen. That’s what that pizza smell did to me that day. I was a little girl in a big school with memories of menacing nuns and magical fall festivals.
Well, today, as I was walking over to the main office, I caught a whiff of a wood burning aroma. Again, it was a very specific smell. It was the smell of wood burning from a wood burning tool. And this smell, like the pizza smell, transported me back to the past, this time to Mr. Santa Maria’s workshop class. That year, seventh grade, the home economics class would switch out with the wood shop class for a couple weeks. In wood shop, I remember making a wooden box with hinges. We used the band saw, the lath and a wood burning tool to write whatever we wanted on our boxes. That was the smell I smelled this morning. While I enjoyed the aroma, chuckling like a tween, I wanted to soak up what other memories I could conjure from that tough year at Fernando.
I remembered my little stint in wood shop and my two years with Ms. Chaney in her various home ec classes, where I remarkably sewed the pant legs wrong to the class’s amusement. I remember, my hero, Ms. Donovan, who saw what was going on and did something, I also remember a few other “usual suspects” like Mr. Downey who called me Donna Moore or Less which made me smile, and Mr. Follett’s Health Class where I learned the terrifying consequences of smoking and begged my mom to quit. These folks reminded me of the good times I did have at Fernando. Even Ms. Walters, who called me an “exhibitionist” after I showed her my aerial cartwheel, wasn’t so bad. I didn’t even know what an exhibitionist was, but I don’t think it was a compliment.
I remember those green, I’m pretty sure they were green, gym suits that were hard to put on. I remember doing gymnastics with Audrey on the bars and the grass, palling around with some 6th graders like Robbin and Cynthia, and Katy, yes, I remember Katy and her bright smile. Back in the neighborhood, I was sulking less as I hung out with Felicia and her sister, sleeping over there on weekends watching “Creature Features” until the middle of the night. Long ago, but not so far away.
I guess Seventh Grade wasn’t a complete disaster. I toughed the bullying out for a long time. Funny, I ran into Nina Grimes at Dollar Tree a few years ago, and told her about the kid, whom she knew, and the bullying. She said, “Ya should’ve told me, Donna, I would’ve kicked his ass.” Yes, I should’ve….anyway, it’s still nice to know Nina had my back.