Of all the places I have lived and, being a Navy brat, there are many, the general locale that still makes my teeth clench is New England.
I was born on the west coast and spent most of my kindergarten and initial grade schools years in various locations in California. However, after I graduated from the lovely Mrs. Summers’ first-grade class, I was moved along with my family to the great state of Rhode Island. I started the second grade, with…um – well, it might be a good thing that I cannot remember her name.
To understand the rest of this story, you have to understand something about me: I was a good kid. I did not get into trouble. I was a quiet, kind, sensitive kid, and never did anything that would make someone unhappy with me, certainly not intentionally. Seriously, I was kind of boring.
The new kid, once again, I had no one to guide me or help me on my first day of the second grade. My older brother was not there to save me; he was in another class. My older sister, she was in another class, too. I was on my own. It was just I,
The classroom was like any you can imagine, there were rows of tan, metal desks with cavernous cubbies, and a small sea of other kids my age, my size, wearing various shades of 1978, fidgeting in their seats or sitting attentively. The walls were bedecked with various posters of things – I recall they were particularly organized, symmetrical – but I couldn’t tell you what they depicted.
I sat in my chair at my new desk and witnessed the beginning of the class, quiet and uncertain, and trying to pay attention. The teacher, who was tall (everyone was tall to me in those second grade days), severely tan, which is a little weird for September-Rhode-Island, and made that much more severe by her stark blond and, (for the first time I had ever seen in my life) nearly buzz-cut, short hair. She was a formidable woman…and she was scowling. She was scowling more deeply. She was scowling more deeply – in my direction.
She had called me, but I didn’t know.
You see, my name ends with an ‘a’ – as in “Ah, I see. That’s how you do it!” – that’s not what she was saying. She was calling for someone whose name ended in ‘er’ – as in, “That’s better!”
She was calling for Linder. That was – wait – is – not my name. I didn’t answer. I was not being belligerent. I had no idea she was talking to me.
Later that day, it was time for recess. I found myself again cowering as the teacher was addressing me, I know she was because she was towering over me with her hands on her hips – scowling again. I did not know what she was telling me. Most of the kids were gathering to head outside for recess, but I was trembling – and they were waiting…for me to understand and react to what I was being asked to do – but I didn’t understand.
I didn’t know what a sweat-ah was.
Somehow I survived that day, and never struck out – or perhaps I just blocked out the rest of the day. But, yes, that was my introduction into the world of New England language. Am I exaggerating? Nope – every bit of that story is true.
We moved away two years later, back to the West Coast. Despite the language barrier, I ended up enjoying our time in the smallest State in the U.S.
Three years later, we got the word – Massachusetts. My mother, my little brother, and I went to a restaurant shortly after arriving, and I ordered a soda; I got club soda. I was about 13. I learned that if I wanted a soda, like a cola, I had to order Tonic.