Me? Shy? Hard to believe, I know, but up until Kindergarten I’d never had any friends my age. When I finally met some, they seemed weirdly normal. I didn’t know how to be with them. Weird Eddie had been twice my age and utterly unique, and Crazy Old Alice had been, well, crazy and old.
One exception: Cheryl, the two-year-old from next door, was too young. She’d follow me around and do what I did, which was flattering, but dangerous—I still have the scars to prove it. Although, when Cheryl friended me on Facebook too-many-years-to-admit later, she did seem to have matured considerably. She’s now my official oldest friendship.
Fall arrived. Chucko the Birthday Clown, a local TV celeb, was the star of our school kick-off event. He invited all the kids to come forward. I was the only one who didn’t go. I wanted to be near Chucko, but all of those kids? Terrifying!
So I decided the best way to interact with others…was not to. Except the outcasts. My new teacher Miss Peggy told my parents that I’d stand between them (the Weird Eddies) and the bullies. Miss Peggy was wonderful. She radiated kindness, plus she had a dog named Frieda, and my babysitter Frieda had a dog named Peggy, which was impossibly cool!
Things came to a head when another first-grader had a birthday party and invited everyone in our class. Thinking this could be a turning point, Mommandad pushed me into going. I still remember being deposited in that strange house’s entryway, surrounded by “normal” kids in party hats. I wouldn’t go any further, even when the kid’s mom offered me cake and ice cream. I pulled the front door across the corner and hid there until my parents finally agreed to take me home.
A short time later, Miss Peggy called, concerned that I wasn’t learning how to read. I’d stumble over even the simplest words in our Dick and Jane books. Mom laughed. “Are you kidding? He’s been reading since he was a toddler!” She called me to the phone and had me read the current headline story from our newspaper. That was when the light bulb lit over Miss Peggy’s wonderful head.
Miss Peggy’s new After-School Reading Circle launched days later, and I was an inaugural member. That little circle was my heaven on earth. With just a handful of other kids around me, I not only read fearlessly, but was soon helping Miss Peggy, the love of my life, coach the others!
Later that month, I met my first BFF, or the training wheels version, at any rate. His name was Stevie. Stevie was nice and popular, and I was hopelessly envious of his flaming red hair. It was just like Dick’s hair…
In the Dick and Jane books!