Or How Plums Became My Favorite Fruit
You may have heard this before, but I was born a Maverick. I didn’t want to breastfeed, I tried climbing stairs in a body cast, and I got in a fight on my first day of kindergarten. This also marks the first time I received one of the most diabolical tag team beat downs in Beauty Jackson history. What can I say? First day of school – go hard or go home.
August, 1981: Sesame Street, Electric Company, commercials and of course, Mr. Rogers have me chomping at the bit to go to school. Daniel Striped Tiger, Prince Tuesday, and Ana Platypus all got on Trolley -dressed in full school bus regalia – and soaked up knowledge. New children would be everywhere. School was going to be great.
I began losing the moment we went back to school shopping. Instead of Nikes and penny loafers, I got Zips and saddle loafers. Instead of the backpack I’d created in my vision, my mother took her time and actually sewed a bag for me. In retrospect, I was an unappreciative snot. To my four year old self, the indignity of my dreams deferred were unbearable. And then:
Ma, how am I going to find out my school bus number? What time does it pick me up?
It doesn’t. Auntie Shirley is going to pick you up and drop you off.
But that’s not what Mr. Rogers said.
Little girl, Mr. Rogers don’t run nothing here. I am telling you not to catch the school bus. Your mother. You live on Beekman Road, not in the Land of Make-Believe.
Just maybe Aunt Shirley could be the voice of reason. I picked my moment. Just as School Bus Trolley went through the tunnel into the Land of Make-Believe I asked, all kindergarten-cool:
Aunt Shirley, where does the bus stop around here?
Melanie, I already know that you know the routine. I’m going to bring you to school and pick you up! Rocky, meet her at her class after school.
These people were screwing over my entire life. Nothing was going as it should. In my first day despair, I didn’t want to go to school. I had to be forced into the car. Once I was at school, I calmed down, and was delighted to discover a tin with my name on it, full of Play Doh! Mentally, I frolicked in celebration of kindergarten dreams fulfilled.
Had that beast child not bitten my arm, hence exposing her cheek and veritably begging me to bite it, this story may have ended differently. However, since that did happen, and despite the fact that she started it, I was punished during Play Doh time. I was 0 for everything.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the last damned straw. At the end of the day, I had a message for my parents, Aunt Shirley, and even that unwitting snitch Rocky:
FUCK YALL! You don’t know shit. Mr. Rogers said I’m getting Play dough, and back packs with flowers, and PENNY loafers. NOT FUCKING SADDLE LOAFERS! Are we on a farm? Why are you giving me saddles? I’m supposed to ride a bus!!! Did Mr. Rogers say, “Okay folks, let’s all pile into the fire trap that is Aunt Shirley’s Buick? Hell no!!! Trolley was dressed to the nines! What’s wrong with you people? Did Prince Tuesday try to bite a chunk out of Daniel Striped Tiger, then get mad because he left his cheek exposed and Daniel bit him back? HE WAS A TIGER FOR SHIT’S SAKE! If Mr. Rogers’ school day can end without a tiger biting anyone, certainly I should expect to go unscathed. This isn’t kindergarten!! THESE ARE LIES!!! This is bullshit. I’m catching the damn bus.
When they called for bus students at day’s end, I scooped my dreaded bag, and marched to the cafeteria. This marked the first time I ever experienced terror. As they called buses, the cafeteria began to empty, and I knew I would miss my chance. I dashed through the door, breathlessly explaining that I would miss my bus. I was unprepared to hear, “Well, what’s your bus number?” Blast. I hadn’t thought that far. Obviously, I couldn’t say, “Well, every adult and older kid in my life is conspiring to murk my dream, so I don’t really have a bus number. Can we just ride around until I know what a bus feels like?” What they didn’t know was that I had been reading since I was 3 1/2. I saw the bus that Chad, my new boo in my mind, was heading toward, and blurted out, “FOUR-ONE-FOUR!” They loaded me on.
You know how you do something wrong, and the experience is awful. Nothing about it is the way you thought it would be, and you find yourself learning a lesson for the ages? That’s not what happened here. Kids were laughing and shouting. One of the big girls gave me a piece of candy. We stopped twice and screamed, “BYYYYYE! SEE YOU TOMORROWWW!” to the departing student. Glorious. We arrived at the last stop – then known as Lawrence Creek Apartments. The bus driver smiled and said, “Isn’t this your stop baby girl? Time to go home.” Obviously it wasn’t, but I hadn’t thought that far. I knew the apartment complex. Family friends lived there. Aunt Cassandra and Uncle Wayne. They’d get me. Total cakewalk. As children filed to their parents, I debated turning left or right.
I halfheartedly called to them at the entrance of the complex, then started to cry. A nice lady walked across the street, and I spilled my story. She invited me indoors, but I was hesitant because she was a stranger. Mr. Rogers told me not to mess with them, but I was admittedly out of options. Plus, she had a little girl slightly younger than me wearing a Barbie shirt and eating a plum (exotic fruit to my apple and banana munching ass), so I’m winning again. She saw me hungrily eye the plum, and offered me two. As I was relishing in the taste of my first plum, she was calling the school to report that she’d found a lost child. Within minutes, my aunt and the school principal pulled up to the house.
Dear Readers, I took one look at my aunt and walked to the principal’s car like I’d never seen that woman or Buick in all my days. Though all smiles with the principal, I knew that she was totally over me and my big bag of bull. I was prepared for it to get really bad, really quickly.
Auntie Shirley, have you ever had a plum? They are SO GOOD.
To this date, I believe that only fear of incarceration prevented her from putting the remaining plum in my sock and bludgeoned me to death. Instructed to finish the plum, I savored it as though it was my last meal. For couple of epidermal layers, I’m sure it was. Shirley had first dibs, then before my nose dried, Mama tagged in. When Daddy got home and she explained the story to him, I took one look at his face and laid across the bed. I knew the drill.
My family and I always recount this with a mixture of humor and terror; it could have been a really bad scene. But, this is a story I’m sure I’ll tell well into old age. I defied all odds to ride the yellow dragon, and lived to tell the tale. Plus I still roll with plums. HARD.