(Names are changed to protect the guilty)

Whomever said that females are the weaker sex did not learn the same lessons I did in second grade at my rural grade school; country girls are tough.

My first encounter with the weaker sex happened on the playground. Looking back on the kind of playground equipment we had, it’s a small wonder we’re not all missing body parts or walking with a limp. Where were the plastic slipper slides while we were blistering our bottoms on those old shiny metal ones? Where was the cushy matt to fall on when Pippi Longstocking pile-drived me off the merry-go-round then rolled me over and started kissing me? Where were the caps to cover the pipes that housed fourteen thousand wasps that terrorized little children? What’s that? You want to know more about the incident with Pippi? Oh, sure, I talk about being wounded by playground equipment and all you want to know about is the first time I was molested by a girl.

My first, second, and third grade teacher were all the same person: Mrs. Beulah Bohn. Mrs. Bohn looked like Granny off the Beverly Hillbillies and was only two inches taller than the rest of us second-graders. Mrs. Bohn was the quintessential schoolmarm with the hem of her skirt way below her knees and black shoes with a low heel. Kansas’s winters would not deny us our birthright of spending recess outside, so Mrs. Bohn would try to stay warm by hopping up and down like a robin. Other than Pippi attacking me and Eugene Saunders starting a chain reaction of little kids barfing, that is about all I remember about a woman with whom I spent my first three years of formal education.

The situation in question happened one blustery day on the playground with dirt the consistency of concrete. Oh, sure, someone sprinkled a few grains of sand under the monkey bars to make it look like it would cushion the blow, but it didn’t matter what playground equipment you were thrown from, the likelihood of breaking a bone was pretty high. To my recollection, no parent ever whined to the principal about the equipment because they didn’t even have recess back in their day when they had to walk three miles to get to school.

I was minding my own business swirling around on the merry-go-round and decided to jump off. I was headed to the monkey bars to see if I could to knock the wind out of my lungs and the next thing I know, someone face plants me in the hard-pan. I uuumphed as the air was knocked out of me then I was violently rolled over on my back so my attacker could begin kissing me. She smelled a whole lot better than Eugene.

I did not have enough hair growing on my body yet to enjoy that moment for what it was. Later, though, I would not only regret having fought her off, I would offer chocolates and flowers to a variety of the female species in anticipation of being abused that away again.

As I was fighting off my attacker, Mrs. Bohn started hopping again. Rick, she chirped, you quit that! You leave Pippi alone! Naturally, I was the one in trouble.   Since I already learned the lesson from my nieces and the Three Generals that resided at our house during the summer that males are always guilty of everything that is wrong in the world, I immediately accepted the guilt and anticipated the punishment. Not much could be worse than getting kissed by a third-grader, but a few un-repented-of-sins came to mind so I concluded that I deserved it. I’d been marched to the principal’s office for lesser crimes against humanity; surely this one was not worthy of the dreaded swats.

My other encounter with the weaker sex happened on the bus. As time passed, I decided the experience with Pippi hadn’t been so bad after all; in fact, it was more enjoyable than I first realized. I thought I was dizzy from being pile-driven into the hard pan, but it turned out that my dizziness came from my little second-grade heart palpitating to a new stroke after being smooched. I concluded that that encounter was worth repeating and thus began my life-long quest to relive that moment with Pippi.

Candace Johnson was the prettiest girl in my class and we shared the same bus route. The bus route for rural schools is the devils workshop for stirring up unscrupulous ideas in the minds of bored-out-of-your-gourd little boys. Riding for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening of largely unsupervised time is an opportunity to concoct various forms of mischief. Second-graders are still short enough to hide most of their activity from the omniscient eye of the bus driver that stared at you in a gigantic rearview mirror. However, we were still sent to the principal’s office with great frequency to atone for sins committed on the bus route.

During my childhood, the school hired former Gestapo operatives planted in our community through a witness relocation program to be our bus drivers. Naturally, to hide their former identities as torturers and prison guards, they assumed surnames appropriate for our culture like Smith and Jones then dressed up as little old ladies with beehive hair-dos and bright red lipstick. They smiled knowingly when we referred to them as Fraulein. Regardless of how well they pulled of their disguises, in times of great rage at the little occupants on the bus, their thick German dialect revealed the origins of their motherland.

It was on one of those interminable bus routes that I decided to make my move on Candace. Since Pippi was so forthcoming with her affections for the male species, I assumed that all females were so inclined. Thus began my lifelong predilection of not understanding women. Furthermore, here’s a good lesson for all adults: never trust the logic of a second grade boy that’s just been kissed for his first time.

However, Candace was not thusly inclined and wanted a bribe of chocolates and roses first. Or at the very least, I was supposed to pass her a note and ask her to please go with me, check yes or no. I’m not sure where we were supposed to go, but she was supposed to go with me before I made my move.

It turned out that Candace had a mean right hook. She anticipated my amorous intention and, as I leaned in for the smooch, she feigned with her left then busted me in the nose with her right.

This was the second most valuable lesson I’ve learned about the female specie: their instincts are uncanny. If the instinct of a woman and the findings of science contradict each other, I’ll lay all my money on the instincts of a woman any day. I frequently use the quote about my wife from Muppet Treasure Island: How does she bloody know? Experience has taught me I have a greater chance of hiding something from God than I do my wife.

I don’t know what Fraulein Hildegard noticed first, me bawling like a newly branded calf or bleeding like a stuck hog, but she began barking at me in Gestapo-like cadence something about I saw what you did you little sickness and you had it coming and if I was her I’d hit you again. The site of blood stirred up memories for the Fraulein of past tortures; she was reliving former days of gore.

I made the trip the next day to the principal’s office with sulking shoulders and head bowed in shame. News of a girl bloodying a boy’s nose traveled fast even before social media so as I trudged to the office, the girls looked at me in disdain and the boys patted me knowingly on the back.

I sat down in the chair across the desk from the principal with the familiar wood paddle nicknamed The Enforcer hanging on the wall behind his desk. That two-foot long tool of torture was administered after we were told to bend over and grab our ankles. Later, I would watch between my legs as my chubby fifth grade teacher would aim first then swing so hard her feet would come off the floor. They all learned from the bus drivers how to administer the most amount of pain with the least amount of effort.

 “So,” he growled, “I hear you tried to kiss Candace? Is that true?”

 “Yes, Mein Fuhrer, I mean, Mr. Jones.” I mumbled

 “You know you’re not suppose to do things like that, right?”

 “Yes, Mr. Jones, but I guess I’m a bit confused,” I admitted, “I was in here recently for the Pippi Longstocking incident after she jumped me from the merry-go-round so I just thought that all girls want to be kissed. Help me understand; what do girls really want?”

I discovered a topic upon which Mr. Jones could wax eloquent; the complexity of the female species. He pontificated for what seemed like hours about the mysterious delights and devices of women. Even though I was still only in second grade, I surmised he didn’t understand them any better than I did. The Enforcer hung silently on the wall.

As he stood up to walk me out of the office he put his fatherly hand on my shoulder and asked, “So have you learned your lesson?”

“Yes, Mr. Jones, no man really knows the mind of a woman.”

“Correct. And if you ever figure that out, son, you can have my job.” Mr. Jones softened. “But trust me, they want chocolates and roses first before you ever try something like that again.”


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