(This post is the introduction to the chronologically earliest of my Shep’s school stories. It should have been posted preceding those stories, but I got the sequence wrong in my listings of drafts, so, in the list below under 1. ELEMENTARY MATRICULATION, story numbers 1, 2, and 3 have already been posted. My bad!)
Part 1 of Shepherd’s kid book concerns little Jean starting school–in kindergarten and early grades. Each part of the book begins with a short introduction, followed by the accompanying stories.
1. ELEMENTARY MATRICULATION
1. First Day of Kindergarten
2. Left-handed Disability
3. Decayed Tooth, Balsa Wood, and Silly Putty
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST THREE KID STORIES
Usually Jean Shepherd simplifies his early schooling by beginning it at Hammond, Indiana’s Warren G. Harding grammar school, named, he more than once declares, “after America’s worst president.” Yet, in the opening stories he’s going to the William McKinley School because only after the first years of his schooling did the family cross the border from East Chicago to Hammond with its Harding School. There, Shep’s grammar-school life will be firmly affixed to the disreputable Harding name while colluding with humor, truth, and irony in his cooked-up kidhood stew.
Here is Jean Shepherd’s early life as a grammar school kid. Shepherd reminds us of the power of all our memories and the significance of kindergarten as the beginning of a lifelong and near-universal human experience in the larger world of which we are a part. He probably would not have blushed to hear the opening story described as a metaphor and one of his masterpieces.
Even in its first days, kindergarten is not what little Jeanie envisions. Life among organized humanity is a struggle between the carrot held out and authority’s reins. He is restricted from expressing his true being, even at this young age—in his first encounter with school he is committed to indentured servitude in a sand box. Despite his inclination, he will be forced to join the right-handed majority, and in his first performance on-stage, he will embody dental recidivism.