I start out my book talking a little about being Mennonite in a public school but as I think back to previous years many different memories stand out. Even in first grade, I remember being very different from my classmates. I did not go to kindergarten so the other children were far ahead of me scholastically. I do not remember being coached on my letters or early reading skills at home. I remember feeling isolated and alone – some of that was probably my fault as I didn’t know how to relate to other children. We lived some distance from the others in our Mennonite group and so I had little contact with the children of others in the group.
There were several German Baptist families in our school district. Their manner of dress was similar to ours and their children went to public school. In my first grade class was a little German Baptist girl (I will call her Susanna) who tried desperately to make friends with me. I think she recognized what I did not – that we were of a common heritage. She would come and ask me to play and I would walk away from her. I remember pushing her once to make her go away. Maybe she would remember it differently if she were still alive. At the end of second grade, Susanna contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and passed away. I was struck by remorse and guilt over the way that I treated her in those first two years. I could have had that special friendship I have always longed for at least for a couple of years, but I, in my immaturity and self-centeredness, threw away the opportunity. Sometimes, I try to figure out why I treated her like I did and I really have no answer. Maybe I saw in her what I did not want to be but was- totally different from everybody else around me. I hope that in heaven, where I am sure that she is, that she has forgiven me. I have found it much more difficult to forgive myself for treating her in the same way I hated others treating me in school.