- Tennessee WilliamsMy parents sent me to a preschool attached to a Lutheran church. We knew the teacher, although I can't recall her name now. She babysat me at times, drove me home from preschool on occasion and taught my Sunday school class. From what I recall, she was a nice, grandmotherly sort of person. (Although I now suspect she wasn't that much older than my parents. At the age of 4, everyone seems old.) For some reason, several of my most memorable, and undoubtedly character shaping, early childhood memories involved her.
One day, my preschool teacher was bringing me home and we stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things she needed. I, always the obedient child, followed her around the store and smiled shyly at all the people who told her how cute I was or tried to talk to me. I remember the muzak playing in the store, tinny and sweet. Very different from the music my father listened to.
When we were standing in the check out aisle it happened. While my teacher chatted with the cashier, I looked at all the gum and candy. And I picked one up, turned it over in my hand, and put it in my pocket. Not to keep, just to have for a minute. It made sense in my 4 year old mind. As we left the store, the cashier smiled at me and told me to have a good day. I smiled shyly back and was led away by the hand, the candy in my pocket forgotten.
I climbed into the car and put my hand in my pocket. What was this? As I pulled out the candy with some surprise, my teacher noticed. She asked me where I'd gotten the candy. I didn't answer. She knew anyway. She asked me if I'd taken it from the store. I didn't answer. She knew anyway.
She brought me back to the store, made me give the candy back to the cashier who'd beamed at me earlier, and apologize. I did. Mortified and in tears.
In the car, I quietly sobbed on the way home, listening to a lecture about stealing. I'm sure it was nothing more than a quick and serious conversation about why we don't take things without paying for them, but in my 4 year old mind it was so much more than that.
Clearly, it made quite an impression.
When I got home, my teacher didn't tell my mother. Neither did I. I knew my mother would be disappointed in me. If my teacher had been, I knew my mother would be. Even as a toddler I was already desperate to please. When my mother asked me what was wrong, I don't remember what I said. Perhaps I said I didn't feel well. But I know I didn't tell her the truth. That would have been impossible.
My teacher had come to pick me up for Sunday School. I'm not sure why my parents weren't coming. Perhaps my brother, an infant, was sick. It seemed to my young mind that my father was always gone. (He was in the Air Force.) I was wearing a nice dress and shoes, my hair in carefully blow dried waves. In my memory it was my yellow dress with the white patent leather shoes, but that could be just because I've seen pictures of myself wearing that dress at about the age of 4.
We were in the driveway but I wouldn't get in the car. I was screaming and kicking and crying. I remember that they tried to physically put me in the car but I braced myself on the outside of the car and refused.
You don't understand what an event this was for me. I was an unusually well behaved and compliant infant and toddler. I didn't do public tantrums like that. Perhaps that's why my mother gave in. Faced with such a strangely violent reaction from me, it probably seemed best that I stay home.
I don't remember ever attending Sunday School again.
I don't remember much from immediately after the event. All I know is that I think of my Sunday School tantrum whenever I hear the song, "Jesus loves me." Perhaps I learned it for the first time from my preschool teacher. Maybe I did attend Sunday School again after that day, but in my memory tantrum day ended my formal relationship with "church," leaving a faint imprint of cardboard doves, the smell of thick school paste, and the faded sounds of children's songs on my mind.
The pain and recrimination of disappointing people. The triumph at having my voice heard. Both of these memories are quite vivid.
What do I take from these memories now? I'll leave that to you to speculate. I'm sure that those of you who know me well, or even read my blog regularly, can guess.
I still can't stand Seventies muzak.
This was part of Julie's Hump Day Hmmm. Our task for the week was to write about key childhood memories and how and why we still carry them.
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