Glen’s village was not so small. They had a market where all sorts of things came in from the countryside, and they had schools for the young and prosperity besides. They were far enough from the city to not be bothered by big city problems, but close enough to take advantage of all the things a city had to offer. In many ways, it was an idyllic village, even if it was full of ordinary humans and all of the ordinary problems humans have. None of the problems Glen faced were necessarily out of the ordinary. It is just in his case they tended to pile up and not leave much room to breathe.
Here he was, three-and-a-half, having just gotten over a disease that should have killed him, and Mother decided to put him in the Happy Hill Nursery School. I know children these days are dumped off at day care almost from birth and by three-and-a-half they are experts; but that was not the way it was done back then in Glen’s village. He was not so happy on the hill. Normally, mothers and children did not face separation anxiety until the child was at least four, if not five. Besides, Glen was technically too young to be in the program by at least two months, but Mother had a voice in the town and excellent networking skills and so she managed to get him in.
When Mother dropped him off at nursery school, he undoubtedly felt like most children. He thought she was getting rid of him and she would never be back. True, he may have had more reason to think that than most, but he cried like any child. Well, as I understand it he cried all that first day. The thing about Glen’s situation, though, was not the dropping off. It was the picking up. He basically just got in the wagon for the ride home. There was not any of the hugging and holding and “Oh, I missed you,” stuff.
To be honest about the school, Glen was not ready for that kind of social interaction. With Brother Tom around, he hardly got any attention at home and so he had little experience as to how to act toward others. He was mostly alone. Brother Tom, though, was headed for kindergarten, and you would think that might have been a good year for Glen to bond with his mother, if not his parents, but it was not to be. Mother was pregnant and decided that she needed the time to bond with her new baby, instead.
When Glen was four-and-a-half and in Kindergarten, he got his hands on some clay and thought that was wonderful. All of the children were to make something in a day and paint it on the next day so it could be cooked in the kiln and put on display in time for the first parent-teacher night. Glen was excited, but there was a limit on what he could do in a single day. For some reason unknown to him, he decided to fashion an apple. It was glorious, egg shaped with little feet on the bottom like a real delicious apple. It even had a stem.
“What are you making?” The boy with the runny nose next to him asked.
“An apple,” Glen answered as his little hands smoothed the roundness to perfection.
“Me, too,” the boy said, and Glen looked. It looked to him more like a ball, but he just smiled. The poor boy’s so-called apple was full of air pockets. Glen knew, somehow, when the thing cooked it would collapse and look more like bent over worm guts than an apple, but he smiled all the same.
“What color are you going to paint it?”
“Red.” Glen knew the golden color of the apple he pictured in his mind would not be possible. Red was the obvious substitute.
On parent-teacher night the family spent the night in Brother Tom’s first grade classroom. They got to Glen’s kindergarten class when the teacher was packing up, preparing to go home. Glen went straight to his desk and sat while his parents talked briefly with the teacher. Then the teacher came up holding red painted bent over worm guts.
“Glen, what is this so I can tell your parents?”
“That’s not mine.”
“But it is the one here. Of course it is yours. I thought you said this was an apple.”
That runny nosed kid stole my apple! Glen wanted to cry, but some pebble from the cliffs of creativity thunked him on the head. “It’s a poison apple,” he said.
“Very clever.” The teacher smiled and carried it back to Glen’s parents while Glen felt like he had been poisoned. Sadly there was not time for a proper cry. The school was closing.
Mother later said, “Your teacher said it was very clever, calling it a poison apple.” It went on display with the three or four pieces that were actually very good. And as happens so often with things schools put on display, Glen never saw it again. It was just as well. It wasn’t his apple. Mister “me too” obviously stole his apple and that was Glen’s one and only serious foray into the world of sculpture.
In that village, in the summer, the children always put on a show, like the traveling shows that came to the big city. The strong man lifted boxes painted to look like dead weights, and the tightrope walkers navigated a rope that never left the ground, but what the heck. The parents loved it, and the children collected the price of admission and sold snacks (provided by the mothers) and split the proceeds at the end so everyone had a little spending money in the summer.
One thing that was always part of the grand finale was the pyramid of acrobats. Three big kids got on the ground. Two middle-sized kids got on top. And the one who was generally the smallest got on the very top. Glen was that kid, one year – both smallest and youngest.
Glen woke up that morning to quiet in the house. He wondered where everyone was. He wandered to the kitchen and got some cereal. He was old enough to do that much, but he was honestly too young to know what day it was. He sat around for a while by himself, nothing unusual, and eventually wandered into the den to draw some pictures. It was an hour at least before Mother, baby Carol in her arms, and Brother Tom came home. Brother Tom immediately came up to Glen and jingled all the change in his pocket. Then he dumped it out and counted it in Glen’s face.
Glen walked home from first grade. People did that in those days. Glen only lived five houses from the school and on the same side of the street so he walked to and from school, and no one thought anything of it. When he got home on that day, however, no one was home. The house was locked up tight. He had no way into the house and that feeling of being rejected and unwanted washed over him, again. He tried every door. He banged on the windows. He sat down and cried.
Mother eventually came home with Brother Tom and baby Carol in tow. She never said she was sorry. Apparently, she picked up Brother Tom after school, but did not bother to pick up Glen. She let Glen go ahead and walk home to a house locked up tight. Maybe it never occurred to her to pick Glen up, too. Maybe Glen just never came to mind. All Glen knew was she never explained, never apologized or said she was sorry, and the closest she came to admitting anything was when she admitted, “That took longer than I thought.”
Glen never had animosity toward his brother, even if his brother had his seriously insensitive moments. If anything, Glen always felt sorry they were kept apart, like with a crow bar. Being as close as they were in age, there was no reason why they should not have become close, certainly as they got older. But that was not to be. Mother made sure of that. Even so, they shared plenty in their youth. Like the time they went on vacation, sat in the back seat of the station wagon and sang the ballad of Davey Crocket, or more like shouted it at the top of their lungs.
Born on a mountain top in Tennessee. The greatest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree. Killed in a bar when he was only three…….
Mother told Brother Tom he was so funny. I am sure Brother Tom did not exactly hear the compliment. He was not trying to be funny. Of course, Glen got no notice at all.