By Howard Eskildsen
“Howard, what’d you do?” my brother whispered from his desk across the room. I wanted to reply that I had slapped Donny Metz, but a stern warning from Miss Meyers, our teacher, stopped our forbidden conversation in its tracks. I was not surprised that my brother had to stay in for recess, since he was in the eighth grade and knew how to break rules that I hadn’t even heard of. But I never dreamed that as a kindergartner I could ever be punished for anything.
The day had begun innocently enough. Mom had driven us to the District 38 country school near Lexington, since it was too cold for Bernie to pedal his bike to school with me perched on the handlebars. The car crunched to a stop on the gravel between the little white country school and the teeter-totter. White clouds, driven by a north wind, raced overhead through the blue, Nebraska sky, as we ran to the warmth of the school.
Inside, we walked down the narrow hall between the restrooms and the boys’ and girls’ coatrooms and into the large classroom. About 20 other kids teased and chased each other about the room while waiting for school to begin. All too soon Miss Meyers called us to our desks for the Pledge of Allegiance and the start of the school day.
The kindergarten kids were called first to meet by the small table in one corner of the room where classes were held. After the soon-forgotten lesson I returned to my desk to pass the time doing assignments and looking through the windows at the swaying chains of the swings that shivered in the bitter north wind.
Finally, after an hour and a half, the teacher signaled the start of recess for all the kids, except my brother, who was kept at his desk as punishment for I don’t know what. Since it was too cold to go outside, we made do inside. The kindergartners and first graders hurried past the table where classes were held to the tiny room that was optimistically called the library. Though it was small, it gave us a place to escape the bigger kids. Its meager fare included Nancy Drew novels, Mel Martin baseball stories and the Yankee Flier series.
In the safety of the library, we told jokes and played Old Maid or Crazy 8’s and were having a great time when the door opened. To our great dismay, Donny, a fifth grader, peered through the opening. He had a dark side, and we all knew better than to be caught to alone with him. Donny towered more than a foot taller than the rest of us, and his face folded into an evil grin as he surveyed the room for his next victim. His eyes settled on Michael, a first grader who I admired.
Donny closed the door and stood in front of it so that there was no escape. He briefly taunted each one of us and then concentrated his barrage on Michael. They traded verbal jabs while another classmate tried vainly to open the door. Soon Michael was in tears.
I had had enough. I too had been the victim of Donny’s harsh words and other unspeakable indignities. I wasn’t about to allow him to hurt my friend anymore. My arm, powered with a pent-up rage, swung round wide and the open surface of my chubby hand exploded on the side of his face.
His eyes narrowed to tiny slits and his face turned bright red as he glared at me. For a moment, I thought I was dead. Suddenly, tears streamed from his eyes and fell in great drops on the floor as he turned and ran out of the library.
He was gone but a moment when Miss Meyers appeared and demanded to know what I had done and why. I couldn’t understand why I should be the one in trouble, so I tried to look as innocent as possible. Unfortunately, Donny’s face had returned to its normal color, except for the crimson handprint on his left cheek.
The teacher gave me a stern lecture about hitting others and I joined Bernie among the rows of empty desks for the remainder of the recess. I was a little bewildered, since I had saved my friend from a bully and didn’t think that I had done anything wrong. Before I was allowed to go home that day, the teacher said that she hoped that I had learned a lesson and wouldn’t have to spend any more recesses at my desk. I guess I had, for I never struck another student in anger after that. However, what I gained from the day’s turn of events more than made up for the lost recess. Donny never, ever bothered Michael or me again.
Note: The names have been changed to protect whatever…