The headline is true, though I didn’t know that could have happened until a few years later. The real problem was I wasn’t supposed to go to Kindergarten in the Pryor Public Schools. I lived inside the boundaries of a rural school district but my parents really wanted me to go to school in town.
They came up with a plan of subterfuge that allowed me to enroll in the Pryor schools and begin my academic career at Washington Elementary School on the west side of town with my teacher, Ailsa Vojvoda. (I’ll likely write a specific post about Washington later.) My double aunt and uncle (my aunt was my mother’s sister and my uncle was my dad’s brother) lived near Washington Elementary and my aunt took care of me after school.
The plan was to use their town address as my place of residence. You could see their small home just off one of the main roads through town. It had a small yard and a storage building just beneath a large water tower. It did not have room for raising pigs.
But my home in the country did have room to raise pigs. I’ve always loved animals. My first sow, Sundown Shirley (a registered Hampshire pig) was not only a great pig mom, she was a pet to me. Despite the ferocious reputation sows have, Shirley would allow me to be in her pen and play with her piglets. We were so comfortable with each other that I would snuggle with Shirley and her babies on the straw floor of their enclosure. I even fell asleep with them at times.
I was proud of my Shirley and her litter. So proud that when asked to tell a brief story to Ms. Vojvoda that she would write in big letters to display for the upcoming school open house, I told the story of Shirley’s piglets, specifically how one one lost its tail.
I don’t know if Ms. Vojvoda knew where I really lived before the revelation of my hog farming activities. I also don’t remember her saying anything about it and my parents have never mentioned getting any direct communication from my teacher or the school because of my Kindergarten story.
I do remember the ride home from the open house and overhearing my parents talk in concerned tones about something called, “transferring.” They were worried that my story could cause the school system to remove me.
The school didn’t kick me out, though in future years my parents went to court each year to ensure I could continue my education in the Pryor schools. Ms. Vojvoda helped me get a wonderful start in Kindergarten. We had a few disagreements (allowing paint to drip down the page to make bars for a tiger cage was inspired and against the rules for how we paint; that was the last time I argued with her).
I remember the classroom going from a kind-of-scary place to a welcome space where we learned to work together while also figuring out all the expectations that came with public school in the mid-1960s.
One of the vivid memories from that first year was the parade of small children, each carrying a chair, marching across the school grounds from the cafeteria/classroom space to a brand new building constructed for us. On one side was the sparkling Kindergarten class. The other held our school library.
Washington was the smallest, by far, elementary school in the Pryor system. Looking back, getting that start in a smaller school with a wonderful teacher and a classroom filled with many of the same people I would eventually graduate high school with provided a foundation for so many things in the future.
After moving away from my hometown for a part of junior high school and a parental divorce, I came back to Pryor. My mother, sister and I moved into a home on 13th Street where I made a lifelong friend across the street and discovered that Ms. Vojvoda lived next door. I admit it was odd to be a teenager with my Kindergarten teacher a lawn away but there was also some comfort knowing that my first teacher was a real person with parents, children and a life outside of Kindergarten.