What I remember - Pt. 3 / by Jerald Pierce

I started writing these mostly because I have an awful memory (reiterated below), so I could have at least some record of things that happened in my childhood as I remember them. But it also serves as a way to force myself to write for fun more than I usually do. No idea how regular this will be. But here’s what I remember:

I want to talk about the cafeteria at Park Tudor. There was one cafeteria on the Park Tudor campus (which I only recently started thinking of as a campus, because it really does remind me of a tiny college). This cafeteria served everyone from 1st grade through high school. They cycled us through in shifts beginning with the youngest. 

The cafeteria was built into a hill, so you entered the building on the second floor that had a balcony with seats where the teachers ate overlooking rows upon rows of tables. That balcony was also intermittently home to the book fair that was always exciting (and always produced zero books that I would read later). From that balcony, you went down this central stair way that split at the bottom: one side went toward the line to get food, the other toward the line where you dropped off dishes.

But neither line really mattered much when we were in 1st through 5th grade because we went straight to our tables. Our assigned tables. Generally each table had one person from each grade. Presumably this was to encourage responsibility in the older kids and while giving the younger kids someone to look up to. Each grade had a responsibility for their table. The 5th graders were the table heads and they received a list of every student they were responsible for at their table. They were in charge. You were supposed to listen to them and they would keep the younger kids in check. 4th grade was in charge of picking up the family style food trays from the line and the 3rd graders were in charge of cleaning everything up at the end. The 1st and 2nd graders were in charge of sitting still and not being a pain in the ass for the older kids.

It was a weird system that, now that I think back on it, was very useful. You never had to worry about clicks forming and excluding kids during lunch—though if you were lucky enough to sit at the table next to a friend, you could just sit back to back and talk the whole time. This also made the older kids responsible for making sure their younger students were eating. If there wasn’t a part of the family meal that they wanted, you could take them to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a salad. There were always options. I never appreciated how isolated we all were from the extremely real problem of kids not having food to eat for lunch at cafeterias all over the country. There was always way too much to go around.

One thing I can’t remember is if there were place settings. I feel like there were and students were in charge of setting them. I also have a vague recollection of a culling like announcement for table assignments were someone stood at the front of the room and announced what table each student should go to, but I could be wrong. I also have a vague memory of us being assigned tables before lunch and then we’d just find out tables when we got there. Maybe both happened at one point? It was so surreal, anything is possible.

We’d sit at these table assignments for a week or so and then switch. It was a constant rotation. I don’t remember really getting to know anyone at my tables, but instead always searching for where my friends were at other tables. The most vivid memories are of sitting at the front on this platform where the last few tables were and sitting back to back with my friend Hillary. It was strange, we weren’t really that close, but we always talked and joked around at lunch. I also remember joking with a friend a few tables away. The brilliant children we were, we figured out that if you mouth the words “olive juice,” it looks like you’re mouthing “I love you.” Endless entertainment. 

Side story: At some point, and I’m only 70% sure it was at Park Tudor, a news crew came to the school to do some report on the school or lunch or…something. But I remember they were filming my table and they specifically told me to just go about eating and not look at the camera. I stared right down the barrel of that camera and ate my hamburger. I hope that video lives on somewhere.

Anyway, it was in 6th grade when we really got the full use of the cafeteria. No more family meal. You could sit with your friends wherever you wanted. Plus, you were finally allowed to use the frozen yogurt machine. Needless to say, there were a few lunches where frozen yogurt was the only thing some of us ate. But there was still a salad bar, peanut butter and jelly, and a glutton of hot food on the line for those who wanted it. 

I didn’t make it to high school at Park Tudor, but I can only imagine what freedoms were added to lunch for the high schoolers. Full run of the kitchen to make whatever they wanted? More likely, they were allowed to drive off campus to eat at Broad Ripple nearby.

Ok, back to classes. Fourth and fifth grades I remember a little better. Mr. Lacy had switched jobs and was now our fourth grade english teacher. Quick aside about Mr. Lacy because I forgot to mention it before. That man 100% put dry ice in his mouth when we were in second grade. My fuzzy memory says he somehow managed to blow smoke out of his ears, but my logical brain now says it was just smoke out of his nose. Either way, don’t put dry ice in your mouth.

But we were upstairs now, away from all the hubbub from the ‘younger kids.’ My random memory from Mr. Lacy’s class? That weird video of an alien singing “I Will Survive” which had just come out and everyone found hilarious. And also Mambo No. 5, which we probably shouldn’t have been listening to if you think about us.

We had Mrs. Wright (I think) for science. (I know she taught science, but I don’t remember if that was her name.) Mrs. Wright (we’re going with it) was obsessed with Greg Maddux. Posters on her wall and everything. I have no idea why, but her room always felt much darker and gloomier than Mr. Lacy’s room. Maybe because Mr. Lacy was my homeroom teacher. But I think I enjoyed science more as a class. I also remember Mrs. Wright warning us of the dangers of leaning back in our chair…which managed to increase the occurrences of leaning back in chairs. Or at least it increased my awareness of it.

And I have no idea who taught us social studies, but I know her(?) room was closest to the 5th grade end of the hallway.

