4th Grade Mt. Eagle Elementary, Alexandria, VA
5th grade Mt. Eagle Elementary Alexandria, VA
My fictionalized story about our move to Virginia when I was in 4th grade:
Jo held down her skirt so the wind wouldn’t whip it up as she pounded down the cement sidewalk on her way home from school. The heavy schoolbooks bounced in her backpack and long dark braids swung and wisps fell out around her freckled face. Dust rose in clouds off the blacktopped street as cars sped past. While she waited for a break in traffic she kicked the “Welcome to Fairfax County” sign post. Virginia was such a bummer.
Jo yelled as she shoved open the front door of the brick duplex in Jefferson Manor where she lived with her family. “Hi mom I’m home. I gotta get out of this dumb skirt.” She kicked the door shut. Up the stairs to her bedroom she bounded. Ugh! She hated this house with nothing but bare grass around it. In Alaska they had a river boat they cruised on the Chena River. She didn’t have to worry about cars speeding by. There was a lot less traffic. And that smelly cow farm down the road made her sick to her stomach.
Into her room she ran, dropped her books onto the rollaway bed she shared with her sister, and slammed her room door. She yanked off her blouse, skirt, and slip and slid into her comfortable blue jeans and T-shirt. Whew! That’s better, she said to herself. I’m glad it’s Friday. I don’t have to wear that stupid skirt again until Monday.
Skipping down the stairs she found her mom in the family room changing her brother Sam’s diaper. “Mom, I can’t stand wearing skirts to school. My bare legs stick out like tooth picks. Why can’t I wear pants like the boys?”
“It’s the school’s dress code, Jo.”
“Well I hate it! I wish we were back in Alaska.” Mom sighed. “When your dad got transferred from Alaska to Virginia I didn’t realize there would be so many adjustments and changes. You could wear pants to school in Alaska because it was so cold. But here it doesn’t get as cold.”
“People are too uptight here,” Jo said. “Nothing is the same in my life. I think I’ll pack my suitcase and move back to Alaska.”
Mom smoothed vaseline on baby Sam’s bottom and didn’t say anything.
“What’s wrong with these people? I can’t play kickball in a dress at recess. I end up staying inside and playing computer games. I don’t get enough fresh air because I have to wear a dress all the time. I hate the weather here too. It’s so hot and muggy. In Fairbanks it never got muggy.”
Mom shrugged and left the room, calling as she headed for the basement stairs, “Watch Sam for me, please, the laundry’s done.”
“Okay—can we have blueberry cobbler for dinner though?”
“Blueberries are too expensive here,” Mom said. She disappeared down the stairs.
“Oh no,” said Jo disappointed.
She lifted Sam and plunked him down in his high chair in the kitchenette. Then she washed her hands with dish soap, pulled the built in bread board out from the slot over the silverware drawer, snatched the peanut butter out of the refrigerator, and grabbed two slices of bread.
“You understand, don’t you Sam? You’re an Alaskan baby!” Sam grinned up at her. His nickname was Sourdough Sam after the sourdough starter everyone had in their refrigerators on the last frontier. Jo made her sandwich and talked to Sam.
“Remember those giant blueberries we used to pick when we camped on Mt. McKinley. Yum! And sleeping in our white Eskimo tent with warm down bags. I remember waking up with frost on our eyelashes. Sam watched her intently as he chewed on his teething biscuit.
“Can’t you just smell the campfire? When the sun melted the frost off the berries we picked buckets full. Oh and those Alaskan king crab legs. Smoked squaw candy, I’m drooling.” She tickled Sam’s cheek. “You’re drooling too Sam!”
Sam laughed and watched Jo carefully; his big blue eyes staring, and his mouth open as if he were anticipating a bite of the sandwich.
