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Shell Shocked: Back to School Memories — the Pigtail and the Inkwell

By Staff | Sep 12, 2011

It is now after Labor Day, which means that the summer is over for all the kids in the world. When I was a kid growing up in the Northeast, the start of school was generally the day after Labor Day. The summer season seemed to pass very slowly while you were frolicking in it. But suddenly it’s the day after Labor Day and you’re back in school. Ugh.

Third grade started and I sat behind Nancy. I didn’t like Nancy all that much. She was a show off and know-it-all. She raised her hand almost every time the teacher asked a question. She would virtually jump out of her seat causing tremors to go through my desk which was connected to the back of her chair.

Nancy had a long pigtail and yes we had inkwells on our desks. And, yes, her pigtail found its way to the rear of my desk one day and the temptation was just too great. I gently led her pigtail toward my inkwell and just the very lowest portion of it fell into it. Nancy didn’t even feel it. And she had very dark hair. I didn’t think anyone would notice.

I thought I had gotten away with the merest dunk of her pigtail in my inkwell when the lunch bell rang. We all got up out of our chairs when two of Nancy’s girl friends approached her from the rear and practically screamed.

“Nancy, you’ve got ink in your hair.”

Nancy brought her pigtail to the front of her face to get a closer look. Sure enough there it was. We didn’t need a DNA test in those days to know where it came from. They all looked at me accusatorily.

“You did it,” one of Nancy’s friends screamed. And then like a Greek chorus the three of them all screamed in unison, “you did it, you did it.”

I defended myself as best as I could. “No, I didn’t, did not, did not do it.”

“Then how did it happen? My hair just fell into the inkwell by itself?”

“I guess so cause I didn’t do it. I must have been studying when it happened. Never saw it, didn’t do it.”

The three girls gave me what we used to call a dirty look. It didn’t invite warmth and affection. Then they quickly ran to the girls’ bathroom to rinse off Nancy’s pigtail. A few of my male friends had witnessed this scene and when the girls ran off to the bathroom they approached me, giving me what was the equivalent of high fives in those days slaps on the back.

“Way to go,” they said, “she deserved it, miss know-it-all.” To Nancy’s credit, she never said another word about it. But she did make a preemptive strike. She cut her hair short, which would make it impossible for her hair to make any further trips to the inkwell unless I was to grab her by the head and simply pull her hair into the inkwell. Believe me, I thought about it but knew that such an episode would mean a trip to the principal’s office. This was something to avoid at all costs.

As time went on Nancy mellowed and calmed down quite a bit in the classroom. And I even got to speak to her when she continued to sit directly in front of me. A thaw took place in our relationship and we even began to leave the classroom for lunch together once in a while.

And then one summer we all came back to a classroom that had been completely redone. There were new modern desks and chairs and no inkwells. Nancy and I happened to remain in the same class and when we arrived one morning to start the new school year we both noticed the new desks and chairs at the same moment.

We stared at the desks with no inkwells, turned to each other and without prompting we both began to laugh uproariously. Time marches on.