Tuesday, September 8, 2009

School Days

It's that time of year again....when the air is a little cooler and Fall is in the air. It's the time when Moms are hustling to outfit their broods for the beginning of the school year.

I turn the pages in my mind, back to my school days. There was a mixture of emotions, every September, at the coming of the first day of a school new year. I was not very outgoing in those days, and somewhat intimidated by teachers and other students, until I got to know them. So, as anticipation enveloped me, anxiety swallowed me. It made for interesting 'first days'.

Each year there were a few new items of clothing....not entirely new wardrobes, as seems to be the case now-a-days. Always, though, there were new shoes. By the end of the first day, after walking to and from school, there would usually be a bit of a soreness, if not a blister, on the heel of my foot. Aside from that, I seem to remember new sweaters that my Mother had knit for me to ward off the Autumn chill.

I can remember my very first days of kindergarten. Inside the main doors of the school on Newtown Lane (now the middle school) there was a door on the wall to the right. That was my kindergarten room where I found two teachers, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Wilson. Mrs. Jones was tiny and fashionable and nice. Mrs. Wilson was sturdier and neatly dressed with upswept hair, and was equally as nice. It took me what seems now to be a very long time before I could keep the appropriate name attached to the correct teacher. I was not used to being far from my Mother at that age, and had not been in any sort of pre-school setting. So, my first days were spent crying my eyes out, and probably none too quietly. After awhile, I'd settle down and get involved with some toy or another, and I'd be ok until noon came, and I could go home. I remember my favorite activity was sitting at a small table with a peg board into which small wooden pieces stood to form little towns with houses, trees and cars. Other than that, the only thing about the class or the room was that there was a wooden jungle gym in there. I don't remember a single other student or learning shapes, colors, letters or numbers.

I went to that classroom for only a portion of the year, as my Father had found a job in Farmingdale, and we moved from East Hampton to Bay Shore to live. I had to start school at another school, Fifth Avenue, I believe. (It could have been Brook Ave., as I went to each of those buildings at some point during the next three years before returning to East Hampton.) Wherever it was, I wasn't immediately happy to be thrown into another bunch of strangers, and I performed to the best of my ability with tears, again. I wasn't being naughty. I was being insecure. Again, I learned before too long that noone was going to hurt me, and I settled into the
fact that I was going to be there and might as well make the best of it.

I made some friends in the neighborhood and some were even in my class, so it made things a bit more comfortable. There are only three things I can remember, though, about any of those years at Fifth Ave. and Brook Ave. One is that at recess I would stand at the chain link fence in the playground and watch the brook that tumbled over stones beneath the trees behind the school yard. I remember how the sunlight filtered through the leaves and shimmered on the water. Another thing that I was fascinated by was a set of twin boys in my class, Billy and Bobby Williams. They were African American and they were twins...possibly the first of each category I had been introduced to. Thirdly, my 'boyfriend' and neighbor was Chuckie Marasca. One day while carrying his hot lunch, he stumbled and the bowl of steaming soup spilled on his chest, and he cried. So did I.

It's funny the things that stick with you over 50 years. One of the girls in our neighborhood in Bay Shore was walking back from the bus stop while I was walking to it. She was crying. I asked her what was wrong. She wailed as she answered, "I forgot to put on my underpants!" At the time, I felt sorry for her, but wondered how anyone wearing a dress could forget the most important part of their clothing, especially when I put them on before any other garment. Now I just laugh about the whole thing.

Back in East Hampton, I returned to the school on Newtown Lane. I did the remainder of my years in that school, some classes even took me back to the room where I'd started kindergarten. By then, it was filled with typewriters and rather than an alphabet border over the blackboard, there were Gregg short-hand symbols, and a wonderful teacher named Mrs. English.

To this day, I don't remember liking school much more than I did on my very first day. I hope that my grandchildren will feel much differently, and that they will find it easier to endure those long hours when anything seemed to me to be better than spending the day in those stuffy rooms with some pretty boring subjects. I am glad that I was forced to be there, however. I loved my art classes with Mr. Carpentier and Mr. Lonero. I couldn't wait to get to my music classes with Miss Orlando. I enjoyed my years with Miss Bird, Mrs. English, Mrs. Webb, Miss Porter, Mrs. Juckett and some others. Though I'm not sure that I could recite anything I ever learned in school, I'm grateful for the education I received there...perhaps the greatest lesson being that nobody there was going to hurt me.

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