Miss Bundy walks over to the windows and opens one. I remember this moment. It’s a kind of blur. She says, “Now, boys and girls, the first thing we’re going to do, we’re going to sing a song. How many of you like to sing?” I just look up. Sing a song? I didn’t sing, I don’t sing.
“How many of you like to sing? Ah, I see, well that’s very good.” Some of the kids have their hand up. There are always kids who have their hand up instantly. Little did I realize that that was the thing that was going to plague me all of my life. In every crowd there’s five people who have perpetually got their hand up.
“Now, when I play with you on the piano, I want all of you to sing the words that I will sing. Listen to me as I sing, and you repeat after me what I am singing. Won’t that be fun?”
Miss Bundy was a big, fat, round, jovial lady. Later on (I didn’t realize at the time, of course. She was just a big round fat lady to me.), but later on, I learned she was a beloved kindergarten teacher and one of the most respected in the whole area. And she loved kids. So she sits down at this piano and she starts to play. She goes bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp. Bomp. “Oh-I-am-here-in-school.” Bomp-bomp-bomp. “Now let’s sing it, boys and girls. Oh-I-am-here-in-school.” Bomp-bomp.
I notice instantly that all the girls are singing. The boys are sitting.
She says, “Now, come on, all of you. Come on, all the boys, too. All you boys too, let’s go. Nice. Here we go now.” Bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp. and she’s banging away at the piano. Well, she plays this song and I am in total misery.
First of all I am embarrassed. I don’t know why I am embarrassed. I didn’t like to sing in front of all the other kids, ‘cause I couldn’t sing good. I sit there and I see this kid, Schwartz. He’s sitting there, too. He’s looking mad. There’s another guy named Flick. She’s playing the piano.
A BOY NAMED ?
Then, after the piano playing is over, Miss Bundy says, “Now, boys and girls the next thing we’re going to do. I would like to ask all of you. Each one of you in turn. I want all of you to say your name. Say your name so all the other children will know your name. Won’t that be fun?”
Won’t that be fun? That was always bad news. So she points to this little girl. “Ester Jane.”
“Oh, boys and girls, did you hear what she said? She said that her name is Ester Jane. Isn’t that a nice name? Ester Jane. That’s a very pretty name. Are you named after your mother or your father?”
“Very nice name.” She works her way down the line and finally she comes to me. And this is the first of a long series of traumas that begin. She says, “What is your name?”
“Ah, isn’t that nice. Now you see, his name is Eugene. Isn’t that a nice name.”
“Yes, but you see, Gene is short for Eugene. And you can all call him Gene if he wants to be called Gene. But that’s a very pretty name. I once knew a man named Eugene. In fact, I would like to read to you a poem someday, by a man named Eugene Field who wrote a very pretty poem about a little toy soldier. Are you named after him? Is your father’s name Eugene?”
A FAMOUS GENE A FAMOUS JEAN
I never heard the name Eugene in my life! My name is not Eugene. Jean. J E A N, Jean. What was going on already, I thought. I’m falling behind in school—over my own name! I’m lousing up over my own name!