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|September 25-October 1, 2008
Reading is fundamental
by Dale Bridges
Recently, my cousin sent an e-mail saying that he was coming to Boulder for a visit and asked if I wanted to get a beer while he was in town. This perplexed me for two reasons: 1) My family is mostly composed of conservative religious nuts and they don’t drink beer — they drink things like Lipton Iced Tea and grape Kool-Aid and Jesus’ blood. And 2) my family does not come to Boulder. Ever. This city is like kryptonite to religious fundamentalists. If a born-again Christian gets within 100 miles of the People’s Republic, their tear ducts fill up with patchouli oil and then they burst into flames. It’s a scientific fact.
This means that either a) my cousin is now a shameless sinner, or b) there’s going to be a giant Republican barbeque on US 36 on Saturday and you’re all invited.
ANYHOW, the news of my cousins’ visit got me thinking about my childhood, which was really awesome, except for when I was awake. I grew up in a tiny hamlet on the outskirts of the Colorado prairie, where the population often doubled nine months after prom night. We had a very diverse community. There were poor, white Polish people and poor, white German people and poor, white Irish people and poor, white Dutch people. Not like here in Boulder, where there are rich, tan Polish people and rich, tan German people and rich, tan Irish people and rich, tan Dutch people.
My father was a fundamentalist preacher who believed that the red blotch on Mikhail Gorbachev’s forehead was the mark of the Beast and the Apocalypse was right around the corner. With this in mind, he opened a school in the basement/bomb shelter beneath our church and began to hold classes there. This subterranean facility was basically a one-room schoolhouse with cement floors, cement walls, a cement ceiling and no windows. It wasn’t exactly the perfect learning environment, but if the Ruskies attacked, we were ready. Our teacher was a large, pear-shaped woman named Wyoma Dalrimple whose ample hips had given birth to more than half of the student body. She sat at the front of the room on an aluminum folding chair with her arms folded over her enormous bosom.
There were 15 students in the school, grades K-12, and we each sat at our own desk facing the wall with large, wooden dividers separating one from the other. On every desk, there was a plastic, red cup filled with various writing utensils and a small, American flag. If I had a question, I would raise the flag in the air, and Mrs. Dalrimple would waddle over and answer my patriotic inquiry.
The curriculum was centered on individual workbooks called PACES. These workbooks contained the same subject matter that you might find in a mainstream public school, but the themes were a bit different. For instance, if I was doing my math PACES, I might come across a word problem like this: If there are four sinners and God saves two sinners, how many sinners do you have left?
My father wanted to encourage our education, so he rewarded our scholastic efforts. In some households, parents give their children $10 if they get straight A’s and $5 for B’s and so on and so forth. Not in my family. If I received straight A’s on my report card, my father gave me two silver coins. For B’s, I got one coin. And for C’s, I got a stern look and a guilt trip. The purpose of the coins, as my father explained to me, was to prepare me for the future. You see, when the Apocalypse comes, the global economy is going to collapse and national currency will be worthless. However, precious metals like gold and silver will always retain their value, so you can use them to purchase things like eggs or milk or the very last small pox vaccination on the planet.
I kept my Apocalypse Coins in a shoebox underneath my bed, along with my favorite Spider-Man comic books, a bag of hard candy, my John Elway rookie card and a butter knife. (The knife was for protection. Raptures can be dangerous.)
Eventually, my father found another job in another tiny, prairie town, and we moved. Our new church was very nice but it did not have a bomb shelter, and so I was forced to attend public school for the first time. I hated it. There were about 30 students in every classroom and it was extremely noisy and everyone made fun of me because I wore Wal-Mart pants. I tried to make friends by telling my fellow students that they’d burn in hell if they didn’t come to my church, but for some reason, that didn’t do the trick. Most days, I went home with a wedgie and the taunts of “preacher’s kid” still ringing in my ears.
My parents thought I enjoyed the new school because my grades were fantastic. Every night, I would take out my shoebox and count my silver coins and imagine what life would be like after the Apocalypse. I would be a rich man, and all those little bastards at my school would pay for their transgressions. I would be in heaven.
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