Tuesday, September 4, 2012


          It's funny how your memory works, isn't it? I can walk into a room and have no idea what I went into it to find, but I can still remember my first day of school, oh, so many years ago. There are wonderful little pieces of those school days that just pop into my thoughts and often they are clear as a bell.

     Now, what was I writing about?

     Just kidding . . .  I think! : )

     Our house was literally 3 houses away from our elementary school so I walked to school. Every day. Actually I walked to school every year all the way through grade 12. I didn't ride a school bus until I was a teacher taking my own class on field trips! And no, I didn't walk uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot . . . but of course, I did pull that line out anytime our kids were complaining about walking instead of going somewhere in the car. Isn't that in the parenting contract somewhere? : )

    I can remember what my first school bag looked like. It was red plaid with little black straps that latched the flap shut. I didn't carry a lunch box (and was rather envious of all the cool ones my friends had) because those of us who lived close to the school actually walked home for lunch everyday. Now there's a foreign concept! Imagine. I actually walked home, sat at the table with my Mom eating my freshly made sandwich off of a plate, not out of a baggie, and drinking my milk out of a glass instead of a little milk carton. I filled my Mom in on all the big happenings in school that day then skipped back down the sidewalk so I'd have time to join my friends out on the playground for lunch recess.

    I remember on the first day of first grade our teacher put everyone's name on the board and then she called each of us up one at a time to find it. We either circled our name or erased it . . .  hmmm . . . erasing it certainly feels like she was more excited to send us on our way at the end of the year than welcoming us, doesn't it? Yeah . . . I wanted the other first grade teacher who was known for being kind and warm and wonderful. But I survived. I can see my first grade teacher taking a ruler and dipping out paste onto a little square of paper for each of us to take back to our desk for that day's cut and paste project. I was one of those follow the rules kids so I never tasted it . . . but it did for some crazy reason look like it might be good to eat!

    I remember that one of our classmates headed home during morning recess. She was a girl with extremely long dark hair and I can't remember if she'd had enough first grade for one day and cut out or if she thought that's what it was time to do. It was the big buzz of the morning for sure when we returned to our desks and one was empty! She did come back later that day and no one else ever attempted first grade mid day truancy as we had now been instructed to stay for the whole day, every day!

    I remember how big the rest of that school seemed. Thank goodness it was a sprawl of one floor hallways instead of stacks of two or more stories. Going out into the hallway for assemblies in the Gym-a-Caf-a-Torium (or the Multi Purpose Room as it was so aptly named) and having to walk into a room filled with kids who were all bigger than we were was rather terrifying in the beginning. We'd sit on folding chairs if it was a big deal of an assembly or Indian style on the floor if it was not all that important. Picture Day was scary too because not only did we have to put great effort into keeping our special clothes clean and neat but we had to go on stage for the pictures. We lined up in the hall but then we were herded up the dimly lit, backstage stairs to await our fate with the photographer. My six year old self hadn't grown accustomed to the wonderful world of backstage spaces yet and I just remember wondering why we had to be in what must be the creepiest place in the school - I obviously hadn't seen the Boiler Room yet!!

    Those were the days when the boys would throw worms on the girls to show they liked them. We would wear red rubber boots that we pulled on over our shoes if it was rainy or snowy enough and then stash them away in our little wooden coat rack space. We would bring in a quarter in a little envelope with our name on it for our milk money for snack that week. There was a Merry Go Round on the playground - not a carousel with horses, but a wooden apparatus with metal bars strategically placed around it. You could go safe and sit inside the metal circle while others pushed it around as fast as they could, or you could be more daring and sit on the outside edge, holding on for your life. I don't remember ever throwing up, but I think other kids did. The most daring kids would try and get off or on while it was in motion - I had great admiration for them! And there weren't any wood chips to cushion our fall, just dirt and grass like at home. Of course the monkey bars were still on the blacktop playground so the nurse must have seen plenty of skinned knees and hands.

