lessons learned, memories

Partial repost: My own experience with a “Cootie Kid”…

One last partial repost– partial, because I left off the last part, which is time sensitive and no longer relevant. I wrote this February 24, 2015. I also changed the title of the post, because the original title is no longer relevant.

Last night, I looked up a woman I haven’t seen or heard of since fifth grade.  I was surprised by how easy it was to find her.  I just typed her maiden name and the name of the town where we grew up.  I was surprised to find her living in a town not far from our old hometown.  I also found out that she attended the same high school my former boyfriend did.  He may even know her because they probably graduated in the same class.

This woman’s name was very common in the year of our birth.  Indeed, I share her first name, but here I’ll just call her “Joni”.  Like me, Joni was socially awkward and considered weird.  Actually, she made me look like a social genius because she was even louder and odder than I ever was.  Joni was outgoing and smart enough, but she was strangely dressed and kind of homely.  She had very crooked teeth that didn’t appear to be very well cared for and an unfortunate habit of picking her nose in class and eating her boogers in front of everyone.  When we were kids, she was very skinny, had stringy blonde hair, and a face that could be best described as interesting.   

When we were in the fourth grade, I remember playing kickball with Joni.  Our teacher at the time, Mr. A , was big on taking us out for recess if time allowed.  These were the glorious days before the No Child Left Behind Act.  One day, we were playing kickball and Joni, being kind of gangly and uncoordinated, stepped up to the plate.  The ball rolled toward her.  She kicked at it, missed entirely, and fell to the ground with a solid thud.  On impact with the dirt, Joni’s leg made a sickening cracking sound, and she started howling in agony.  At the time back in 1981, there was a McDonald’s commercial that used the voice talents of Frank Nelson, a guy who would say “Yeeeeeees….” all the time.  That’s what Joni sounded like when she hit the ground and started screaming.

You can hear Frank Nelson say “Yeeees” in this commercial. Joni sounded a little like him when she screamed.

Poor thing.  I actually remember people laughing and saying that Joni sounded like the McDonald’s guy at the scene of her injury.  She was not well-regarded by our classmates.  I don’t remember being especially unkind to her, though I also don’t remember being her buddy.  People were mean to me too, though, and I think I might have had a smidge of empathy… though I probably also felt relief that someone other than me was being picked on. 

Anyway, Mr. A got help for her and, after about a week, she came back to school with a canvas cast that covered her whole leg.  She used crutches for months and I remember her wearing what she called a “rocking shoe”.  I even remember her spiritedly telling someone about the rocking shoe when he was teasing her about it.  She was a girl with a surprising amount of pluck and resilience, especially for her age.

I might have felt snarky toward Joni the way our classmates did, but I too suffered an accident while in Mr. A’s class.  In my case, it just involved being knocked unconscious by a soccer ball kicked by Mr. A.  That was a very embarrassing incident, but at least I recovered from it quickly. 

The following year, Joni was in my fifth grade class.  That year, I witnessed another classmate getting hurt, though this time, it wasn’t Joni.  It was another person who, at the time, was a friend of mine.  We were in PE class and she was climbing the bleachers when her leg slipped between the seat and the foot board.  She tore a huge gash in her leg, right by her knee.  I remember all the blood and our gym teacher (not Mr. A, though he did become a gym teacher at that school that year) picking her up in his arms and rushing her to the office where someone called an ambulance.  This girl’s bleacher accident also happened right in front of me and it reminded of me of when Joni broke her leg.  My other injured classmate screamed, but she didn’t sound like Frank Nelson.  She, too, used crutches for weeks afterwards.

One of my last clear memories of Joni was at Christmas time.  We had a gift exchange and Joni drew my name.  On the day of the gift exchange, the teacher asked me to come speak with her out in the hall.  While we were out there, she handed me a present, which turned out to be a little Smurf pin.  I think it depicted Papa Smurf grinning and holding a flower.  She said she had bought it for me because Joni had drawn my name and she knew the present Joni was going to give me would suck.  She didn’t phrase it that way, of course, but that was the basic gist of what she was saying.  I think I remember her telling me that Joni’s family didn’t have any money or something to that effect.  I believed it, having been in school with Joni for a couple of years.

