Fourth Grade, a New Novel
When it comes to anything mathematical, I am an ignoramus. This dead zone in my head began in fourth grade and related to a novel I read that year about the Civil War. Our lovely, young teacher, Miss C. was new to teaching; and in December 1952 she invited her "first ever class" to her wedding. In the reception line, she kissed each student's hand, even the hands of embarrassed boys. I admired and loved this kind teacher until the day she made me stand alone at the blackboard to solve a problem in long division. My anger brought tears and further embarrassment. At the time I refused to understand how to do long division. The humiliation of that moment at the blackboard never left, obviously. Nor have I forgotten how Miss C's face reddened as her frustration grew. Why, she later asked my mother, was an otherwise bright child, who quickly memorized the multiplication tables, who made few errors in math, unwilling to learn long division? No one asked me why; and anyway, I lacked words then for complicated feelings.
That Christmas of 1952, my great aunt had given me The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come. My original copy disappeared long ago, but a few years back at the local library's used bookstore, I found the same hardcover Thrushwood Book, a later edition of a novel first published in1903 by Charles Scribner's Sons.
The book's setting is Kentucky, a divided state in a war that divided the nation, divided families with sons on opposing sides, in a war about racial divide (and more). After reading The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, division disturbed me. The rich in Fullerton up in the hills, middle and lower classes on flat land; and below the railroad tracks, Mexicans. Decades later while living in Venezuela, I relived old categorizations from my youth. In Caracas, regardless of a person's country of origin, Asians were called Los Chinos, those from the Middle East, Los Turkos. I doubt all those in my hometown called Mexican were from Mexico. I graduated high school in a class larger than 400, with only about 20 Latino/Latina students, and knew just one as a friend. Earlier at age nine, what had I known? Only that division disturbed me. In class we separated into reading groups: high, medium, and low. Two lines always formed: boys and girls. I saw white passengers and black porters whenever we took the train to Los Angeles. Each morning during the pledge of allegiance we repeated, "One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Indivisible? I had no word for irony then.
After The Yearling in third grade and my affection for Jody Baxter and his family, I felt new admiration for orphaned Chad, the main character in a novel by John Fox Jr., a prolific, successful writer. And today, April 30th, 2020, on another day of endless rain, I have begun the novel I loved 67 years ago. What will I discover through reading it?
The first words in The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come are: "The days of that April had been days of mist and rain. Sometimes, for hours, there would come a miracle of blue sky, white cloud, and yellow light, but always between dark and dark the rain would fall …" (to be continued)