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"My Class Photograph 1946,"Monica Ahblom
Happiness is my first grade teacher
Happiness is all my friends in a photo.
It was a typical dark day in the beginning of December it rained and sleeted all day. The lights were turned on in every classroom. Recess was held inside in the atrium in the middle of our new school. It was fun. We played hide and seek or the girls chased the boys. I liked everyone in my class. We lived in the same neighborhood, and had known each other since we were toddlers.
I struggled with the reading book for first graders. “Mor ror, far ror” (Mother rows father rows). I could not get it right, because it all looked the same! Somehow, our wonderful teacher taught us all how to read the simplest books. Before she dismissed us that stormy day, she announced, that the class photo was going to be taken the next day. She had written a little note to the parents, with a few instructions, which she handed out. She told us that it would be nice for the girls to wear skirts or dresses. Now, with the winter approaching most of us wore woolen pants with a warm jacket.
I had tucked my note securely in my little schoolbag. I usually walked home with Maggie and Christel. We lived pretty far from the school. It took us a good fifteen minutes, up and down hills. This particular day the sleet hit our faces, so we hurried along in the darkness.
Other days we easily got sidetracked, finding things to do in our nice neighborhood. Occasionally we had a snowball fight. One day we had found an abandoned sleigh. We piled on top of it and flew down the steep hills laughing and rolling off it at high speeds.
Close to our house I saw my older brother. He was hurrying to get home and ignored me. We ended up on the kitchen floor together, kicking of our boots and wet clothes.
“You’d better hang your clothes in the warming cabinet,” said Rut, our cook, as she banged a pot down on the stove. Something had upset her, probably the weather.
“I’ll never get home in this sleet and rain,” she moaned.
“Why aren’t you married?” I asked, picking up my wet clothes from the floor.
“Married, ha, nobody wanted me. Now, you need to leave me alone, so I can get this going,” she shouted, filling a big pot with potatoes.
Her short, brown frizzy hair was standing on end. Her squat, plump body was fitted into a knitted brown dress that she never changed. Mom had bought her a new dress, but no, she wanted the brown ugly one. She had knitted it herself. No wonder we called her “crazy Rut,” and she actually did not mind.
I found Mom in the living room, smoking and restlessly fiddling with our huge gramophone/radio.
“Mom, I have a note from the teacher. We’re having our class picture taken tomorrow.”
“I can’t read it now,” she said. “Go get some hot chocolate. Rut is in the kitchen, and don’t forget to go to the bathroom.”
I was lazy regarding the bathroom, but now that I was a “big” girl, I had not had an “accident” in a long time. Back in the kitchen I handed Rut the note and asked her to read it.
“Can’t you see I’m cooking? Besides I don’t have my glasses here. You kids need to stop bothering me, so I can get going home before the roads get too slippery.”
I heard our black phone with a round dial plate ring with a sharp penetrating sound. Mom answered it promptly. The phone call was about Dad. He was coming home with a bad back. Mom was to meet the taxi on the street as he could hardly walk.
Before Dad became a pilot flying passenger planes, he flew air mail to Germany and back to Sweden. The plane was very small, only room for the pilot and boxes of mail. One rainy day the aero plane’s sole Thulin engine* gave out, over some deep woods in southern Sweden. When the engine started to sputter, Dad tried to land on some fields, but did not make it. The plane went straight down between trees in the woods. A farmer reached him first and pulled him from the wreckage. Dad’s back was broken. He was driven to a hospital where doctors put in two silver screws in his spine. He was fine after that and occasionally had a bad back day. This particular day was a bad back day, probably caused by the sleet and damp rawness in the air.
It was chaos in the kitchen. At the long sturdy table, my little brother was stuffing his face with blue cheese. My little sister was crying in her highchair. Björn, my big brother, was drinking hot chocolate and throwing pieces of a cinnamon bun on the floor for our cat. Rut banged her pots louder and carried on like a wild woman. I did not dare to show her my note from my teacher. Mom heard the noise and entered the kitchen.