Sure enough, when it came time for gift exchanges, I got Joni’s gift wrapped in rumpled notebook paper.  It was a Christmas ornament that we’d all made in class and hers was painted several different non-complementary colors.  Since the teacher had prepared me, I managed to accept the gift gracefully.  And though I was never a fan of the Smurfs, it took many years before I could bring myself to get rid of that little Smurf pin that my teacher had bought for me.  To this day, I still have the same luck when it comes to secret gift exchanges.  I always get the person who buys me booze and then drinks it all before they present it to me (yes, this did actually happen to me once when I worked at a country club).

After fifth grade, Joni moved away.  I didn’t know where she went and, in time, even forgot all about her.  But then someone on Facebook posted one of those class pictures and I saw her in it, again reminding me that she was part of my childhood.  I looked up Joni because I was curious about where she is and how she’s doing.  It looks like she’s doing fine.  I was a little dismayed to find out that she’s already a grandmother.  Since we are the same age, I hate the idea that I’m old enough to have grandchildren… but hell, I guess I am.  I see that she’s still awkward looking, but apparently has a lot of friends, a loving family, and a good sense of humor. 

I even saw that she was brave enough to post photos from her early childhood.  I actually remembered some of the photos because they were of a scholastic nature and I was around for them.  She even had one that had the full on face shot with the heavenly profile side shot above it, ever popular in the early 80s.  She had on a very frumpy looking dress that looked like it might have belonged to her mother.  One friend asked if she was Amish and her reply was a light-hearted, matter-of-fact response that that was how her parents dressed her.  I was glad to see that she looks happy enough as an adult despite our miserable elementary school days. 

Neighbors, nostalgia

Repost: Hardcore Rednecks

Today’s featured picture is a screen grab from a news story about a guy who “car surfed” on an Interstate in Miami, Florida.

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone. I have decided to rerun this post from my original blog especially for my dear friend, Audra, who also grew up in Gloucester County. Bill and I are currently visiting Audra in France, and last night I was trying to tell her this story… I had forgotten the official term for this particular type of entertainment… This post made its debut on January 3, 2018. Enjoy!

This morning, I was reminded of a family I used to know.  They were what you’d call “hardcore rednecks”.  When I was growing up in Gloucester, Virginia in the 1980s, there were a whole lot of “hardcore rednecks” in my midst.  There are probably still a lot of them in that area, although I haven’t been to visit Gloucester in years.

I grew up in a house right next to U.S. Route 17, which was to the left of our home and ran through Gloucester on its way to its terminus in Florida.  Across the highway on the left, there was a big awesome looking house that I never knew anyone to live in.  I often wondered when someone would fix it up.  It was like a mansion.  There was another big estate to the right of our house, too. Gloucester has an interesting mix of beautiful old homes and sprawling plantations, as well as dilapidated trailer parks. The zoning was such, back in the day, that one was equally likely to encounter both types of homes in any given neighborhood.

Also to the right of our house was a dirt road.  Not far down that road was another, less developed dirt road.  Turn right and you could go all the way to the power lines, which was kind of the apex of the redneck world I lived in during the 80s.  When we moved to Gloucester in 1980, that dirt road sort of existed, but no one lived back that way.  The whole area was mostly woods with lots of copperhead snakes and such.  In the decades since then, the neighborhood has developed quite a lot.  It was still mostly undeveloped when I was a kid.  Around 1984 or so, people started buying land back there and building homes.  Most of the homes built back there in those days were of the mobile variety, although I think since then, more folks have built actual houses.

I knew most of the kids who lived back there because we all went to the same school and rode the same bus.  We also used the same bus stop. 

I played with some of those kids.  They appeared to be rather impoverished.  The family I’m thinking of this morning lived in a single wide mobile home all the way at the end of the dirt road.  One time, I went inside their trailer and noticed a huge hole in the floor.  The place was always a mess.  I remember politely declining one time when the oldest boy kindly offered me a piece of chicken.  Even in those days, I had a sense of self-preservation after having seen their kitchen.

