We met a lot of new families that first year. There was the K family, with five kids and counting (they ended up with ten, I think), who were already good friends of the LaQuiere family, and had been for a long time, so either they were already good at the secret training method, or they were mostly exempt from it because they were best friends. Then the R family, with two kids, who were best friends with the K family, and also mostly exempt from the secret methods, for reasons unknown. Then came the regular families: the T family, who had mostly girls, all pretty, with long, curly black hair down their backs that I envied intensely, being myself a plain child with super-fine, straight hair that my mom kept cutting short to my chin, despite all my protests. The N family, who had girls my age, a teenage son, and a baby. Then the J family, who had a bit of a stigma attached to them because Mr. J was divorced, and this was his second wife. We all knew this considered a mark of shame, in the secret way that children know something, without ever actually hearing it said or being allowed to talk about it. My mom’s best friend from high-school, Mrs. W, also came, with her second husband (they were both divorced and remarried – Mr. LaQuiere spoke at their wedding), each bringing one child of their own. Needless to say, this was also considered one of the Lesser Families by the unspoken rules, and they were always fighting about each other’s children too. (He thought she babied her son too much, and she thought he played favorites.) They were probably the most unhappy family starting out, but we all knew we had our own issues, so we weren’t (openly) judging. Last but not least, came my aunts and uncles and assorted cousins, the A’s and the S’s, who became a very large part of the story later, in two very different ways.
I don’t remember too much about those early days – it seemed like a lot of fun and games at first! We were young enough not to pay too much attention to the adult conversation, though that changed pretty quickly, and mostly we just read books on those Wednesday nights: great quantities of approved-for-kids books, of which an oddly high number were about Amish children. The best ones were Dr. Seuss, which they kept around because they provided valuable object lessons for the trainee-parents, but we didn’t know that at the time. All we knew was, for voracious readers like ourselves (our parents actually made rules about where we weren’t allowed to read books – not in the car, not in the bathroom, not in bed, not at our friends’ houses, not on the way home from the library…) it was book heaven! Also—and this was, to be honest, the major lure of Wednesday nights–there was ice-cream. Not just ice-cream. ICE-CREAM! In over a dozen flavors, and dished out generously in huge bowls: more ice-cream than our excited little eyes had ever seen before! The LaQuiere family bought Breyer’s ice-cream in bulk from Sam’s Club, and stored it in a huge chest freezer in their basement, filled with nothing but gallons and gallons of ice-cream! We knew, because occasionally we’d get sent down there by Mrs. LaQuiere to grab a refill, and it was a sight that made our gluttonous eyes gleam with avarice! I’m not sure I can entirely blame my love-affair with ice-cream on this weekly ice-cream orgy, but it was definitely a factor, believe me. Anyway, except for the ice-cream and the books, I don’t remember too much of that first year.
We were already homeschooling, because my older sister R was a very bright child, and bored with kindergarten at the Christian school my parents sent her to, so they figured, what the heck, they could surely do better at home. So they took her out of school, and that one year of kindergarten was the only public schooling any of us ever had. It turned out, though, that homeschooling was the ONLY godly option, so it was lucky we were already doing it! The LaQuiere family had started homeschooling back in the days when it was illegal, and dangerous to do so. They drove their children around in dark vans, and kept them away from windows in case someone saw them and called the cops. But they were determined to do what was RIGHT for their children, and avoid the sinful lies (I think this meant “the theory of evolution”) being taught in the public schools. My parents also agreed that this was a worthy goal, and so our future as homeschoolers was settled and sealed. I only vaguely remember those early days of being homeschooled, but I know we had little desks, and my mom made us chant the Pledge of Allegiance with our hand over our heart at the start of every school day. Aside from that it’s all a foggy blur. I definitely learned to read and write, and generally thought school was great fun, so my mom must have been a good teacher!