Surprises

Surprises

Dictionary of Texisms

Big as all hell and half of Texas: huge, immense, gargantuan.

Let me set the record straight about Texas, for those who get all their ideas from watching television. We don’t wear guns to school. At least, not in the fifth grade. Also, we don’t herd cattle at recess, we don’t chase tumbleweeds down the street, and we don’t ride horses to school. My noble steed has two wheels. I call her “Schwinn.”  We do play cowboys and Indians a lot. Nobody wants to be an Indian. The Indians always lose.

But we do talk funny. That part is true. People who are not familiar with Texans have a hard time understanding some of our common expressions.  That’s why I’ve decided to put together a working dictionary of what I call “Texisms.”  I got the idea from a stupid exercise we had to do last year, where the teacher assigned us a “word of the week” – a new word, supposedly – and we had to practice using that word in sentences. I already knew 92 percent of the words, which is why I renamed it “word of the weak.”  My teacher didn’t see the humor.

Another year, another teacher. When every year you go to the same school, with the same 25 classmates, with the same principal, and the same everything else, you don’t expect big surprises on the first day of school. Or at least, I didn’t. But I was wrong this year.

The first surprise – and not a pleasant surprise – was that Buddy McCall had grown – a lot – over the summer. He was always solidly built, but now he was big as all hell and half of Texas. He towered over me by a foot and looked to be 100 pounds heavier, so if he sat on me he could crush my internal organs. This was not a good surprise. Buddy was a rude, nasty, stupid brute who hated me for being smart and seemed to think it was all my fault that he had to repeat the first grade.  Last year he was a minor irritant, but now that he was rude, nasty, stupid and gigantic, I smelled trouble.

The other surprise was one new kid in the class, which almost never happens. Hardly anyone moves into or out of Rusty Springs. When Mrs. Kleiner called the roll, the new kid introduced herself as Jackie McLanahan and said she was from Oklahoma. The first impression was that she was nothing remarkable, just another girl.

Mrs. Kleiner also was nothing remarkable, just another teacher. She’s been teaching fifth grade since the dawn of time. People don’t say she’s a great teacher, and they don’t say she’s a terrible teacher.

Mrs. Kleiner announced that we were going to work together in “teams,” and our first task was to rearrange all our desks so there were six “pods” of four desks apiece. My assigned podmates were  Chris Carter to my left, Catherine Spencer across from me, and George Mathews across from Chris. Chris was an arrogant blowhard. George had a nervous laugh, but otherwise seemed all right. Catherine was a quiet mouse who never spoke unless a teacher called on her, and then replied in a voice so soft you couldn’t hear what she said.

“Hey Chris!” said George. “I got tickets to see the Colt 45s in Houston Friday night.”

“Yeah?” said Chris. “You think they might win a game?”

Baseball was a subject I knew well, so I stepped in.

“You can’t expect too much,” I said. “It’s just their first year in the Major Leagues.”

“You could expect them to win every now and then,” said Chris. “I hate losers.”

“Who are your favorite players?” George asked, eager to change the subject.

“Stan Musial,” said Chris. “The St. Louis Cardinals are a powerhouse.”

“Mickey Mantle,” I said.

“Mickey Mantle?” said Chris. “He’s a Yankee!”

“So what?” I said.  “It’s a baseball team, not an army.”

“I hate the Yankees,” said Chris.

“ I also like Maury Wills on the Dodgers,” I added. “What an amazing base stealer.”

“What did you expect?” Chris said. “Stealing is what niggers do best.”

            I tried to think of a snappy response to Chris’s stupid remark, but I couldn’t think fast enough. 

            The conversation stopped as Mrs. Kleiner turned our attention to the lesson. Our first team assignment was to tackle a list of 20 sentences and correct the grammar errors. Mrs. Kleiner told us to work on our own, then compare our answers. But Chris was never one for following rules. “George!” he whispered, “What did you get for number 6?”

“You and me,” George whispered.

“It’s you and I,” I whispered helpfully.

“Buzz off!” said Chris.

George gave his nervous laugh. He wasn’t sure who to believe.

Meanwhile Catherine just kept her head down and worked away on her own. For the record, three people on our team got the wrong answer to that question. Another non-surprise.

I wasn’t thrilled with my “team,” but it could have been worse. I said a small prayer of thanks that I wouldn’t have to sit across from Buddy McCall.

But by lunch time I found I had been only too right about Buddy. On our way down the hall, single file, to the cafeteria, a hard shove from behind sent me crashing into the wall and sprawling on the floor. “Careful, Smart Alec,” Buddy jeered, “don’t hurt yourself.”

“Smart Alec” was Buddy’s favorite nickname for me. He thought it was witty, which is all you need to know about Buddy’s sophisticated sense of humor. I dusted myself off while the rest of the class continued marching and took my place at the end of the line. I was not looking  forward to an entire year of playing keep-away-from-Buddy.

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