Jeaninne is an award-winning fiction and essay writer who is the author of "Manuel's Murals."
The Elementary School Years
John Fitzgerald Kennedy becomes president during my first-grade. We gather around the black and white television to watch the Kennedy-Nixon debates. My parents comment on how nervous Richard Nixon looks as he mops his sweaty brow. At school, my classmates spread the rumor that if Nixon is elected president we will have to go to school on Saturdays. I implore my parents to vote for the young, handsome one. I am relieved when he wins.
With Kennedy as president and finding the black ponytail Barbie Doll under the Christmas tree, I am one happy little girl with not a care in the world. My mother has saved grocery money for months so that my brother and I have one nice thing for Christmas- my Barbie Doll and his baseball mitt. My parents even allow us to adopt Missy, a reddish-brown, standard-sized dachshund, who becomes my best friend well into my adolescence. Even though my mother isn’t a big fan of pets, she has always allowed me to bring home stray rodents, chickens, reptiles, a cat, and now my first dog. Animals soothe the savage beast of my incessant energy.
My father earns a sales promotion and announces that he has bought a house across town with the exact same floor plan of the one we are currently renting. My mother is over the moon to be able to create her own home. Before the furniture arrives, we play cards on the floor as a family. My brother is excited to sign-up for Cub Scouts and Little League Baseball. My father is voted in as the Boy Scout pack leader and my mother volunteers to be the den mother of my preferred organization, The Camp Fire Girls. I am also enrolled in Saturday Catechism classes to make my First Communion. We embody the definition of the quintessential 1960’s TV family. In fact, we give the television show “Father Knows Best” a run for its money.
Until it all changes.
My father announces he is leaving us for another family. Everything we ever knew changes in this moment. My mother is devastated, but doesn’t have much time to grieve as she has to be the sole breadwinner now with just a high school education; my brother quits all his after-school activities and becomes a pathological liar to fill the empty spaces in his soul; and, I put away my little girl naivete and throw myself into my studies, determined to get a jumpstart on college scholarships. It is up to me to take care of my future. At eight years old, I begin to chart the course of my adult life.
Jeaninne Escallier Kato (author) from Rocklin, CA on May 10, 2019:
Wow, John, looks like you won the lottery! A long, lost cousin just found me this year. His birth father, my uncle, was a drug-addicted teen when he was given up in 1952. He was adopted by a wonderful family and has become a stellar human being. If my uncle hadn't passed in 2005, he would have been over the moon to meet his birth son.
John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 10, 2019:
My own story began with a "down" but then went "up". I was born in 1952 to a soldier's wife, but my father was not her husband. He gave her an ultimatum - either you go or the baby does - so I went! I was adopted and therefore grew up in southern England rather than southern Scotland.
Jeaninne Escallier Kato (author) from Rocklin, CA on May 09, 2019:
Hi John, thanks for your comment. First grade in California is the year after kindergarten. Yes, it was sad, but life is a series of ups and downs for all of us. I learned at a very young age how to be independent, responsible and mature. My father always put his needs before his family, but as you will read in my subsequent essays, my mother remarried and had a wonderful life with her husband of 50 years. I am writing this series that covers my life because I am so grateful to be a Baby Boomer- those of us born between 1945 and 1965. Welcome to the musings of a grateful American.
John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 09, 2019:
That is sad - all that misery caused by the selfish actions of your father. I assume that you must be about the same age as me - although I'm not sure what you mean by "first grade". I therefore have childhood memories of around the same time, but from the other side of the Pond!