My mother had stayed at home and watched a couple other preschool kids prior to my starting school. Being the not only the middle child, but the quite / shy one, I was generally forgotten, so I ran fairly wild in our large yard, nearby fields and river banks. I was educated in strange foods, poured over National Geographic’s and listened intently to everything around me. Including the sounds of the trees, the river we could see from 90% of the house and yard, the animals and occasionally the people around me.
In 1976 it was time to start kindergarten. The thought terrified me, I had never been around that many kids or away from my outdoor world with it’s many hidden safe places beneath tree boughs, between the basement wall and wood pile… Where would I hide if I needed to?
The room seemed cheery enough with all the toys, chalk boards, games and smiling teachers. The nice teachers encouraged me to play with the other girls, but I was afraid of dolls and found making house boring. So I stayed with the boys playing cars and marbles and running in cowboy or cop reenactments. While there was probably concern over the scrawny pale girl that preferred sticks and rocks to dolls and tea, they seemed to come around and stop pestering me.
At one point we were given an assignment; who is your hero and why, we had a couple days to think about it and put together a presentation. I didn’t need to think about it, I knew right away who my hero was.
The day came and the kids that were not shy were running up to make their announcements and state their case for their idols. Being very shy, I never raised my hand, but politely listened to everyone else first. The kids all had great stories from Super Man, Astronauts, Dads, Aunt’s and so on. At last the teachers scanned the room to see if everyone had been given their turn, “Marci, are you ready?”
I stood up and in front of mostly 5 year olds and a couple young teachers who had probably never left Montana, my hero is Nelson Mandela. I then started to tell about his life and struggle for the people of South Africa. They stopped me and pulled me aside to ask. “Do you really know who you are talking about?” I excitedly went on about his imprisonment, the letters that made it out and how one day things would be better for the black people in South Africa.
The panic struck teachers looked at each other with wide eyes. “Is what she saying correct?” one asked the other, “I think so.” I never did finish my presentation; I had no idea what I had done wrong. I was blissfully ignorant of the prejudice that probably swarmed around me. Now, I wish I could go back in time and cheer myself on.