Do you remember your very first day of school? I recall having mixed feelings about starting Kindergarten in 1960 and I can recall the day quite clearly. Here's my story.
Situated in the center of our small town, the old brick building had creaky wooden floors, wide staircases and high, very high ceilings that loomed large above the heads of the elementary-age children. I’d been inside the school before, walking through the main door alongside my mother and then waiting on a rickety folding chair in the empty hallway while she attended parent-teacher conferences for my older sisters.
This morning was different.
Pale, skinny and wide-eyed, I was now the student.
Gray-haired Miss Wallace, the school’s only kindergarten teacher, was at her classroom door greeting everyone with a kindly smile.
At the back of the room, mothers sat on a long bench and chatted in low voices. They wore prim dresses or skirts, held handbags and appeared happy to be dropping off their children for the morning.
Those freshly-scrubbed children played in the center of the room with wooden toys and cardboard building blocks that looked real but were surprisingly lightweight. Boys were stacking the blocks high and then knocking them down with gusto. Quietly, the girls withdrew to the sides to watch the boy’s antics while others made their way to the play kitchen with its small cupboards and pink appliances.
I held back, clinging to my mother.
At home earlier that morning, I’d cried hard and said I was sick, much too sick to go to school.
Now, here in the classroom, I felt simultaneously fascinated and repelled. Part of me thought this might be a interesting adventure, but another part of me knew – even then – that school would change my carefree world.
I understood how my sister’s lives were dictated by school. They woke early, rode the school bus, and then toiled over their homework at the kitchen table instead of lounging in front of our new television set. The school calendar ruled what they could do and when they would do it.
Even though the playtime looked fun, I didn’t think I’d like school.
Suddenly, a loud bell sounded, jarring the kids from their games and making the mothers sit up taller. From the hallway, doors closed and the low murmur of teacher’s voices could be heard in their classrooms.
The kindergarten door remained open.
Miss Wallace guided all the children into a tight semi-circle where she read from colorful storybooks. Then she announced we would be painting, and who wanted to help set up the easels? With great excitement we put on our smocks and formed two lines.
My mother had promised she wouldn’t leave, but the door was left open for a reason.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the low bench was now empty. All the mothers had gone. Tears stung my eyes, but there was no going back.
I was a kindergartener now.