My first-grade study of all things alphabetical coupled with the mysteries of mathematics were enlivened by the presence of a one-of-a-kind classmate named Johnny G. We called him that because he had a "weird" (our word) last name we couldn't pronounce. "Johnny" should have been enough, but somehow the "G." tagged along.
Johnny G.'s name got used a lot. The teacher said it often in phrases like, "Johnny G., why are you late again?" and "Johnny G., put that chalk in your pocket back on the blackboard ledge," and, "Johnny G., quit eating the goldfish food."
His classmates used his name a lot for things like, "No, Johnny G., you can't play ball with us," and "Johnny G., where's your lunch?" and "Don't you have any other pants to wear than those dirty ones, Johnny G.?"
Such pessimistic attention would have squashed most kids, but Johnny G. seemed to thrive on it. He liked to be noticed, good or bad, and if he wasn't accommodated, he did things to bring attention back to himself. Forever seared in my memory is the day he discovered he could put green beans up his nose in the lunchroom and cause every girl at his table to throw down her fork and scream. He chased kids at recess, bowled his way through dodge ball games, and stole hopscotch taws. And teachers -- with all their rules and requirements -- were pretty much nonexistent in his world. He simply ignored them.
Johnny G. was late to school every morning of the school year. When he finally arrived, he usually wore what he'd worn the day before. He carried no lunch bag, and unless a teacher took pity on him, he ate no lunch.
The irony of his tardiness was that he lived across the street from the school. Someone pointed out his home to me one day. I studied the place, taking in the broken down car rusting in the carport, a clutter of junk strewn across the dead grass, missing shutters, and a trashed front door. I managed to squelch a surge of pity with a self-righteous conclusion that anyone who shoved green beans up his nose deserved to live in a place like that. My first-grader's point of view clearly didn't comprehend the concept of "cause and effect."
I learned recently that Johnny G. now owns a successful real estate company in a West Coast state. He manages several downtown businesses. His specialty is commercial property, and he's highly sought when someone wants to buy or sell expensive pieces of property.
I tried to imagine the Johnny G. of today. How he acts. What he says. How he dresses. Doing so required a total elimination of previous memories as I tried to imagine that grimy, blonde-headed kid standing in front of investors, spinning out his spiel. Surprisingly, the image came quickly. I realized that years ago, Johnny G. had been headed for exactly where he is today. He had it all -- a need to be noticed, a tendency to push against the rules and create his own, innovation, creativity, and unmatched self-confidence. He likely was also motivated to improve his lot in life -- a real-life rags-to-riches story where a first-grader in rags carved himself a trail to riches. He did it while thumbing his nose at 'average.' There had been at least one extraordinary kid in that class, 'gifted' in ways none of us could have imagined.
Why this story? The other day I opened a popular parenting magazine to the page that promised, "How to get your child ready for school," and found, of all things, wardrobe pointers. I shuddered at the page boasting a young boy's "fashionista" outfit. (Note: Johnny G. would have had that kid's wimpy matching shirt and jacket pulled over his head in 10 seconds flat.)
The disturbing message of the article was that the clothes on a kid's back somehow guarantee his success in school. Johnny G. and his raggedy pants would say otherwise. He'd likely advise that what's going on in their heads and their hearts will -- and should -- play a larger role than any preppy outfit, and that it's ridiculous to predict a child's success potential by what he wears.
For added credibility, he'd also probably recommend kids refrain from disgusting lunchroom antics involving green beans.
But then, recognizing the ingenuity of the boy/man, it's hard to say.
You may contact D. Louise Brown at email@example.com or by calling her editor at 801-625-4223.