Honestly, I don’t remember social studies in either grade. My only social studies memory is the horrific one from 5th grade that I suffered due to my completely sheltered upbringing. One of the black students (newer, he hadn’t been there from the beginning like most of us had been) pointed to a country on a map we were studying or working on and asked me how to pronounce the name of it. “N*gger,” I said. He burst out laughing. That kind of hard laughter that carried him out of his seat and halfway down the hallway. Obviously he had been pointing at Niger. Thinking back, I’m pretty sure me saying the word “N*gger” was the first time I had ever heard the word N*gger. How weird is that.

That same kid thought he was super cool because he got this liquid from Spencers (I assume) that he could rub together between his thumb and forefinger and when he pulled them apart a smoke-like substance would appear. He was clearly a dork. But I still cringe when I think about what he tricked me into saying.

Fifth grade was when I broke my arm in the dumbest way possible. My grandparents house had a basketball hoop at the end of their long driveway. It was great to have as a kid growing up in the basketball capital of the world and being someone who enjoyed playing the sport. I could always go out and shoot around whenever I wanted to. The only downside was that there was an eternally parked car in the way of the right side of the hoop: The Thunderbird. 

The Thunderbird was an old silver car that I assume my grandfather always thought he’d get around to fixing. It sat for ages. Never moved. It was parked just to the right of the basket, basically on the baseline. I simply played around it. It was never used, so I didn’t really worry too much about errant shots bouncing off the hood or window. No one seemed to care.

My mom wasn’t home one day when I was playing and I wanted to try something. I was taller now and I looked at the hood of that Thunderbird and thought, “I bet I could dunk if I jumped off of there.” That was my childhood equivalent of “hold my beer” and ended just as badly as you’d expect. I think about it a lot and wonder if I could have prevented what had happened. Not by not doing it, which would be too easy, but by maybe taking a couple steps for more momentum so I could jump higher or by not trying to hang on the rim. I don’t know what I envisioned when I mentally saw myself accomplishing this feat. Maybe dunking, hanging on the rim for a second and then casually dropping to the ground like you see on tv. 

I should have known that my hand strength and coordination was no match for the momentum of my body. My hands hit the rim, my feet kept going, and I plummeted. Next thing I know, I’m on the ground, I can’t breath and my arm hurts. I go inside and my grandmother puts ice on my arm until my mother and grandfather get home. I was much more concerned with the fact that it was tough to catch my breath because the wind was knocked out of me—it took me a while before the realization of “I broke my arm” settled in.

My grandfather took me to his hospital. I’m pretty sure there’s no paperwork anywhere for this visit. He took me right in, x-rayed my arm, and set to work. In a move that still shocks me, he took my broken arm between his hands and simply snapped it back together. I still get a little queasy thinking about it. To this day I have moments where I wonder if it healed correctly (or was set correctly). But he’s an orthopedic surgeon, who am I to question him. He put a cast on it and we moved on.

An aside about me and casts: For some school project when I was younger (maybe 3rd grade or second grade) we put a cast on my arm just for fun(?). Cutting it off was awful because the heat from the saw terrified me and I honestly thought they were cutting into my skin. At that moment, I vowed never to have to wear a cast for real, because I never wanted to deal with getting it taken off. Oops.

Anyway, I spent time in 5th grade with a cast on my right arm. Luckily (or not) I was left handed, so I still had to do all of my work. 

Fifth grade was also the first time I got detention. I can’t remember why, but I feel like I thought it was unjust. Then again, maybe I just didn’t like the teacher because I also never read the books for her class and generally just blew off her english class (a theme for the rest of my education, if we’re being real).

Sometime during 5th grade, we took a field trip to this miniature town thing. It was an indoor facility that was setup as a small-scale town, completely run by the students. We got money, there were laws, there was a mayor, there was a judge, there were little tchotchke shops where you could buy snow globes, everything. I, for whatever reason, ran for judge. It was a whole thing. Everyone running for mayor and judge had to prepare a speech to give in the library in front of the whole class, who then voted for who they wanted. Somehow I won. (This instance is one of those times where, when I think back on it, I think that maybe I wasn’t as unpopular as I thought I was at the time. Rather, I had this perception that I was which led me to alienating people and becoming less popular.)

Then the most embarrassing thing happened the day of the field trip. (5th grad was rough.) I had forgotten something in the classroom and we were already on the bus. The teacher—my English teacher, the same teacher who gave me my first detention and whose class I never read for—was nice enough to give me her keys to run back up and grab what I had forgotten from the locked room. When I tried to re-lock the door, the key broke off in the lock. I was mortified. I said nothing to her when I got back on the bus. I just handed her the keys and walked away like everything was fine.

I really, really thank her for not bringing it up and embarrassing me about it.

It wasn’t until we got to the place that I realized how boring judge was. Everyone else had jobs and were going about their fun fake lives and I just kind of wandered around waiting for someone to do something illegal. There were like one or two kids who were cops in the entire place and there was maybe one law: Don’t walk on the grass (aka the green parts of the carpet). One person got caught. I went to my bench and issued a verdict of “pay half of the fine”. I was a fair man, after all. They committed a crime, but they seemed penitent, so I let them off easy. I did nothing else that day. I think I bought a tchotchke.

My mother came by for part of it because it was close to her job. I think she was happy to see her son doing something involving the legal system—following in her footsteps.