We knew it as babies that the day would come when we become October Kids. Those who’d been good would become October Kids in 1st Grade, and those who’d been bad – in 2nd Grade.
I am among the first ten to be promoted. Yes-siree.
Big kids wearing red neckerchiefs come in the gym with a drum and a horn and a flag. Boom-boom-boom-PAH!
We hold our newly bought ten-kopeck October Kid pins in our hands. When the big kids pin them on our chests – lapels for boys, pinafore straps for girls – next to the heart, on the left – I notice that Natasha has a plastic pin, while I only have a stupid metal one.
Where did she get the plastic pin?
Some kids just have stuff that I don’t.
The plastic October Kid pin is small, cute, with a real photograph of Baby Lenin inside its tiny plastic oculus. My stupid metal pin is crude and large in comparison, and the Baby Lenin on it does not look half as angelic.
Also, Natasha has a better pinafore than I do. Mine is wrinkly cotton; hers is all lace, all white lace, the whole entire thing, not just the tiny frills on the bottom. Where did she buy it? Did she have it made?
Anyway, I am proud to be an October Kid, and the Big Beardy Lenin on the wall of the Assembly Hall is squinting at me with what the teachers say was his Special Smart and Kind Leninian Squint. I’m not sure if he knows that I drew an unauthorized portrait of him in my math workbook, but in case he does, here are some arguments in my defense. First of all, I did not know it was a crime to draw an unauthorized Lenin, so it’s not my fault, although I do feel very guilty all the same; and second of all, I scribbled over it at once when Lena told me only real registered artists were allowed to draw Lenin, so once it was scribbled all over it just looked like a blob of blue ink, all scribbly-scribbly, and no one would ever know it covered up a Lenin. My hand was all smudged up in the runny blue ink.
By the way, Natasha has pens with light-blue ink and small dainty ballpoints, and I only have pens with regular purple-blue smudgy stuff, the boring kind which you buy at the newspaper kiosk and which smears all over your hands, papers and, somehow, face.
So, I do not think Lenin knows what I did, and if he does, he is dead anyway and can’t do anything to me. Can he, though? I am kind of uneasy about it. He looks very wise and all-knowing up there on the wall, he the giant beautiful red face with a fatherly smile.
Sometimes you think grown-ups do not know but then, lo and behold, some tattletale already went and told them! Like that time Lena told our teacher I’d said she was stupid. The teacher was stupid, not Lena. Lena ran and told the teacher in two minutes flat.
The teacher towered over me like a big old wooden wardrobe topped with gray perma-curls and a coarse gray moustache. I could tell she took the insult hard and would not forgive me easily.
I hope Lenin does not know what I did, or at least that he knows I don’t think he is stupid. I think he is the greatest.
I even saw the outside of the Lenin Mausoleum when we went to Moscow. My father did not take me in, but he did put me up on his shoulders so I could see the change of the guards. It was very uncomfortable because I was already seven and very-very big.
That’s why I climbed down at once.
I am proud that Lenin made me an October Kid, but I never get to enjoy October Kiddom because I catch pneumonia the week after the ceremony.
While all other kids in our 1st Grade are busy being October Kids and learning cursive and new hard math, I stay home for two months. Two nurses who live downstairs have me bend over the cold kitchen stool as they give me shots in the butt. Every evening, I walk over to Natasha’s to get my home assignments.
Her own cursive is coming along splendidly, and she has a fez. Yep. A fez and harem pants. And I do not.
It is the 60th Anniversary of the Soviet Union, and I have this stupid pneumonia.
While I was getting shots in the butt, our 1st Grade was practicing for the school concert. They all will be Turkmen.
They will wear yellow harem pants made from old school curtains.
If I could choose which one of the fifteen republics, fifteen sisters to be, I’d choose Ukraine. Ukraine has such pretty national costumes! Girls put bright ribbons and fake flowers in their hair.
Natasha tells me, though, that Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldavia are the 10th, 9th and 8th Grades, respectively, because they are older, they know more, and they perform better. They get to be the better republics. The younger the kids, the worse the republics, she says.
Our 1st Grade is Turkmen, then.
Still, I would have loved to wear a fez and yellow harem pants made from heavy draperies, and to sing the undulating tune Natasha performs for me – “Native land, Turkmenistan, fertile are thy fields/ Native land, Turkmenistan, the happy Soviet land!”
But things being as they are, I miss the goldarn thing.
Maybe things will get better. Maybe in 10th Grade I will get to be Ukraine. Maybe my mama will make me a headband with silk ribbon flowers, and I will be proud. Maybe I will be proud when I become a Young Pioneer with a drum and a horn and a flag, and I go pinning October Pins on babies in white pinafores. Maybe one day Lenin who organized the 60th Anniversary of the Soviet Union will be proud of me.
Pride turns into embarrassment turns into a joke turns into nothing.