In 6th grade, my friends all got one teacher, and I got the other. I was put into a classroom with the kids who would grow up to be the popular ones that dominated high school. They were intimidating, even at the age of eleven or twelve.
Connie Green had many matching sweater sets to go with her plaid wool skirts and color-coordinated knee socks. I was envious and asked for a wool skirt and matching sweater that year for Christmas. Even though it was beige-y yellowy brown, it was my first matching outfit, and I loved it.
Mark DePhillips and Steve Ganoe sat next to me in the back row. I spent my childhood in the back row for two reasons:
- I was tall.
- I was well –behaved.
Mark and Steve were not well behaved. They had daily fart contests after lunch. This was good preparation for me as a teacher with my remedial 8th grade class of nineteen boys and three girls. I told them to sit in the hall to get their farts out after lunch. Especially Bruce.
But I digress.
Sue was popular (I was Susan), and so were Martha and Julie. I couldn’t identify with any of the girls in that class. They were from the rich side of town, and I wasn’t.
So when I asked for and got a Creepy Crawlers set for Christmas, little did I know that it would raise my status with the hoity-toity girls of my 6th grade class. I made a few rubbery insects and took them to school with me. Soon Connie, Julie, Sue and Martha were asking if I would make one for them.
I ran out of goop and asked for more. You put the goo from the squeezy bottle into the mold, then heat it up, and presto change-o, you now have a creepy rubberlike insect in various bright colors.
I wore my beige wool skirt and matching sweater the day I passed out the bugs. Now the boys were asking. Mark, Steve, Greg, Doug, Alan. Would I make them bugs, too?
Soon I was out of goop again. But my mom saw how important it was to me to make everyone a bug, and she bought more.
For a week or so, I was one of the cool kids. I had the only Creepy Crawly set in the class, and I was fooled into thinking that my presents would make me one of them.
It didn’t. I was smart and dorky, two non-cool things. Plus I joined our teacher’s after-school chorus (mostly girls), another dorky thing to do in the eyes of my fellow classmates.
Mr. Cunion’s chorus turned out to be a good life choice. I love to sing, and I am pretty good at it. I even made the cut into his Iowa State Fair Octette entry for the Bill Riley Talent Search after one of the girls went on vacation. It was the only time in my singing career that I stood on stage in that small of a group and belted out my part.
The next year, the 7th grade science teacher announced that no one would get an A in his class if they didn’t make an insect collection. Up to that point, I had been a straight A Student. But my mother’s aversion to bugs was ingrained in my brain.
I like to think that the Creepy Crawler set helped desensitize me to the creepiness of insects. Not only did I make an insect collection in 7th grade, I made the best one in the whole school. I owe it partly to my OCD. I had to have one of every kind of bug from the vacant lot on the corner.
Sometimes things work out for the weirdest of reasons.
I still don’t wear matching clothes, but I love to sing, and I’m not afraid of insects.