The first week of first grade was especially hard for me. I was greeted with not one but two surprises, both of which were traumatic for my not very resilient 6-year-old ego.
But first a word about my school—a classic prairie style one room schoolhouse in what were then, just after WWII, the wide open spaces of the Sacramento Valley. My school, Pleasant Prairie by name was located at geometric mid-point of an isosceles triangle you might draw from Davis, California northwest to Winters then east by northeast to Woodland and finally due south back to Davis. The 42 students spread across all eight grades of grammar school were under the tutelage of Mrs. Millsap, a matron in the early 60s who was driven daily to and from the school by a retired Mr. Millsap in their sporty 1936 Model A coupe. The motley crew of us arrived by foot, horseback, and sometimes tractor usually a few minutes before the Millsaps, gathering around the hand pump atop the water well, while we waited for Mrs Millsap to open the door to our magical classroom. (Yes, it was an old-fashioned hand pump—and we created makeshift cups by folding paper towels in a particular way to keep the water inside long enough to get a sip before osmosis drained it of water).
The first surprise (second will come later) came in the first 5 minutes of the first hour of that first day. Right away, Mrs. Millsap arranged the 42 of us by size and grade (all the desks were the same size and big enough for the 8th graders, so you can imagine that we first graders looked like Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann character in the now infamous giant rocker). When Mrs Millsap called the roll, she asked for Paul Pearson. Well I looked around the seats near me, with the other 5 first graders, and could only find one other boy. And I knew his name was Denny Compton (pseudonym) because he lived down the County Road from me and was my fellow warrior in the battles we fought on the rice paddies between our houses. So when I got home that night, in tears at the loss of my name, I asked my Mom why they called me Paul when my first name was David. And she had to fess up to the real story.
It seems that my parents always wanted to name me David, but they named me Paul at the last minute to honor my mother’s younger (and at that time quite ill with Tubercilosis, a still rampant disease in 1941) brother Paul, who lived in Montana. They called me Paul for only a few weeks (actually he died shortly after I was born!!). Even so it truly was traumatic to have my name taken away from me for even a day.
My mom, as was her role in the family, came to the rescue. She wrote a note to Mrs. Millsap asking her to call me, David. What a relief. By the way, for those who may have wondered, Paul is the source of the P in my professional name, as in P. David Pearson. But how I came by that professional moniker is a whole other story.