Back in those magical 1950s, Texas had a law that a child couldn’t start first grade unless they were six years old on or before September 1st, the standard start of the school year. So my birthday came on September 17th, rendering me ineligible for formal education.
As my neighborhood friends marched down the sidewalk in their new school clothes, off to George C. Clark Elementry, I stood on the front porch feeling like life was passing me by. In a way, it was, and for a kid, the slightest things seem dramatic.
My Mother and my aunt Norma hatched a plan. They got their hands on two years of Dick and Jane books. First and second-grade editions that taught kids to read. Within a few months, I was a reading machine, having breezed through the books learning to read and then write in the lined notebooks used in school. My Mother and Aunt Norma were determined that I would enter the first grade on a third-grade level. I suffered through the year of drills and teaching techniques, but I emerged a better student for it.
My aunt Norma, a crazed reader, introduced me, by reading me, Micky Spillane, Zane Gray, and a long line of pulp fiction paperbacks that in a decent world should have been off limits to a kid my age. Murder, mayhem, sex, and salacious behaviors seemed normal to me before the age of seven. ” Mike Hammer stood in the doorway as the cool redhead dropped her robe to the floor exposing her watoness to the hardened detective.” What kid reads that crap? It seemed normal to me.
Entering the first grade, my teacher was perplexed by my abilities. I had already advanced to the third-grade level of reading and cursive writing. She assumed I was an idiot savant and recommended I be sent to a special school for mal-adjusted children. Fortunately, my Mother and aunt intervened and explained the situation and their tutorial extensions. I was saved and allowed to attend classes with my peers, even though I was bored and apt to nap most of the day. My teacher asked the class about their favorite Dick and Jane book, and I explained that Mickey Spillane was my most endured famous writer, along with Mark Twain, of who I wanted to become. An hour in the principal’s office did nothing to deter me from my goals or abilities. Once again, I was on the savant list; and another conference was convened on my behalf. With no kindergarten in those days, kids were expected to trod along at a slow pace and learn as a group at that level. My additional year at home had allowed me to surpass in the form of hyper-speed, eclipsing my peers that were by no means ignorant but only learning at the average speed expected.
By fourth grade, I had read Mark Twain’s collection of works and started on “The Grapes of Wrath.” I didn’t grasp many of Steinbeck’s words and his sentence structure, but in all, I got the jest of the story because my grandparents had been the Okies that traveled to California and did the fruit and vegetable picking Steinbeck wrote of. Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, Gertrude Stien, and F. Scott Fitzgerald found me. I was ruined for life. Dick and Jane were nothing but fodder for a good winter fire in our hearth.