“Rut, what’s going on in here? Go and take an aspirin. The weather is too bad so you better stay here tonight. I’ll call your sister to let her know. And if you behave,” she continued looking at us kids, “I’ll give you a treat. Dad needs to have some peace and quiet when he comes home.”
* the engine was later mounted in our living room ceiling as a chandelier
The next morning, I dashed down to the kitchen to give Mom the teacher’s note. Rut was sitting calmly at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. My brother Björn was on his way to school already.
“She was just here making breakfast for your dad. She said for me to help you get dressed for school.”
“Why? I want my mom. I’m having my class picture taken today and I need a skirt. Here is the note!”
“I can’t find my glasses so I can’t read it.”
I stomped upstairs to get dressed. I probably forgot to brush my teeth and my hair. In my room I put on my undergarment all by my self. It looked like a vest (livstycke) and was uncomfortable with many buttons. My Grandma used to help button it for me. She wore a similar one with hooks in front called a corset. Soon she would be back from her vacation. I missed her so. I fastened the buttons on my long woolen stockings to the undergarment. In my closet I found a plaid skirt. There was also a very small plaid shirt belonging to my younger brother. I put on both.
Rut looked at me when I entered the kitchen.
“What is this, a skirt? Dear child, it is much too short. You can’t go to school like that. Go put on your snow suit.”
“No, our teacher told us to wear a skirt for the class picture.”
“Well, you’re going to freeze if you don’t put on your sweater also.”
I quickly ran upstairs, put on a sweater and tucked it inside the skirt. Rut was nice that morning and made me my favorite potatoes with bacon. She even helped me tie my big boots, which I had inherited from my brother.
“Where did you find that skirt?” she said again, “shouldn’t you wear your snow suit?” “No. I told you today I have to wear a skirt.”
“You’ll catch a nasty cold. You better put on your nice warm coat, no jacket.”
That day in school everyone was present, no one was sick. The boys wore clean shirts and pullovers. All the girls had nice silk bows tied to their hair. Trull had a cute beret to keep her hair off the face, and Gun a hair band. I was the only one without a silk bow, ribbon or beret tied in my hair. They also wore nice clothes, mine were outgrown and ugly. Before the photo was taken, the teacher called me over and took out a comb from her little black handbag. She parted my hair and combed it straight. I was glad to be seated next to my best friend Trull. (We are still best friends).
After school I rushed home. I found my mom in the kitchen. She looked at me in funny way.
“Did Rut dress you this morning? Lillan, can’t you see the skirt is much too short. Where did you find it?”
“It was in my closet. We had to wear a skirt for the class picture. I tried to give both you and Rut my note from the teacher.”
“That shirt belongs to Göran,” she said and started to laugh. “Well, I can hardly wait to see your class photo. Oh my, if you only knew that Rut does not know how to read.”
A couple of weeks later another group picture was taken in school, at the big Lucia day. All the children who were not included in the Lucia train recited a poem. I was one of them. I am standing in the front row holding hands with Magnus in his airline uniform. I am wearing a new sailor dress with a braided lanyard connected to a whistle. My stockings were new and so were my shoes. I could see Mom and Grandma in the audience. I kind of wished I was included in the Lucia train. My best friends wore white long dresses and held a candle in their hands, as they sang the Lucia song.
The original school photograph was destroyed in a flooded basement, when I was newly married. It took fifty years before Margareta and I connected again. I lived in the USA and she raised a family in Sweden. One day she e-mailed the school photo to me from first grade. I could not but start to cry. I felt forlorn and neglected in my big brother’s boots, a skirt meant for my little sister and my little brother’s shirt. Looking even closer I see that my sweater is soiled and the arms much too short. It turned out not to be a good day to have been neglected in our house hold.
Monica Ahblom was born and raised in Sweden .She has been married 55 years and lives with her husband and two German shepherds in southern California . Monica likes to write , golf, gourd art, cooking and horse back riding.