If This is Fifth Grade, It Must be Cleveland
Moving. People don’t move so much anymore. But at dinner the other night, my friend Randy mentioned that he’d gone to twenty-two schools by the time he was in high school.
I’m not sure if I moved fifteen times by the time I was sixteen or sixteen times by the time I was fifteen. No matter. It’s my personal timeline measuring stick. When I ran away from home with three peanut butter sandwiches and one change of underwear in the back of my Red Ryder wagon, we lived in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, so I was six. When Scott Ricker took my hand and skated with me down a frozen stream, kissing me before sprinting away, we lived in Northbrook, Illinois, so I was thirteen. (Actually, I was twelve but I don’t want to appear like a ho.) When my grandmother died, and I flew to Cape Cod for her funeral, the airport was in Westport Connecticut, so I was nine. And so it goes. Where I lived is my chronological clock as to my age at the time my life memories happened.
I loved moving. It was a time to start over, recreate myself in whatever way I’d wished was mine in the prior city. I could be Christy in Chicago because Christy Hagerty was amazing in Cleveland. I could be the sophisticated Christine in Michigan, because Christine Elmford had breasts and wore a bra before the rest of us in New Hampshire.
I loved, at least in the early years, being the special person marched into the classroom by the principal, introduced to the class and assigned a seeing eye person to show me the ropes. Usually, the most gregarious of students was chosen for this task, so I was instantaneously drawn into the popular crowd. I have often wondered why they didn’t choose the smartest person so she could actually have a friend, and the new person would have her strong academic standards to mirror. But I digress.
It wasn’t all wonderful mind you. There are real issues with moving so much. Where I lived in second grade, they learned to write in script in third grade and vice versa for where I lived in third grade. This meant I taught myself to write in script, because I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone I didn’t know how. Personally, though I hold my pen incorrectly, I think I have lovely penmanship, so not much was lost there. Where I lived in fourth grade, they learned their multiplication tables in third grade, and yes, you guessed it, where I lived in third grade, they learned them in fourth. Truth is, I never learned them – multiplication tables don’t have the same necessity value as writing in script. To this day if the multiplication is over a multiple of six, I have my own method of doing it. I divide it in half, multiply it and then double it. This is complex and calls for an example. Eight times nine. Four times nine is thirty six — doubled is seventy two. No one ever knew, and since I was not destined to a math path, there is not much of a down side.
There were bigger problems. I want to take you to the beginning of Bloomfield Hills Michigan, which was eighth grade, so I was fourteen and using sophisticated Christine. It’s early fall, and school has started already.
When you move a lot, and are presented to the front of the classroom where everyone else has the security of a desk in front of them, what you wear that first day is critically important. My outfit is fabulous. It sings of cool from Cleveland Ohio’s seventh grade. It’s a Lady Bug purple plaid skirt with pleats, a purple v-neck sweater and knee socks that match the sweater.
The best laid plans go awry when you take a chance on purple knee socks on the first day of a new school where all the girls wear nylons with garter belts. I had nylons but they were safely tucked in my drawer for a dance, in case they had dances in Michigan.
I called my mother before second period and was able to set it right before I got to lunch, so not many people saw the Cleveland me. While the chameleon-like mentality of this approach to moving might seem without leadership qualities and warrant the lambs to a slaughter lecture, I assure you it is paramount to a moving person’s future in a new place. Being a leader can only take place after you are a part of the group, and if you insist in purple knee socks in a sea of nylons, you haven’t a prayer of being elected class president. Trust me on this.
While, for some, these stories are the basis for therapy years later, I can’t say that was the case with me.
The moving continued with me in my adult years; this need for fresh starts in newly painted rooms. I still move a lot, even though there is no reason for it. If I am not buying and selling my houses under the guise of investment opportunities, I move the furniture around to create a new beginning every time my world shakes. Look, I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke. If the damage of a lifetime of moving can be added up by furniture purchased for the size of a different wall than the one presently housing it, I’d say I’m ahead of the game.
I moved to Maine - spur of the moment - two years ago. I’m not ever leaving. And, I live in a small cottage that is home in a way I never had before. I’m not moving furniture around with the same frequency, and I think I may have found my place. I even have a garden that gives me immense pleasure. Maybe I’m more settled inside myself, and that accounts for this new permanence.
There is one serious lingering issue. In elementary schools across the country when I attended them, you brought in a dime each week to put in a savings account that was run through the schools. I am confident that we never closed those accounts as we left each city. Somewhere, across fifteen or sixteen cities in America, those dimes have added up to substantial amounts that I can’t quite figure out because – you guessed it – I missed Algebra in the move between Bloomfield Hills Michigan and Portland Maine.