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The girl with the leg brace

Food For Thought

Eleanor didn’t come to my attention until first grade. There were two half-day kindergarten classes each day, and attending kindergarten was not required at the time. As she would have been recovering from a bout with polio, she could have been in the morning class while I was in the afternoon one, or not enrolled in kindergarten at all.
For some reason, I tended to identify people by their noticeable characteristics rather than by their names, and paid little attention those kindergartners who didn’t share the low wooden table with me. I do remember their names now, we all hung in there and graduated together, so I had ample time to learn names. I don’t remember the blond girl with the metal brace on her leg though I can vividly recall a tall boy who always seemed to have purple medicine daubed around his mouth, the treatment for a skin disease I later learned was known as impetigo. Eventually, I learned his name was John. There were two Roberts in my first grade classroom. One, the alphabetically close Robert, sat with us in kindergarten, and the other, a very shy child who always whispered as if he were afraid to be noticed. Rosemary was pink and dainty with curly blond hair, I thought of her as being a rose. Tom was quiet, serious, deliberate and I often wondered why he should be so stoic at such a young age. And there was my best friend Charles, of course, with his freckles, unruly hair and ready laugh.
Eleanor commanded my interest, almost on our first day, in first grade. Even though her last name began well down the alphabet from mine, we were seated in alphabetical order at four long rows of desks and she ended up exactly even with me in the adjoining row. I couldn’t help noticing she clanked when she walked, and often used her hands to pick up her knee and move her right leg, as if it were too weak to move on its own power which I later learned was exactly the reasoncase.
Eleanor had a lot of spirit and determination though, and enthusiastically joined in the playground games, even climbing on the jungle gym at recess and sliding down the corner poles with the rest of the daredevils in our class – something I was never brave enough to do. Within a few days, we were walking together after school, arriving at her house after the first three blocks. We’d stand on the sidewalk in front of her house and talk for several minutes before I continued on my way, occasionally joining up with Norma Jo for the rest of the walk home. Before long, Eleanor invited me into the house to meet her mom and play with her puppy named Chum, a little, mostly-white terrier of some sort. I soon found out Chum was big on emptying out wastebaskets and strewing the contents all over the house – and Eleanor was held responsible for Chum’s misdemeanors. I helped pick up a lot of wastebasket trash before we could spend an hour or so reading Eleanor’s favorite Porky Pig comic books or polishing old pennies before she fitted them into slots in a blue folder. Some days, we played outdoors in an elevated sandbox under a huge box elder tree which was crawling with those black and orange bugs of the same name. At one point, we tried to collect them all, thinking we could transfer them to a tree farther away, but they were so numerous that we made no discernible headway.
Eleanor’s mother was always welcoming to me and would phone my mother to let her know I had stopped to play after school. Unlike my mother who was usually busy canning, gardening, ironing or wallpapering a closet when I arrived after school, Eleanor’s mother was usually relaxing in her orderly living room reading a thick book. She took French lessons and played the piano. She was tall and attractive and seemed almost regal in contrast to my 4-foot, -11-inch mother. Both had red hair but the resemblance stopped there. I couldn’t imagine Eleanor’s mother digging potatoes or making her own clothes any more than I could imagine mine speaking French or chairing a meeting of the Women’s Club.
One day after school, Eleanor’s mother dispatched us to the dime store three blocks away to pick up some ribbon she ordered earlier. After the ribbon was safely in Eleanor’s pocket and we collected our reward of an ice cream cone at the drugstore, Eleanor and I were to go our separate ways to our respective homes. Having approached the business district from a different direction than my usual route, I found myself disoriented and thoroughly lost until I had wandered, in a panic, around several blocks and found myself in front of the public library. Then, my sense of direction snapped into place and I found the familiar route home.