Education · Poetry

I Was an Unschooled Kid Who Attended School—Comment on Mary’s Previous Post: “Why Do So Many Kids Suffer from ADHD?”

Kansas City’s first supermarket, the A&P, 1940


From the time of first grade (which I passed “with reservation”) I was in internal exile.  I didn’t act up; I looked okay, but like the kids who couldn’t sit still, I felt like I was in prison.

What saved me was Kansas City’s first supermarket. It was an A&P, which  opened in the summer of 1940. I was nine years old.

Once a week, when my mother drove to this store to shop, she dropped my little sister and me off at the public library, expecting the librarians to act as de facto baby sitters. She sat us down in the children’s section and told us to stay put until she returned. But as soon as she left, I sneaked over to the adult side and began to explore.

The next week, I slipped a  couple of inappropriate adult books in among the appropriate children’s books I checked out. (In those days, “adult” books were not pornographic.) The librarian didn’t notice—or didn’t care. Mother didn’t notice. (If she had, she would have cared. She liked for me to exhibit age-appropriate behavior.) As a result I began reading a lot of inappropriate but interesting books. I didn’t understand everything in them, of course, but I didn’t have to because I wasn’t being tested on what I read by some supercilious know-it-all.

I ranged through those books like a dog sniffing for something interesting in the woods. I remember a few wonderful passages in Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico, especially the fight on the causeway.

From then on, I was a regular reader of adult literature. You might say I was an “unschooled” child who attended school.

The following poem from Flying Backwards, just released by our publishing company, pretty much sums it up.


First, I’d hide behind the couch.

Then later on, I’d crouch

inside the tunnels the spirea made,

or drape myself on branches overhead.

or crawl out of the window by my bed

and lie upon the roof. From there I could

spy unseen upon the neighborhood

I’d hunt the messages I’d left

inside of hollow trees in vacant lots—

the treasures, underneath my favorite rocks.

And then there were the hours that I spent

inside a book,

wandering through “fresh woods and pastures new,”

where no one ever thought to look.

For more poems from Flying Backwards:

2 thoughts on “I Was an Unschooled Kid Who Attended School—Comment on Mary’s Previous Post: “Why Do So Many Kids Suffer from ADHD?”

  1. I just can’t imagine what school would have been had there not been the Library. The kids in “internal exile” today have the miracle of the world wide web to explore. Actually, that may be just too overwhelming. The perfect sized, real life library, with books to open and hold and smell. Ahhhh. Salvation.


  2. Beautiful memory, Herb. I have vivid memories of my time spent in libraries when I was just beginning to explore reading. (“We read to watch how others lived/To do what seems, perhaps, impossible…” — THE LIBRARY)


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