Updated: Aug 19, 2021
I'm trying to figure out why my fifth grade class was the best. The thought came to me one day when my stepdaughter Peyton asked me what was my favorite class of all time. Surprisingly, it was easy to answer. The fifth grade class at Covington Elementary was by far my favorite year. My best friends back then were Charlie Swanson and Frog. "Chuck Swan" as I called him could already ride motorcycles. He could pop wheelies on his BMX bike, which back then was a Redline—the coolest bike anyone could ever own. Chuck had a dad who was almost as cool as he was. They both would walk around the house without their shirts on. I can't really remember Chuck's mom much—probably because I couldn't;t believe Chuck and Chuck's dad went shirtless, but I do recall her being impressed by the fact I ate eggs. She made us eggs one morning after I spent the night at Chuck's house. Chuck's house was on "the other side of Covington," meaning, the Springer Road neighborhood. Back then, those were the modest homes of Los Altos, before the big Silicon Valley boom exploded and sent housing prices beyond "what the fuck!" So Chuck's mom made us the eggs and I loved eggs. Chuck hated eggs and they got into a fight about him not eating the eggs. I said, I love 'em! And I was her new favorite son (not really, but I do recall the embrace.) Chuck was mad at me for a while but got over it.
Then there was Terry Westmoreland. He was a Miami Dolphins fan for some reason. I was afraid of his dad because his dad didn't have a right arm. He was the first person I'd ever met in person who didn't possess an arm and well, that freaked me out. Terry didn't even warn me. I just went to his house after school, met his mom (pleasant), and then met his dad. I think what made matters worse was a stuck my hand out to shake his hand and was met with an extension that possessed a hook. The hair on the back of my neck sprang to action like fire ants and I almost passed out. I tried to hide the flushness of blood that scattered to my brain but I probably didn't hide it well. Terry's dad asked if I was ok. he probably had a pretty good idea why I looked as if I'd seen a ghost—or a scene from Jaws. But he didn't say anything. So of course I just stood there horrified within myself and couldn't;t take my eyes off the hook.
Terry didn't notice. He just started in on a huge chunk of a chocolate cake that his mom had baked. The chocolate cake briefly took my mind off the no-arm but not enough for my stomach to harken up a rally to eat it then. I did think about how I'd never had chocolate cake right after school. My mom wasn't one to bake cakes unless it was a special occasion—like my birthday. But Terry's mom evidently baked cakes for Terry whenever and wherever. I was now figuring out why the kid was fat. This was a daily occurrence.
I wanted that cake so bad. But I couldn't get past the missing arm. I was now mesmerized. I kept staring at the void. I don't know why. While all this was going on, questions were asked. I don't recall even one of them. I was being challenged by two entities that ripped me apart. Arm. Cake. Cake. Arm. The last memory I have of terry's home that day was me running for the cake, taking a huge pre-cut slice from said cake, and running for the door. I really don't know what happened. I do, however, recall how good that cake tasted as I ran down Cuesta Drive, back towards the safety and cozy confines of my own home.
Fifth grade was a blast. Mrs Hough in the mornings, Mrs. Chupp in the afternoons. They "job shared" their responsibilities. And we the students flourished. Or at least some of us did. Chuck never did any homework. When it was time to turn in our reports on a country, Chuck never even did his. He was supposed to report on Taiwan but he said Taiwan were a bunch of pussies and didn't dirt bike. I reported on Switzerland and focused most of the report on skiing. And chocolate. Eric Olson reported on Austria and did the exact same thing, but replaced chocolate with pretzels and beer. Terry wanted to report on Miami but Mrs Hough explained to him that Miami was an American city, not a country. So he chose Cuba and reported on how all the Cubans moved to Miami.