There were three kids living in that trailer.  The eldest was in my grade.  He was very large… tall and kind of fat.  Most of his clothes didn’t fit him properly and his teeth were yellow, broken, and scuzzy looking.  I doubt he went to the dentist very often, likely because his parents couldn’t afford to take him. 

The second kid was another boy, one or two years younger than me.  I remember him being very funny and smaller than his brother, but also very unkempt and dirty with shaggy blond hair. 

The third kid was a daughter.  I don’t remember how much younger she was.  I didn’t hang out with her as much because she was several years younger.  What I remember most about her was that she was kind of witty, always had bare feet, and she had a lazy eye that made her look a little off kilter.  Like her brothers, she had missing, crooked, and scuzzy looking teeth.

All three of these kids were really dirty most of the time.  I noticed they were dirty, but didn’t really have too much of a problem with them.  I was friends with the two boys because they were my age.  The oldest kid was in some of my classes.  Despite being rather neglected looking, he did well in school and got good grades.  Last I heard, he was managing a supermarket near my house.  Unfortunately, the supermarket closed; it was a victim of the Walmart invasion of the 90s. His younger brother was hilarious. I remember he used to go around singing songs from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which was a popular movie at the time.

One thing that I distinctly remember from those days was that these kids’ mother would drive them back and forth to the bus stop, which was right outside my house on Route 17.  It wasn’t a bad thing that she did this, since their trailer was pretty far back on that dirt road.  Although it probably would have done them some good to walk, it would have taken them a good twenty or thirty minutes to get to the bus stop from where they lived. 

In the afternoons, their mom would also meet the kids when they got off the bus and drive them home.  Oftentimes, she’d let them ride on the hood of her car.  They’d climb up on their mother’s hood– she drove a dirty old sedan that was a borderline land yacht.  It was silver with a burgundy interior.  She’d ferry them home on the hood as they laughed the whole way.  It looked like a lot of fun.

Obviously, these aren’t the kids from my neighborhood, but they’ve nicely captured the mood in their video…

In the 80s, people did this kind of shit all the time… especially in rural Gloucester County.  I was kind of jealous of those kids, because my parents would never let me ride on the hood of the car.  They would let me swing monkey like on a bar in my dad’s pop top VW van, though.  People were less safety conscious in those days.  We didn’t even have a seatbelt law in Virginia until 1988. 

I can’t even imagine what would happen today if a mother let her kids ride on the hood of a car, the way this woman did back in the day.  No one batted an eye back then.  It was just part of growing up in a redneck area… kind of like going to the landfill to play, not that I ever did that.  I remember Bill telling me his ex wife used to play at the landfill.  In her case, I’d totally believe it.

I mentioned these kids to some friends and one of them said, “Wow, that’s pretty hardcore redneck.”  It occurred to me that, yes, I was exposed to some very redneck people when I was growing up.  And given that this friend is from rural Alabama, I figure she’d know the type.

Looking at Google Earth, I see that old dirt road is still dirt, but there are more houses back there and the road is longer than it used to be.  It looks like that disaster of a trailer is still there, too.  Maybe it’s not the same trailer, but there is a mobile home still there.  The area looks much the same as it did last time I was visiting my old house.  It actually makes me a little sad to see how that neighborhood has developed since 1980.  I remember when that whole area was full of trees and completely unspoiled.  Walmart has brought an air of suburbia to a place that used to be very rural. 

But yeah… I grew up around a lot of hardcore rednecks.  They were pretty good folks for the most part, though a pretty far cry from the suburban kids I knew when we lived in Fairfax County in the two years before we moved to Gloucester.  Hell, they weren’t like the fellow Air Force brats I knew in England, either. 

Riding on the hood of a car is called “car surfing“.  A lot of people have been killed doing it.  Oh… and I see this was a thing in 1985 or so, which was around the time the kids in my neighborhood were doing it.  I guess they were more ahead of their time than I was. I wonder what those kids are doing today… and if they’ve ever car surfed since those days in 80s era Gloucester.