Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sandwich Girl II

Pete Burnham was the dump man. He drove around town in an old station wagon that needed shocks, looking like he was riding waves as he glided through town with his car tightly packed with his treasure, our trash. When he smiled, his lined, unshaven face wrinkled and his kind eyes twinkled, set apart from the dirt.

My mother used to yell out to me, “Don’t take nigger babies from Pete Burnham!” Looking back on that term now is shocking. We actually lived in a community where there was a candy called “nigger babies?” It was the sixties, an all white community in rural New Hampshire. As children we knew no hate or prejudice, without thought, wisdom or awareness, we had candies named “nigger babies” and when doing Eenie, meenie, miney, moe…we caught a “nigger” by the toe. We were clueless. This unknowing state changed radically for me, as I grew older, as soon as Junior High School, I opened my eyes and admire and respect people from all ethnic groups.

As for those sugary chocolate candies? I always took them. After dumping them into my hands with his crude, grubby hands, I would blow the germs off and eat one at a time, saving a few in my pocket. Everyone made fun of Pete Burnham; I liked him.

In the spring, there were so many black flies that we had to wear bandanas. There were clouds of them and they bit us until we were swollen. I didn’t like the smell of bug spray so I just accepted the bug bites.

Following the black flies were the wood ticks. We had to sit at our desks at school while the teacher searched through our hair with a pencil eraser for them. When she found one, everyone would gather around while she pulled it off and lit it with a match until it popped. Then we would go home and go through the same routine, only my mother was more squeamish than the teacher causing us to wiggle more.

In the summer between fifth and sixth grade, we moved to the next town over, Center Harbor. Center Harbor is another beautiful town and on a bigger lake, but it didn’t carry the same honor as being a “Sandwich girl.” I was excited for the change, as I was friends with the girls I had met in the church choir, but I was not thrilled about the school. There were six girls in my sixth grade class; that was it. There were thirty-two kids in the entire school, grades one through six. It was a two-room schoolhouse with two (frustrated) female teachers and a cook.

I was a newcomer and blended well in the student body, but the teachers seemed to think of me as an outsider. When it was time to come inside from recess, my teacher furiously rang a hand bell; her beet red face looked like it would explode. When the two school marms were frazzled, they would throw misbehaving boys over their knees and spank them. It never happened to a girl when I was there, but nonetheless, I was not going to push it.

Even though I moved away from Sandwich when I was eleven, I always considered myself a Sandwich girl and feel complete now that I have moved back home.

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