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.