Fourth grade was the first time Gwen noticed Samantha. The year before, the girls’ school switched from dividing classes by hamlet where you lived to sorting kids into two sections, based on "ability." Prior to this, Gwen had been with her kindergarten peers for three years, while Sam’s kindergarten class had also been together, with different teachers for Grades 1 and 2. With the switch to tracking, they wound up in the same class, but she still wasn't on Gwen’s radar screen. Their fourth grade teacher, Miss Innis. changed that. Miss Innis was in her 30s but she seemed ancient. She was the definition of an old school marm: Hair in a bun, stiff, thin and bony, brittle, with plain attire that featured high collared shirts, buttoned up to her chin. Gwen thought she looked something like Olive Oyl. She wasn't particularly mean to either Gwen or Sam, but she wasn't nice either. She didn’t single kids out for ridicule as some teachers did; she was equal opportunity mean. The whole class was terrified of her.
To illustrate sets in math, she told the fourth graders to get into groups if their houses had two or three or four bedrooms or what their fathers did for a living (worked for IBM or owned businesses or were teachers etc.). That day the question was about dad’s job. Sam didn’t go into a group and when Miss Innis asked why, responded "I don't have one." Sam was suddenly noticed by everyone in class, including Gwen.
The second time Gwen thought about Sam was during that same year in school. Just when the students were poised to leap from the flutofone to a "real" instrument, Miss Innis yelled out, "who's Catholic?" Gwen and a handful of other kids timidly raised their hands. Sam was Catholic, but her hand either wasn’t noticed by Miss Innis, or she was too scared to raise it at all. The brave souls who raised their hands were herded across the street to the church for religious instruction, and so missed instrumental music and were never able to be in band. Sam didn’t go across the street and didn’t miss music, but she also didn’t join the band until much later, in high school. The band was chosen to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade one year, and Sam wanted to go. So she volunteered to play the cymbals, and once the trip was over, she quit the marching band.
Despite those two incidents in Grade 4, Gwen considered sixth grader to be the actual start of a friendship between them. It was facilitated by Gwen’s “best" friend Amy, whom she’d met the first day of kindergarten. Amy had been put in the "other" section of class after Grade 2. As a result of the scrambling, she became friends with some kids who lived near Sam. Sometimes Amy would be invited to the party of a girl in her class that Sam was also attending. They got to know each other, eventually Amy invited Sam to her house, and since Gwen and Amy were always together, all three girls became friends.
Once they knew each other better, Gwen found out that Samantha did, in fact, have a father. Sam’s parents divorced when she was six months old and he was remarried and lived four hours away. Why she said she didn’t have one when Miss Innis was clumsily trying to teach sets was a mystery. Did she not know what he did for a living? Was he a drunk who didn’t work so it was easier to pretend he didn’t exist? The latter explanation didn’t occur to Gwen until years later.