[Presented with slight apologies to the townsfolk of Yorktown for the slight exaggerations of rural life in Mt. Pleasant Township during the 1970s. I love and miss my hometown and alma mater.]
Fourth grade was a memorable year.
Our teacher, Mrs. Prather, was a great instructor and a true character. She was funny, was full of life, and had a free spirit comparable to Grandma Studebaker’s. It came as no surprise to me that the two of them were friends.
Tom and Rod and I were back together in the same classroom for the first time since kindergarten, a span of time that felt like eternity. There were a few other familiar faces in the classroom, such as Kelly, Sheri, Denise, Dianna, and Teresa. For some reason, I was taking more interest in the girls than I had in previous school years.
Mrs. Prather had a local celebrity from the high school as a cadet teacher. Steve was the lone returning starter from Yorktown’s basketball team that won the Muncie Sectional title by beating state powerhouse Muncie Central the previous season. It was the first time a Delaware County school had won the Muncie sectional in the annual Indiana state tournament. The town had gone crazy as all get out over the victory. There were reports of celebratory cow tippings throughout the township. Local and county police found no evidence to substantiate the reports.
Steve led the current crop of Tigers in defense of the school’s title, winning their second consecutive championship by beating Muncie South, 50-40. The town once again went crazy with euphoria as 1500 residents packed the schoool’s gym to welcome back their heroes. Two lines of farm tractors blocked traffic from both north and south on Yorktown-Gaston Pike as they filed into the school parking lot.
The team paraded through the halls of all of the schools the following week. The halls were a sea of green and white clothing, green and white streamers, and green and white decorations and signage. The squad handed out high fives to one and all as they passed each room. Steve paused at our classroom to give and soak in a little extra appreciation to and from his former charges.
Things were subtly changing for us kids in the fourth grade. Our personalities were taking more shape and becoming more unique. Cliques were starting to form, especially among a handful of girls spread out through all of the fourth grade classrooms.
This group of girls’ favorite topic was boys. They weren’t shy about which boys they liked and which boys they didn’t like. Where I stood with this group of girls was not in doubt as a few of the girls in the group told me in no uncertain terms to shut up or to go away and leave them alone. Sometimes it got so bad that I felt like Charlie Brown amid a group of Lucys. While Beth the Bruiser was not among this group of girls, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe I had put some effort into defending myself in our brief wrestling match four years prior I would have garnered more respect among these girls. Either way, I wasted time worrying about them and wondering why they didn’t like me when most of the girls were much friendlier.
There came a day in the second semester that year when the boys and girls of the fourth grade were separated from each other for… let’s call it… “more focused learning.” The girls in Mrs. Prather’s class were sent across the hall to trade places with the boys in Mrs. Kammerer’s classroom. We were nowhere near prepared for what we were shown that day.
We boys were shown a film about the changes that we would soon be facing, changes to our bodies both internally and externally. We learned words such as “puberty”, “adolescence”, and “reproduction”. I learned why I was taking more notice of the girls.
Now, I felt as if I already knew about reproduction thanks to a book that Grandma Studebaker had at her house. Titled “How Babies are Made”, the book was aimed at younger kids to pictorially show exactly what the title implied. The author and artist used colored paper cutouts to depict how bees fertilize flowers, how roosters hooked up with hens, how dogs made puppies, and how a man knocked up his wife. The depictions in the book were very basic and safe for kids. The artwork in the film was not photographic but was more textbook in nature. A few of the boys giggled at the images… at first.
The film we watched was more about the bodily changes we were facing than the act of reproduction. The narrator told us that while it was possible that some of us were already experiencing these changes, most boys didn’t hit puberty until the age of 12. Some girls, the narrator informed us, could hit puberty at the age of 10. With most of us being 10 ourselves, we finally understood why we were being shown this piece of dramatic cinema.
The film was strictly about us boys and didn’t show us the changes that the girls would be going through. Most of us boys were dopes, but we weren’t so dopey that we couldn’t figure out some of the changes the girls were going to experience. Most of us were also able to figure out the girls across the hall were watching their version of this film. Fewer of us figured out the girls were having thoughts similar to those we were having.
After both films ended, the boys and girls returned to their respective classrooms. You could have heard a pin drop as the girls quietly shuffled in and returned to their seats in our room. Even the usual smartasses in the class could only stare wide-eyed at their desks. A few of us nervously looked around. The only thing to be heard was the scratching noises coming from the gerbil habitat until Mrs. Prather returned to the front of the classroom and broke the silence.
Things changed drastically for us that late-winter day. We were no longer the naive little moppets we had been.