Summertime and the reading was easy. For the three lazy months before I entered first grade, I read and read and read. I finished Little Women for the fourth time. Whizzed through the first three books in the Black Stallion series. Devoured the first two volumes of Anne of Green Gables. Ramona kept me out of my mother’s hair for several more weeks. In addition, I read dozens of my cousins’ comics—allowed because my mother “couldn’t walk me to the library every other day.”
So, imagine that first reading group. After recess. My excitement stoked to sugar-high levels. Yet, a secret fear nagged. What if I mispronounced a word? What if I didn’t know all the words?
Miss Martin—my mother’s first-grade teacher—sat in the circle between the lucky girls. (I sat at the opposite end). Miss Martin passed out individual copies of Dick and Jane with the reverence of passing out tickets to enter heaven. She kept her closed copy on her lap and extolled the adventures reading would open up.
Open stuck in my ears. When she turned to speak to one of the lucky girls, I slid my finger between the covers and cracked the first page. Miss Martin looked up immediately. I shifted in my little chair, and the book slalomed to the floor.
Seven pairs of eyes stared. Miss Martin glared. I flushed a color I could feel was crimson—the shade of guilt. I lowered my eyes. My insides trembled, and my hands slicked the spine of Dick and Jane with sweat. Time stood still until Miss Martin resumed explaining that reading in a circle followed a protocol—at least in her first-grade class. She paused.
My hand shot up. “Do us listeners have to drag our fingers under the words and read along, too, Miss Martin?”
“Of course, AB.” Her tone froze my toenails. She continued, “Without speaking, of course. Without helping if the reader stumbles.”
Not a word about reading ahead.
In the time half the readers had finished their turns, I could’ve read Little Women again. Involuntarily, I yawned. Surely, Sally, Spot, Dick and Jane could not run one more time. Surely, their vocabulary would increase by the middle of the book. Surely . . .
Silence brought my head up.
"Do you know the first word, AB? It’s your turn. "
My turn to die a thousand deaths. I swallowed. No idea of the first word since I'd long since finished the primer. Heart pounding, I croaked, “I’ve lost the place, Miss Martin.”
“Because you read ahead?”
Guilty. “Yes, Miss Martin.”
“Please stand, AB. Leave your book. Come with me.”
No. No. No. Please. Not the principal. Not on the first day. My legs wobbled so hard my knees knocked. I passed the lucky girl on the right. She put her hand over her mouth and rolled her eyes. I didn’t know about Marie Antoinette at that moment, but I raised my head and followed Miss Martin like a condemned queen.
At the cloak room, she opened the door and took me inside. Hot air squeezed my lungs. She pointed to a chair—which I collapsed on.
“You will sit here, think about your rude behavior, AB, and tell me later if you deserve a place in the advanced reading circle.”
She left me there with the sweaters and art supplies and thoughts about never reading in her circle again. I’d never come back to school, either. I’d run away with the three books I owned—Little Women, Peter Pan, and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. I’d find a teacher like Anne and . . .
I cried . . . until I heard Miss Martin’s footsteps.
How about you? Have you ever sat alone in the cloak room waiting for your sentencing to Hell? Did you laugh it off? Or cry? Contact me at ab@abplum about your experience. I’d love to hear from you. I will answer.