Surveying the reflection of myself in the mirror, I silently declared that I looked smashing and I would make quite an impression on my first day at my new school. My sister said I should tone it down a bit and try to fit in more, but of course I didn't listen to her. Anyway, I was partly right. I did make quite a first impression; just not the kind I was hoping for.
Milford, N.H., is a long way from Southern California in distance, climate, lifestyle and attitude. I was a child of '60s pop culture. By 1970, at the age of 11, I had been to Disneyland five times and Knott's Berry Farm at least twice that. I was used to the sounds of the city — cars honking, music playing, busy sidewalks full of people. Instead of stars, my night sky was full of flashing neon and revolving advertising lights. I slept with my transistor radio under my pillow, not wanting to miss the latest hits that were the soundtrack to my life. I attended birthday parties with themes like roller-skating, miniature golf and horseback riding. I had even shopped on Rodeo Drive a time or two. We had a large shopping mall, a McDonald's and an eight-screen theater within walking distance of our house.
I never imagined that there was another way of life out there.
Dad took my sister and me to school on that first day, late in the year. She was in fourth grade and I was in fifth. Fourth-graders still attended the lower school, but I got to go to the upper elementary school, which was a four-story brick building. It was 100 years old. I had never been inside a building that old. I imagined all of the students who had gone before me and it, and the cold draft, gave me chills.
The ladies in the school office thought I was adorable. Even the principal came out to look at me. Me, in all my glory. From the bottom up: knee-high black vinyl boots, red-and-black plaid jumper, black turtleneck, red poncho, black leather fringe purse, short Mia Farrow haircut and a black beret to top it off.
"You look like a little movie star," one of the office ladies said. I smiled and silently agreed.
It was weeks later that my classmates told me that as I walked down the hallway toward the classroom that all wondered who was making such a loud click-clacking noise. It was my boots. I'll never forget the look on my homeroom teacher's face when I appeared in the doorway. I've not quite decided if it was a look of shock, surprise or amusement. All three, I suppose.
The teacher asked me to introduce myself, and as I turned toward my classmates I heard some stifled giggles, and some not so stifled. I looked out at them and saw that they all were wearing the plainest, most sensible clothes I'd ever seen. The girls were all sporting long hair parted down the middle. And over to the side of the room there were hooks filled with down jackets of blue or brown, with snow boots lined neatly underneath. No red, no ponchos. I cringed, and croaked out that I was from Lakewood, Calif., near Los Angeles, and I was in the fifth grade.
"No duh. This is fifth grade," one of my classmates pointed out. The teacher shushed him and took me to my seat. My face must have been as bright as my poncho. Why didn't I listen to my sister?
A few girls felt sorry for me and took me under their wing that day. At recess, one even let me wear her warm coat so that she could try on my poncho. Our classroom had windows all along one wall and right before recess a marvelous thing happened. I saw a snowflake, then two, then a million falling from the sky. I had never seen snow fall before. I didn't hear my teacher ask me a question about the story we had just read.
"Kimberlyn, are you all right?" She asked. The only thing I could say was, "snow."
Everyone turned to look at me.
"Oh my goodness, you've never seen snow before?" The teacher asked? I shook my head no.
"Well then, our science lesson will be on the weather today. Bundle up everyone, let's go see the snow."
I really was a star then. My classmates were thrilled with me that they got to go outside during class. Before long I had my first snowball fight, built my first snowman and enjoyed the wonder of the quiet pleasure of making a snow angel. Yes, I was cold in my stylish clothes, but I felt warm inside knowing that I might fit in after all.
That night I asked my parents to take me to the general store to get some sensible clothes and a warm jacket and snow boots. And I announced, "I'm growing my hair out!"
Kim Flinchbaugh is a former librarian and freelance writer who lives in Palm Harbor.