P.P.E.* Mania

October 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Kindergarten was a delightful experience back in the late 50’s. It didn’t have much of an academic focus, but was more a means of socializing us to formal schooling, as reflected by my kindergarten report card, with its list of “Citizenship” categories. I earned check marks in such things as courtesy, initiative, good health habits, sense of fair play, and working well with others. Nowhere on the card is there anything pertaining to reading, writing or arithmetic. Yes, kindergarten was a series of halcyon half-days reserved for high priorities: dress-up, story time, singing, graham crackers and milk, recess, and creative expression through the medium of manila paper and Crayolas.

On this particular afternoon, Mrs. Mendoza handed out fresh sheets of paper and instructed everyone to draw our very CRAYONS-JUMBObest “purple people eater.” I could hardly believe my ears. You see, the songPurple People Eater” was wildly popular at the time and on its way to Number One on the Billboard pop charts. DJ’s had been asking listeners to send in their pictures of purple people eaters, and our very hip teacher was catching the wave. I was loving it.

I recall that she first played the song through for the class — as if she even needed to do that! Didn’t everybody know the lyrics by heart?! — and then she turned us loose with our crayons. I got busy outlining a sort of blobby, winged dragon-like creature with my purple crayon. I was about to fill in the one eye and one horn features when I became hugely distracted.

Some of the other kids were drawing green, blue and even red creatures. What was that about?! Didn’t they just hear Sheb Wooley sing that this creature was one-eyed, one-horned and purple?! I tried to persuade my classmates that their pictures needed to follow the specs, but to no avail. They kept right on coloring their creatures in way they had planned, my protests notwithstanding, and were as pleased as punch with their finished products. I got more and more frustrated with my inability to single-handedly sway public opinion and behavior.

In an effort to force things conform to my sensibilities, I approached Mrs. Mendoza’s desk. “The children aren’t drawing their purple people eaters right,” I informed her. “They’re putting two eyes on them and some don’t even have horns.” I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact words she used to inform me that their pictures were just fine and I should go ahead and take my seat now and just worry about my own drawing.

Sigh. I tried. A brief chapter from that Big Book of Life Lessons entitled: “No, Linda, You Are Not the Boss of the World.”

And now, for your listening pleasure, may I usher you into a former era of song, beginning with the one that started the Great Kindergarten Classroom Controversy in the first place (lyrics thrown in at no extra charge). And while we’re at it, I present several other hits that were soaring at the top of the charts in 1958, either shortly before or after Purple People Eater:

[* Okay, so you figured out the acronym. Please proceed to the head of the class.] 

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