When we finally decided on home school for my sister Joylene and me, our first challenge was to select a mascot. After all, I'd been a Cougar at Big River Elementary and Joylene had been a Leopard at the high school, and now at our house who were we? We settled on the Fighting Pterodactyls, because it sounded terrific and used one of my spelling words. But there was something sad about knowing we didn't exactly have any rival schools. The Rubynars have home schooling and so we did go over to their house and tell them they were our rival school, but it wasn't a good idea since they have seven kids and wanted to schedule a football season right away. Lloyd Rubynar chased us down the street with Joylene insulting him all the way, asking what was their mascot, what were their school colors, why don't they clean up their campus, things like that, things Lloyd would have a little trouble with.
I asked Joylene what our school colors were and she said, green and green, after our Plymouth and the color of our fridge which is avocado, another spelling word.
Then, right off the bat during our first semester of home school, Joylene lost the hall pass. She'd already lost the living room pass, the garage pass, and the yard pass. Our teacher, Mrs. Yollstrom (our mother) put her in detention, and we both were unable to leave the kitchen table all day long. "I don't want you wandering the hallway without a pass," Mrs. Yollstrom told us. Mrs. Yollstrom's brother Todd was there on the couch as he has been for the two years that he's been under house arrest, sitting there with that little deal locked around his ankle, and Mrs. Yollstrom pointed at him as she had plenty of times before and said, "Do you want to end up like Todd? He didn't have a hall pass either!" She said we could earn it back by cleaning up the campus, which meant Joylene mowed the backyard and I swept the patio. It's a lovely campus in the fall with the sycamore leaves turning, the two old boats against the back fence, and the students (me and Joylene) strolling around with rakes and brooms.
So many things are the same here in home school as they were at Big River. There's no talking and you've got to keep your eyes on your own paper. From time to time I'll accidentally put a book report over a butter stain and grease it up pretty good, but Mrs. Yollstrom doesn't take points off for food marks. And if you're caught chewing gum, you have to spit it out or give some to the whole class, which is a good deal here since it's just the one other piece.
The Pterodactyl Green on Green Junior Prom was a big disappointment for Joylene, but she shouldn't have got her hopes up. We had the a.m. radio in the den and big bowls of Doritos and we turned the lights down, but it wasn't too interesting. I'm in fifth grade and I don't dance. Mrs. Yollstrom was there as chaperone, standing in the corner. Uncle Todd wanted to dance, but Mrs. Yollstrom didn't allow it. There's a firm school policy about jailbirds. We finally just turned on Matlock and Joylene cried quietly for a while which was kind of like the prom anyway. She looked sweet in her green satin dress.
At the beginning of spring semester our brother Dean dropped out of Cornell and returned home to pursue his postgraduate work at the other end of the kitchen table. He said homeschool was a natural for him. "There the tuition was crushing and I was looking for a smaller school anyway," he said. But he is worried that his doctorate in paleontology is going to take him longer here with us Pterodactyls because Dad has to spend so much time at the boat shop that Dean might not get all the quality tutorial and thesis and lab work he needs. It's fun to have him home though — all our family together: Uncle Todd over on the couch in house arrest, Dean down the table in graduate school, Joylene next to me in high school, and me in my chair studying fractions and Cuba with Mrs. Yollstrom, and learning the social skills necessary to survive in higher and higher education. ♦
Ron Carlson's most recent book is The Signal. His book on writing is Ron Carlson Writes a Story. He teaches writing at UC Irvine.