I woke up today thinking of 6-year-old Precious Wellington Flood III. I swear that was his name; his sister’s name was Pumpkin, though I don’t know her middle name. Hopefully not Carving.
Precious went to Detroit public schools, where mom taught for 20 years as a first grade teacher. They say you always remember your first grade teacher. Mine was Miss Parker. Who was yours? Were you a smart pain in the ass then, too?
Mom has all kinds of stories of nascent brilliance. During a book reading about mammals, mom asked the class how a dolphin breathes underwater.
“Through he nostrils!” a confident kid shouted.
Precious wasn’t a shouter, but a handful. Precocious, smart, defiant, arrogant. My kinda kid.
He’d challenge mom. Her primary psychological weapon was the Yes Board and the No Board. If kids were good, they got to go to the front of the board and print their name under a big smiley face and one word: YES. Fuck, you should have have seen those kids beam to make it on the Yes Board.
Conversely, bad kids had to autograph the frowny-faced No Board. Kids bawled to scrub their names off. Genius.
Unless you got a kid like Precious, who must be an FBI profiler now, cuz kid was as sharp as a scalpel.
One day, he woke in a mood and came after mom. During a reading exercise, he stood up and headed to the door.
Mom: “Precious, what do you think you’re doing?”
Precious: “I’m going home.”
“I’m going home.”
“I said sit down.”
Precious strolls out the door.
Mom, slack-jawed, gets up, leaves the circle of kids, walks out to the hall to confirm this is actually happening.
It is. Precious is just grabbing his backpack on the way out.
Still not sure this is real, mom grabs Precious by the collar, marches him back into class, tells him to go in front of students and put his name atop the No Board, the most scurrilous of all the day’s offenders.
Precious does it. Slowly. Proudly. On the way back, he informs mom:
“I want to be on the No Board.”
Mom never told him, but admitted to us that night: “He called my bluff. He figured out the system.”
Still, there was a grudging respect between 6- and 60-year-old.Mom knew Precious was just that, if a touch(ton) difficult.
And Precious dug mom. I think all kids did. Here’s why.
Mom taught at tough-ass schools. Homes with two parents were as rare as parents with money. But there was devotion aplenty. At the end of one school year, the parents got together to make mom a patchwork quilt as a thank you. Each kid wrote a sentiment, drew a picture, which was sewn into the blanket.
“We love you Mrs. Bowles!” one read. “Thank you for teeching me how to read!” another said, hopefully as a joke. From another boy, the precocious Noah, unabashed adoration:
“When I think,” it said beneath two rows of hearts, “I think of you.”
My god! to be that eloquent, so young. I cannot think of him without a catch in this tired throat.
To Precious, Noah, the Yes Board and love despite itself.