Both Paul and I grew up in Pittsfield and Palmyra (Maine). I remember him as a child, ‘cause he was the only neighborhood kid that could beat me at “King of the Mountain” -a snow mound game where only one can fit on top a big snow “mountain” and all others try to take over the summit to become “King” until “over-thrown” so to speak.
Paul and I went to the same high school. Our parents knew each other since we were toddlers, and I knew his whole family, practically. As a matter of fact, our parents, I think, were on the same bowling team for a while. Paul’s aunt used to babysit my sisters and me, as we lived one street over. Though Paul and I had lost contact until high school …from there, it is history.
So, with that said, after Paul medically retired from the Army in 1995, we moved back to Maine, bought a house and settled down. Our Josh was about 2 ½ years old at the time and Alanda was in the 3rd grade. Because it was May, we registered her at the same Palmyra Consolidated School as both Paul and I attended. It was amazing to see some of the same teachers still working there! If not the “originals”, their relative, it seemed. One of my favorite teachers of all-time was, “Mr. Gilbert”, and he still taught there! He was such a welcome many years before when I moved from Pittsfield to Palmyra at the end of my 4th grade year -same month, I think.
When we registered Alanda into the school system, it was suggested that we bring her to meet her new classmates. I believe, it was the secretary (Luann(e)) who led the way. Mrs. Libby was the teacher -the same Mrs. Libby that used to substitute teach while I attended! Alanda was introduced to her new classmates and vise-versa. Though Paul and I had grown up in Maine, come from poor families, and loved nature to the point of about living it 365 days a year (not much has changed, huh?), even as kids, we were a bit taken back, yet comforted by the students who curiously sat before us.
Alanda had attended Ft. Devens elementary school where all students were military dependents and from all over the world. Just when you get to know one student, they transfer to another state or country. Military children have it quite difficult -an ever-changing life- yet the same constant -the parents. Alanda used to pick out most of her own clothes, liked to wear dresses, skirts, and dress pretty with pretty hair. Sitting before us in the new classroom, we saw nothing of the like.
It was May -the heart of mud season. And, each student showed they lived on a dirt road …mud-filled, just like how I grew up when walking to the bus (a true mile away). Often, that time of year meant either wading in knee-deep mud, walking the water and snow-filled ditches, or “skirting” around the muddy spots through the snowy woods. Some of the students who sat before us endured the same type of navigation process to catch their bus, too. I had to smile at the memories that came flooding into my mind one after another. “I’m home!”
Alanda, all prettied up with crisp, clean clothes of brightly colored flowers, long dirty blonde hair, was in stark contrast to those students sitting before us. Paul and I could not help but notice that most were clothed in jeans and t-shirts. Some students either wore slippers, sneakers, or mud boots up to the knees still covered with mud. Some had hair going in every direction that seemingly hadn’t been combed in a week, mud and water trails up and down the arms, neck, and faces. I felt at home and could not have been more in my comfort zone. I remember sinking into the little chair as if I were still a kid, and thought, “These kids are soooo me when I was this age!” As for Alanda …well, I think it might’ve been a bit of a culture shock.
Later, as in a few weeks later, we met up with a woman who Paul had known all his life. Her parents were Paul’s God Parents. Her brother-in-law, Mr. Gilbert. With one of the kindest faces imaginable, Florence welcomed us back to Maine. Instantly, I felt as if I had known her all my life. A grin that melted the world around her, big dimples that clearly represented her character -fun-loving and funny. With great animation, she recalled the day her daughter came home from school -that same day that Alanda was introduced to her new classmates. Florence stated that Katie had come home with such excitement she could hardly speak. It was as if she had been given the best gift in the world. Her mother said, ‘Katie came home and said, “Guess what we got today?” Florence asked, “What”? Katie exclaimed, “A Giiiiiiiirl!” Until then, I did not realize that the class was made up of mostly boys … something like 17 boys and only 3 girls.
Alanda made the 4th girl, which instantly made her the focus of attention. Not only that, as stated before, Alanda was dressed like she dressed every day of the week, at home, or not -a dress, dress shoes, hair long and prettied up. Then, she was a girly-girl, but so were all girls at Ft. Devens elementary school. They all dressed in clothes purchased as available in stores around where we lived at the time. That, and I made a lot of her clothes back then. As Paul told a friend a few days ago, Alanda dressed like a “Fairy God Mother” in comparison to her new Maine classmates. Soon, though, buying clothes here in Maine, she was in denim jeans, denim coveralls, T-shirts, and sneakers, too! It wasn’t long before she also ditched the dressy hairstyles. The following school year, she fit right in as the 4th girl in her class. Casual dress at Ft. Devens was in far contrast from the casual dress of a typical Mainer!