“How could you flunk kindergarten?” My mother asked without attempting to hide her disgust as we walked home to our apartment in Los Angeles. We had just had a conference with my teacher who thought I should repeat kindergarten because I was a slow learner and couldn’t tie my shoes, a priority for entering first grade in California. “At least you’re pretty,” Mother said. When we moved to Las Vegas, where standards were surprisingly higher, she assumed that I would be held back. At Fifth Street School, my teacher, scowling Mrs. Anderson, patrolled the aisles, keys clanging, making sure none of us were cheating on the standardized test. She stopped when she reached me. I was looking straight ahead, seeing nothing. My teeth were chattering. I hadn’t even picked up my pencil. ‘Follow me,” she ordered. She frowned as she read me the questions in her office, but smiled when I got them right. I will never know how she sensed what I needed, or why she decided to help me. To my mother’s astonishment, I was placed with Mrs. Dordey in high first where I was one of the best readers in my class.

The frame house in the vacant lot behind our apartment on Bonneville Ave. was falling down. There was a huge hole in the porch. All the front windows were smashed. Mother went out of her way to make friends with the poor people who lived there, because she needed babysitters and they had six daughters.  Beverly, 16, became my principal babysitter.  She used to request songs on the radio and dedicate them to her boyfriend. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to do that. Virginia and Linda, closer to my age, were hired to walk me the two blocks to Fifth Street School, and home when school was over. As far as I knew, I was the only kid in first grade whose mother thought she couldn’t walk to school on her own. I liked Virginia and Linda, but they smelled. I hated and feared some of my classmates. I wasn’t the only one. Poor Arlyss Bishop, who glowed with goodness and whose blonde hair was so pale it was almost white, was terrorized by a boy who tried to kiss us both. Arlyss and I would cling to each other in the bushes, hiding until the bell rang. And the class bully, Rickey Woodbury wouldn’t let me get off of the merry-go-round until I begged, and punched me in the stomach to make me cry, but I clenched my teeth and stared him down.

Mother gave Virginia my worn out shoes when hers fell apart. Otherwise, she’d have had to go to school barefoot. We were hardly rich, but next to them we might as well have been millionaires. By the end of first grade my father had found a house. My mother had wanted to move to Huntridge because she heard that most of the respectable Jewish families were settling there, but my father objected to the cement floors. Plus, they didn’t have sidewalks. Despite my mother’s objections, we bought a house at 328 North Ninth St. because it had hardwood floors, but you could see the bathroom from the living room. Mother made the best of the situation and decorated in Chinese Modern. She was right. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, even rabbis settled in Huntridge, and I was the only Jewish kid at North Ninth Street School.

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Prof. S. Churchill
2/25/2013

Was Arlyss the daughter of Rev. Bishop who was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Vegas in the 1950s?

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8/6/2013

I think Arlyss was Mormon, but I may be wrong. Arlyss would have been a freshman at LVHS in '53. She and I graduated in '57.

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Prof. S. Churchill
2/25/2013

Message truncated, continuation: I went to high school with Arlyss Bishop ca 1951-53 at LVHS. Did you invent this name or did you know her?

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Prof. S. Churchill
2/25/2013

I went to high school with Arlyss Bishop ca 1951-53 at LVHS. Did you invent this name or did you know her?

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Prof. S. Churchill
2/25/2013

Your system seems to refuse additional information. I went to LV High School with a person of that name circa 1951-53.

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Stacy Churchill
8/6/2013

Upon reflection, I am sure we are talking about the same girl, right down to your description of her. My earlier post said incorrectly that we studied together. In fact, we saw each other all the time in church activities and was a family friend. But she was a couple of years behind me. I left LVHS after grade 10 and graduated in 1955 in Denver. She was a truly sweet person. Hope the world has treated her well. (p.s. I wasn't the boy who frightened the two of you; lived elsewhere in those years).

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8/6/2013

Arlyss was, indeed, a sweet person. I wish I had known her better. I've no idea where she is, now -- do you? I'd love to get in touch with her.
I wrote a novel about growing up in Las Vegas, "Neon Dreams," that you might find interesting. It's not entirely fiction.
Thanks for your interest in my blog.

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