    The windows could open at the very bottom and the very top. The teacher had this tall metal rod that she used to open the top windows. I remember the first time we first graders experienced a thunderstorm at school. I can see the sky outside those big windows getting dark and the trees in the neighbors yard starting to blow in the wind. Of course in later years as big fourth, fifth or sixth graders, classroom helpers would be called into service in such a time as this, to help close the windows and pull the shades. First graders simply sat quaking in their little chairs, silently praying they wouldn't pee their pants when the lightning and thunder started up! Being the stern teacher that she was, I'm sure we were admonished to not cry, but of course, I'm sure several did. I don't think I was one of them . . . I would have been more afraid of being in trouble than of the actual storm!

     When those bad boys in the class had to get their knuckles wrapped with a ruler (how could that same ruler that dipped out our wonderful paste be used for such a task?) I would thank my lucky stars that I was offense free. However . . . .I do remember thinking one time that it would be delightful to put a different name on the back of my cut and paste paper and see if the teacher could figure out who it was!! (Such a scandal!) I was on a kick for a little bit that year where I wanted my name to be "May" and I truly remember so wanting to hatch that little scheme. My desk at that time was right by the teacher's however, and I just couldn't seem to work up the courage to try it, lest while I was engrossed in penning those three false letters she would silently appear behind me and haul me over to the round table where we handed in our milk money and got our ration of paste from the dual purpose ruler . . . .

    We would be called for our little reading groups and carry our chairs to make a circle with the other boys and girls who were getting to know Tip and Mitten and Jack and Janet. I don't remember whether I came to school knowing how to read some or if it all unfolded in that Tip and Mitten circle, but I can still feel the shiny newness of that little paperback reader in my hand and the delight I found in stories, in reading silently and aloud.

    And while this memory is not a first grade one, I simply have to include it . . .  jump ahead a few years to fifth or sixth grade Reading class. We'd been instructed to put our free reading books away and open our basal readers to that day's story. Well. I was engrossed in "My Friend Flicka" and simply had to find out what was going to happen. So I stashed "Flicka" behind "Stories from Around the World" and continued clandestinely along. And in a large class of about 30 students, all would have been well . . . until I hit the climax of the story . . . when Flicka is lying in a creek bed . . . possibly breathing her final horsie breaths . . . and while my classmates were reading a sunny and happy tale from a distant land, I was completely grief stricken with tears rolling down my cheeks. Suddenly my teacher's hand was resting on my shoulder, having discovered that one of his "good" students had gone over to the dark side of delinquent methods. And with focus on the story rather than the reality of my plight, I pulled my eyes away from Flicka to Mr. Reading Teacher and sobbed, "Flicka's DYING!"

     And I still find it nearly impossible to pull myself away from a great read today.







  1. Love this! Memories! Wow! The paste, paper, ruler. Walking home at lunch. Walking to school. Wanting a lunch box: metal one or not. Plaid book satchel (A.K.A. bookbag) w/ strap & buckle. Big kids (those 6th graders in the eys of a 3rd grader looked really big). Ah, going to school in the 60s sure seemed like an eternity ago. Thanks for the memories. I may not be teaching anymore but everytime I go into any public school the smell in the halls always brings back memories. Thanks, friend.

    1. Guess we had it pretty good going to school when we did - or at least we've filtered out the stuff we don't especially want to remember and hang onto the sweet memories. : )

  2. This was fun to read! I walked home at lunch too and my mom would always read to us while we ate lunch. Such sweet memories. I had a satchel with straps too and it didn't weigh nearly what backpacks weigh now. I also remember my first grade teacher. I loved her and wanted to go home with her. If you let her pull your tooth she would give you a sourball. Imagine a teacher giving 6 year olds sour balls now!

    1. Sourballs! That's great! I love that you call your schoolbag a satchel - I"d love to know how many kids would even know that word today? : )

  3. I too. walked home for lunch. In the heat of June I sometimes took a quick lunchtime dip in the baby pool before returning to school for the afternoon. I loved this post it brought back so many memories.

    1. A quick dip in the pool sounds like a perfect treat on a June lunch hour!! : ) Thanks for the encouragement - glad you could enjoy the memories with me!