Frog chose Canada. It was a boring presentation. A bunch of moose and shit. At the end of the presentations, there was a day when we all had to bring food that was a staple from the country you reported on. My mom made these strudels with strawberry jam inside and it was heavenly. She knew how to bake like no other and I ate about four before we even got it to the school that day. Eric Olson brought chocolate covered pretzels with no pretzel inside and it was also amazing. Terry wanted to bring Cubanos but brought some sort of rice dish that no one ate with the exception of Cindy Somebody (sorry I can't recall her last name — I only remember that her first name was Cindy and she was kinda lame.... probably why she ate the rice.) Kenton Wolfers brought meat pies. he reported on Australia. Chuck Swan brought nothing and was told by Mrs Hough that he couldn't;t participate but he did. He ate a lot whenever she wasn't looking.
We had a four-square championship series one day and I went all the way to the championship game—beating Greg Zulonik in the semis. I was using the "Santa Rita" strategy of hitting the ball down and thus causing the rubber ball to bounce really high. Santa Rita was the school I had previously attended when Hillview closed. I hated that school because I didn't know anyone. I lived in the Hillview district line but when that school closed I was suddenly in the Santa Rita district and had to go there. All the Hillview kids, with the exception of one, all went to Covington. Those were my friends. All suddenly gone. I hated Santa Rita. Ms Horner was my teacher and she was mean. She scared the living shit out of me, especially when she caught me writing "shit" on the chalkboard (don't ask, I really don't know why I did that) during a recess, and literally grabbed me by the collar and shook me vigorously. She sent me to the principal's office and they called my mom. She wasn't pleased about me writing "shit" on the chalkboard but was impressed (I believe) that I spelled it correctly, not to mention the courage to do it in the first place. But when she heard Ms. Horner grabbed me and shook me, we were out of there. She knew I was unhappy at Santa Rita. that my friends all resided at Covington now. That was the fourth grade. When I went to Covington that's where I met Chuck. he had come from Springer School—another Los Altos school that had closed. We immediately became friends when we started making faces at other, like the one where you grab your skin from right under your eyes and then you hook your thumbs down from the top of your mouth and you make a sort of contorted pumpkin face. There was a girl in the second grade whose face kind of looked like that so whenever we saw her Chuck and I would do the contorted pumpkin face and talk in a really high voice. So mean... but it was funny at the time.
The one thing I picked up from Santa Rita—the one conducive thing, anyway—was that those kids knew how to play four-square. And I took note. Bill Brodie was the master. His dad was John Brodie, quarterback for the 49ers. Bill would just whack the shit out of the ball and it would launch skyward. It made it difficult for the recipient to counter that shot. He beat everyone. They all tried to mimic his style of play but he was just bigger, better, stronger. he was a sixth grader and he could play four-square like no other. Dodgeball too. he always was the winner. Even the big girl who could hold her own against anyone, she beat everyone but Bill.
So when I imported the Santa Rita style to Covington, those kids didn't know what hit them. They all were "skimmers." they skimmed the ball and kept the play low at waist level. I murdered every kid in my bracket until the semis. That's when I was chat;lenegd in the beginning by Greg Zulanik but alas, my high ballers tired him out and I eliminated him. Eric Olson beat Kenton Wolfers in a spirited game in the other semi final round.
Unfortunately, Eric wasn't as bothered by my high style and proved to fast on the skimmers for me to counter. He beat me handily and that was that. But it was fun, other than the fact that almost everyone was rooting for Eric. To this day, I don't know why. I was an understated kid and all that but Eric was outgoing and thus, was likely everyone's favorite.
Our fifth grade class was integrated with a sixth grade class and it was an experimental class. I have no idea why they did this. They took a few kids from each of the other classes, both fifth and sixth grade, and then combined the four groups into one—half fifth half sixth—and this was our class for the remainder of the year. None of us wanted this at the beginning because we all started in a different class and at that age no one wants change. I was selected as one of the kids that would go into this 'experimental class." I remember telling my mom I didn't want to do it. I liked where I was, even though I don't even recall who the teacher was. But I remember Hough and Chupp. It turned out that this was the best class I ever had... So many memories. So many good times. Los Altos was epic back then—before it all spun out of control and the venture capitalists and Google people took it over. Covington was the best experience for a kid. I recall that year fondly—and that chocolate cake really was amazing.