Friday, April 3, 2015

Out of the Closet

We moved a lot when I was growing up. Every four years. I think that’s a lot. The third place I remember living is Crystal Lake, Illinois, where I started out in third grade.

The elementary school in Crystal Lake predated World War II. (Possibly also World War I.) It was a hulking great brick behemoth with a tower. They blew it up the next year to build a new school; I remember seeing the tower come down. Miss Olson was the third grade teacher, and also the fourth, all of us sharing a classroom on the second floor, just off a cavernous hallway whose walls were lined with lockers. Nobody locked the lockers. To the best of my knowledge there were no thieves in Crystal Lake.

Although we moved to Crystal Lake from New Jersey in the summertime, I hadn’t managed to make very many friends by the opening of school. Recess was dismal. I had no skill at jumping rope or playing jacks and nobody talked to me. Fifteen minutes was a lot longer in those days than it is now, have you noticed? An entire dramatic radio show could be consummated in fifteen minutes. In a freezing cold play yard with no friends fifteen minutes was an eternity. One day I realized I didn’t have to go out. While the other children were getting their coats out of their lockers I found that I could slip into my locker all unseen and latch the door shut behind me.

The slits in the locker door came just about to where my eyes were, so that I could look out and see when the hallway was empty. Then I could get out, lounge around, and jump back in if I heard anybody coming.

This worked great for about a week. But one day I failed to complete the maneuver fast enough. The elderly Miss Stevenson—a twin! The other Miss Stevenson was also a teacher there—made so little noise in her approach that she was inside the hallway by the time I clicked the latch shut. Her hearing was acute. “Who's there?”

I tried lying doggo, but she was insistent. “Come out! Come out right now!”

So I came out.

I thought I was in a lot of trouble. Clearly I had given the old lady a bad fright. But as it happened she was fascinated. “Show me how you did that.”

“You can work the latch from inside,” I said, and did it again. She called the other Miss Stevenson to show her what I had done. Then Miss Olson. The other kids came in from recess, and they wanted to see the trick. Before I knew it I was the school celebrity, fifteen-minutes famous. So you just never know.

© 2015 Kate Gallison


  1. This shows how clever children can be! I too moved often - first grade, Melrose, MA, second, Malden, MA, third and fourth, Hazelton, PA, fifth, sixth and seventh, Burlington, NC, eigth, Buie's Creek, NC, then a long stretch - four years of high school, Norfolk, VA, and all four college, Randolph-Macon, Lynchburg, VA. . Then off to Kenosha, WISC, Versailles, KY, Newport, RI, Sewanee, TN, then NYC and here for a thousand years! tjs

    1. My sympathies. Even every four years was hell. That's why I've been living here in Lambertville for thirty.

  2. Actually , I don't think little kids know the difference in staying put and moving... they accept what the parents give them - and meeting new people all the time would be a plus for them... esp. if they think that is what life is all about... I don't feel it stunted my growth - but, then I'm not looking at moi from the outside! Maybe I'm a weirdo and don't know it!! Ha Ha ! tjs

  3. That's great. You were a more resilient kid than I was. I found it difficult.

  4. Kate, I lived in the same house from birth to nineteen years of age. All I ever wanted to do was go places. I married a man who lived in 19 different places and went to eleven different schools before he was twelve years old. (His father was incapable of staying in a job,). His young life was hell for many reasons. But he turned out to be a lovely, lovely man. It seems miraculous to me. I have nothing but sympathy for kids who have peripatetic childhoods.

  5. All of which proves we are all so different - whatever the inherited genes, the geog backdrops and the God-given talents ! God bless us, everyone! And a Happy Easter Passover or whatever you celebrate this weekend!