When I was six, I got to wear the uniform. I became “one of them,” the students at St. Joseph’s School. I had class in the modular classroom with the other first graders, with Dear Sister Loretta, who I loved. Everyday, weather permitting, we went out for what seemed like a lengthy recess. A six grader would stand at the bottom of our added-on wooden steps and sell candy wares, our snack for the day. So much for healthy, this was 1972.
We had a huge playground area. Up a little rise from the plateau of our modular’s, was spread a city block sized field that once was the “backyard” of a columned lady, much like the ones that stood guard just beyond our play domain and housed the brothers.
The soil was clay-like, as everywhere in Clarke County Georgia and green grasses, not domesticated, grew in tufts about it. The grass was worn thin near play equipment and it grew fairly thick along the peripheries where we ran less often.
All of us were let loose at once, the first graders…but I only remember playing with other uniformed ones a time or two. People weren’t unfriendly, at least not people other than me. I pretty much kept to myself. I would play quietly on the parallel or monkey bars or just walk the periphery of the field. I really liked walking that periphery.
An old wire fence held jungly kudzu and honeysuckle at bay. I liked to get as close to that divide as possible. I probably caused Sister Loretta to murmur quite a few Hail Mary’s in my regard, seeing me traipsing around by myself like that everyday. But, I was fine, I was totally content to do so. When I was in that field, I never even paid attention to the other children in our class who were my friends, who played with me at home on my swing set, who chatted with me at lunch. I wasn’t lonely out there in that field, I didn’t even think to miss my friends…I was in my element.
No adult ever asked me if I was okay ( and therefore, scarred me with thoughts that something might be wrong with me.) Surely Sister Loretta had read a little Francis or Ignatius. No one ever questioned my choice of quiet and beauty over noise and people. No one.
One day, this cute little blond-haired, pig-tailed girl from 2nd grade, I think her name was Emily, asked my if I wanted to play some game with a group of girls and her. It was some patty cake sing-song game or something. I played, we all giggled, but nice as they were to me, the next day I struck out on my quest for quiet again.
I remember that day with them, playing and laughing and thinking all along, “Is this what I am supposed to do at recess? Is this what the other little girls do?”
It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t me.