I was pretty little the first time I remember skipping school. I think it was the second grade, in the small town of Healdsburg, California, about 75 miles north of San Francisco. Every morning I walked about a mile to the Fitch Street Elementary School with my cousin Barbara – we’d skip along and sing songs and pick flowers along the way. The highlight of the trip was when we’d stop to pet the beautiful collie who’d always be asleep on the front porch of Barbara’s aunt’s house. The big friendly dog looked just like “Lassie,” and we loved her. She would always follow us a little ways toward the school, then turn around and go home. But one morning she didn’t turn around – she kept following us, closer and closer to the school. Barbara and I tried to shoo her toward home, but she’d just wag her tail at us and give us a toothy endearing doggie-grin.
Then we remembered that Barbara’s aunt was gone for a few days – her brother had been coming over to feed the dog. The big collie was lonely! Well, we could take care of that problem. We turned off the sidewalk out into a orchard and headed for the creek we knew ran along the far side. We spent the whole day romping with the big collie, picking wild onions and grapes and making mudpies and catching tadpoles and just laying in the tall grass, happy to be free from schoolish concerns. It was a grand day!
I’m sure school had been out for hours when we finally headed home – we lived right next door to each other. The collie turned off toward her house and Barbara and I wandered in, tired and dirty from our adventures, ready for a good hot dinner. Barbara’s mother met her with a quick spanking, a stern lecture about responsibility, and sent her to bed without dinner. My mother sent me to get scrubbed up, then set dinner in front of me, and wanted to know all about our adventures, in great detail. She tucked me into bed saying maybe it was about time we thought about getting a dog of our own – she’d talk to Dad about that soon. Comparing notes with my cousin the next day, it struck me how differently our respective parents had reacted to our truancy, but I shrugged it off as just the way things were.
The overriding message to my young impressionable mind was that school just wasn’t anything to get upset about, unless you had fiercely strict parents like poor Barbara. My mother used to tell us wonderful tales of when she and her sister and brothers would skip school and go riding or swimming or treasure-hunting in the hills of northern California. She always made those adventures sound far more interesting and compelling than going to school. In fact, her brothers once dynamited their small one-room schoolhouse right off its rock foundation; school was out for several weeks after that, much to the delight of kids for miles around.
I missed a lot of school when I was growing up, and the last grade I actually completed was the seventh – barely. My attendance record was shot full of holes, and things went downhill from there. By high school I’d given up on the idea completely and dropped out, preferring to spend my time reading, writing, riding my horses, or just hanging out. Our home was always full of books, encyclopedias, magazines and such, and I was a voracious reader. We travelled extensively, both here in the U.S. and abroad, and my folks made sure we always checked out historical sites, museums, zoos and other local places of interest… Even without school my young life was full and fascinating and adventurous!
To be continued…