Jo continued on her rant. “In Fairbanks we could stay up all night and play softball if we wanted to because it was light all night. Everything’s different here in the south. None of my favorite foods. And skirts, skirts, skirts for school. Well, no one said I had to wear skirts places anywhere besides school. I know, I’ll wear my new blue and pink striped sweater and new jeans to church on Sunday.” This idea cheered her and she happily munched her sandwich and fed a bite to Sam.
On Sunday morning Jo appeared downstairs ready for church dressed in her favorite jeans and sweater. “Are you sure you want to wear that to church, Jo?” Mom asked.
“Yes, I’m absolutely sure,” said Jo.
“Well, okay then.”
The family arrived a bit late for Sunday school and slipped into the back pew of the sanctuary for the opening exercises. Soon it was time for their individual classes. The boys and girls went to separate classes and the adults went to their class.
When Jo joined the circle of girls her age she stared at them and tried not to giggle. They all wore a-line dresses with shiny glitter or velvet trim, clunky sandals, and nylons, like they were dressed for a wedding, or something. Jo felt very uncomfortable and self-conscious. I bet they LIKE to wear dresses, she thought as she glared at them. I must be the only girl who likes to wear pants. Even my sister likes dresses.
Mrs. Smith began the lesson. “The scripture for today is Philippians 2:14 — “Do everything without complaining or arguing. What does this mean?” asked the teacher.
Jo thought about how she had complained since the move. She picked at her cuticles so she could keep her head down and avoid eye contact with anyone.
“I think it means I should feed my pet goat and not complain when he butts me in the rear when I turn my back,” said a girl named Sandy. Everyone chuckled including the teacher.
Kimberly said, “I think it has something to do with getting along with other Christians.”
“Those are good answers,” said the teacher. “It also means if we complain about changes and hardships in our lives we are complaining about God’s will for us.”
“You mean we shouldn’t complain about where we live or our families?” said Amy.
“That’s a wonderful way to put it,” said Mrs. Smith. “And it’s hard to do, isn’t it?” All the girls nodded in agreement. Mrs. Smith continued, “I catch myself complaining and being impatient when my children don’t take care of their clothes. Then I remember God is patient with me when I don’t do what is good.”
Jo didn’t say anything because she realized she was complaining about EVERYTHING. She thought about Philippians 2:14 and the teacher’s words. Did they apply to all the changes in her life she complained about? She prayed silently, “Dear Lord, please forgive me for complaining. Help me to be able to wear a skirt happily, and to accept all the changes in my life. In Jesus name, Amen.”
After church everyone stayed for a potluck fellowship. Men and women bustled and set up tables. The food was placed in bowls and platters and wonderful smells came from the kitchen as casseroles were warmed. The girl named Sandy walked up to Jo when the table was spread with all the food.
“Jo want to sit with us?” Jo looked at Sandy’s velvet trimmed dress and the tiny flowers in her pierced ears. She hesitated. Then she looked at Sandy’s friendly face.
“Oh, sure,” she said. “Is it all right Mom and Dad?”
“Go ahead, find us afterward,” said Mom, and Dad nodded.
Sandy and Jo slid plates off the pile and stood in the food line. There were some foods she recognized like fried chicken and potato salad but there were strange looking foods too.
“What’s that?” Jo asked Sandy pointing to a bowl of beans with black dots on them.
Jo swallowed hard. “And what about that?” She pointed to a bowl of slimy looking green stuff.
Ugh! Oh how she missed all the good food in Alaska, especially the hot sourdough rolls. “In Alaska, we…” Sandy was watching her face and Jo stopped. Okay, maybe now was a good time for her to practice that scripture and not complain so much.
“What were you going to say?” Sandy asked.
“In Alaska we don’t have such yummy looking fried chicken and potato salad.”
Sandy grinned. “My mom made the potato salad. Try some it’s really good.”
Jo walked behind Sandy and put tasty looking food on her plate while she talked to Sandy. Inside she felt warm and happy—the best she’d felt since she’d moved here. Giving up complaining felt great—maybe she’d keep it up.
She looked at Sandy and grinned. “I might even try the okra.”