By Carole Shukle
Word Count: 1077
Anne’s Mother was worried about her daughter’s first day in the first grade in a French public school. She and her husband had put their son into the American school on the military base because he had not survived French school. It was Anne’s turn to try and learn the French language.
“Mommie, my first day at school was horrible.” Anne sobbed. “I had to stay after school and write sentences on the blackboard. ”
“Oh, Honey, I’m so sorry.” She pulled Anne into her arms. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she gulped, stretching her small arms over her Mom’s shoulder. “I told the teacher what the kids told me to say. The whole blackboard was covered with my sentences. I had to copy the French sentences from a card the teacher gave me.”
“Tomorrow will be easier, Sweetheart. You’ll see.”
“Please, Mommie, don’t make me go back.”
Barbara worried about her daughter. She busied herself around the house until her husband came home.
“Ed, I’m afraid things did not go well at school today.” She greeted her husband with a kiss and a concerned look on her face.
“Go upstairs and talk to Anne. She can tell you herself.” Barbara headed for the kitchen to make dinner.
Anne saw her father appear in her doorway dressed in his air force uniform with his jacket folded over his arm. He sat on her bed and laid the jacket across his knees. She always thought he looked so handsome in blue because it matched his eyes.
“I had a hard day at work today, Anne. I understand you had a hard day at school. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Oh, Daddy, it was just awful. Please don’t make me go back.”
Well, Princess, you tell me all about it, and we’ll see how we can make it better.” He took her hand and listened until she was done.
The next day Anne returned to school. They lived in the small village of Bievres which had a gas station, a bakery, a drug store, a butcher shop, and a general store. Her mother drove her to the school in their big Chrysler. It barely fit the narrow cobblestone lanes. All the French kids marveled at the car, and the ‘gendarme’ had been heard saying, “Quelle bateau!”
Anne felt a little better since she didn’t have to walk to school and listen to the French kids jabbering at her, not understanding a word. She got out at the school which was shaped liked the letter ‘U’. One of the wings was for the boys and the other for the girls. The connecting portion of the ‘U’ housed the principal’s office and the bathrooms. High stone walls surrounded the school on three sides, and the side directly in front of the school was a wrought iron fence and gate. The inside of the ‘U” was the play-yard.
Anne’s second day at school did not start off well. Things were still very primitive at Bievres in 1952. Each desk looked like the old fashioned desks of the 1930’s in America, with round holes cut out to hold the ceramic inkwells, a groove cut to hold a pen or pencil, and lift-up tops to store paper and books. The desks were bolted to the floor. The children dipped their pens in the ink and used blotters to dry it. All the children had pencil boxes, mostly made of wood. These boxes were prized by the children who kept on hand several choices of pen points of varying widths.
Anne struggled to write with the pens. The children laughed at her and poked her with their pens causing her to drip ink onto her work. Her second afternoon was spent writing sentences on the board again.
Desperate to learn the language, Anne continued to repeat to the teacher what the children were telling her, hoping she would eventually make some friends.
One day at recess, some the children were juggling balls in the air. Others were bouncing two and three balls off the walls. Anne learned this game quickly. Some of the children knocked the ball out of her hand and shouted, “Riche, Americaine!” She ran off crying. Embarrassed, she ran into the bathroom. There were no stalls for privacy. Two raised, foot-shaped platforms straddled a hole. She remembered how her mouth fell open in disgust the first time she saw these bathrooms as she watched the other children squat over the hole. She swore, then, she would hold until she got home and she did and had every day since then.
That night she thought about what the children had called her and managed to figure out its meaning, too. She developed a plan.
The next day after school, she motioned for her classmates to follow her to a store in the village located just across the street from the school. She walked slowly but purposely whispering to herself, “So they think I’m a rich American.”
The children followed out of curiosity. Some of the children again shouted, “Riche, Americaine!” Anne walked into the general store where her father had an account. She was followed by 10 classmates. They all stood around looking uncomfortable, shuffling their feet, and shrugging their shoulders as if to say, “What is going on here? What is she doing?”
Anne walked up to the owner and smiled. She marched proudly to the counter and pointed to several styles of leather pencil cases. She put up her fingers for the count of ten. The owner looked surprised but proceeded to place the pencil cases on the glass counter. The owner knew she was the daughter of the American Officer who lived on ‘Rue Du Loup Pendu’. They were the only Americans in the village.
Anne gathered the cases in her arms and handed each child a pencil case. The children grinned and laughed and patted her on the back. She heard them say, “Merci, Anne . . . Merci beaucoup.”
The next day at school Anne found her tormentors had become her friends. She smiled as the children gathered around her to thank her once again. Her smile vanished momentarily as she pondered the consequences of her actions. She whispered to herself, “That spanking I’m gonna get from Daddy will be worth it. I wonder how long it will take him to find out?”