This was a small school. There were 20 kids in my class. Our desks set in four rows with five desks in each row. The teacher, Miss Monama, had a big desk in the front of the room, but she rarely sat at it. She stood up in front by the blackboard when she talked to us.
There was a huge man who always wore a grey suit. Sometimes he would walk down the hallway when we were out there. If anyone ran he would yell at them. He had a voice that sounded like thunder. They said he was the Principal. My brothers told me I better be good or I would have to go to his office. They said, "You don't want to get sent to the Principal's office. He has a paddle." I remembered that Mom had said basically the same thing. I listened to their advice. There were things I didn't know, but I wasn't stupid. I knew that breaking rules would get a person in trouble.
One day that scary Principal walked into our classroom. We were silent. Who was going to have to go to his office? He walked right up to Miss Monama and whispered something to her. Then quick as a flash he left the room. Miss Monama told us to put our books down and line up at the door. Kids started to whisper. "We must all be going to get paddled," someone said. Jerry started to cry.
"Children. Children." Miss Monama said. "No-one is going to the Principal's office. We're going to the gym. It's vaccination day for everyone in grades one through four. That means there are going to be 75 children in that gym. Which means we must be quiet and orderly." I thought that would make Jerry stop crying, but he only cried harder. I remember thinking he was going to get snot on his fancy polo shirt.
David said, "I would rather get paddled than have a vaccination." Kids started moaning. Miss Monoma told them it wouldn't be that bad. Then she led us out to the gym. The big kids were already there. We got in line behind them.
Someone said we were the last class to arrive. So they closed the outside doors. A gross smell permeated my nostrils. The door to the boy’s locker room stood open. Miss Monama shuddered and pulled it shut. "Dirty socks," she said as she smiled at me.
Kids were lined up along the wall all the way from the outside door to the far end of the gym. Many of them were moaning and holding their arms. They were orderly, but they were not quiet. The sound echoed through the cavernous gym. Jerry was sobbing uncontrollably. Miss Monama put her arm around his shoulder. "Don't worry," she told him. "Those kids are being silly. They haven't even had their shots yet." That's when it hit me. Shots! Until now everyone had called them vaccinations. I had a shot once. Now I knew why the kids were upset.
On the far end of the gym there was a table with a white table cloth. On top of the table lay several needles. Two ladies and one man stood by the table. They all wore white jackets. The man banged on the table with his fist. "Listen up," he yelled. "We need to get this process started, and you need to quiet down. Tell you what. I'm going to come out there and find someone with the courage to show you that there is nothing to this."
It got quiet as the man walked along the row of kids looking at each one. In no time he was close to me. ‘Please keep going,’ I thought ‘This is going to hurt, I don’t want to cry in front of all these kids’. I hoped he would keep going. He didn't. He stopped directly in front of me. He leaned way over and looked me right in the eye. "Here's someone that is courageous," he said. He stood up and held his hand out to me. "Come with me," he said. "Come over here and show them how to act when they get a shot."
Until that very moment I didn't realize that the word to describe how I behaved was courageous. Yes, I thought. I am courageous. He can tell by looking at me. I took his hand, put my shoulders back, held my head high and marched with pride to the front of that line. I looked at each kid as I walked by and thought about how I would be helping them just by not crying.
Once again, the man told me how courageous I was and that I wouldn't cry. I knew he was right. The nurse wiped my arm with something cold and wet. Then she gave me the shot. It stung, but I didn't flinch. I was a six-year-old girl. Six-year-old girls can be courageous.