On the first day

Hi everyone,

I made a little 3-minute video two days ago, thanks to the wonderful help of Donna Spurlock, Director of Marketing at Charlesbridge. It’s about a memory from my first day of school. I can’t wait to see how it turns out and to share it with you one of these days. I don’t know the schedule yet.

What can you remember from first grade? School then was different in many ways from today’s version, but I’m going to read my first-day memory at Watkins Elementary on Monday and I bet some of the kids will understand. I’ll let you know.

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15 comments on “On the first day

  1. Hi David!
    I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment here before, though I read (and enjoy!) your blog every day. Today’s entry, though, really spoke to me. I’m writing a memoir of my childhood in post-war Brooklyn, and my first day of school is one of my most vivid memories. So I am sharing this edited excerpt with you now. (I wish I could be there to hear your recollections!) Best, Ronne.

    I know that my days at home with my mother will be coming to an end soon. I will be going to school – to PS 177, the big, square dull-red brick building that looms over Dahill Road from the corner of Avenue P, a long block and a half away. It is taller than any of the other buildings, and I can see it from the sidewalk in front of our house. It has a steel cage-like enclosure on the roof where, my brothers have told me, classes are sometimes taken to play games.

    My brothers go to PS 177 every morning, with the other big kids on the block. They carry books that they have covered with brown paper – some of the paper covers have a picture of a uniformed crossing guard on the front, holding up his hand to stop the traffic. Miltie gives these out to kids who buy school supplies from his candy store. He stocks a full range of pens, pencils, pencil cases, loose-leaf paper, composition books with black-and-white marbled covers – things grown-up schoolchildren need.

    My mother tells me that I will be going to something called “kindergarten,” which sounds like a Yiddish word to me. My brothers say it will be fun.

    One morning in early September, when I am four years old, my mother puts her head around the bedroom door. With a wide excited smile, she announces, “You’re going to school today!” Seeing her excitement, I get excited too.

    Usually I wear trousers and my brothers’ hand-me-down polo shirts, but today my mother helps me put on a white blouse with puffy sleeves, and my nice plaid pleated skirt with suspender straps. She braids my hair and puts in red and green barrettes, and ties my braids with plaid ribbons to match my skirt. I feel very dressed up and special as we walk up Dahill Road towards the school.

    The building looks huge. We walk inside and go to the office, where a woman at a big desk tells my mother which classroom to take me to. My mother holds my hand as we walk down a big, dark corridor with green walls and a row of wooden doors on either side. The doors have little windows and ornately carved brass doorknobs. My mother stops and opens one of the doors.

    There is a room full of children, and two women. One is tall and blonde, and the other is shorter, with grey hair and glasses. She comes over to us. “I’m Mrs. Gordon,” she says, smiling warmly. “Come in.”

    “Now, don’t cry,” my mother says, as she lets go of my hand. Instantly, I burst into tears. Mrs. Gordon gestures for my mother to leave, then takes my hand and gently leads me into the room.

    “Would you like to draw a picture?” she asks. She takes me to a table where other children are drawing – and I see a pile of fresh, clean paper and big boxes of crayons. My eyes widen, and my tears stop as quickly as they started. I sit down at the table (which is just the right size for me!) and pick up a red crayon – my favourite colour.
    As I sit there drawing, I look around the room. I see an easel and paints at the back of the room – and a piano in the corner! There is a pretend kitchen, and shelves filled with books. There are dolls, and big building blocks. And all around me are other children. What a wonderful place this is!

    When everyone is settled, we line up to get our “dog tags” – metal identification tags on a chain, which we must wear around our necks every day. Each tag contains the wearer’s name, address, date of birth, blood type, and religion. I think having dog tags has something to do with going to school. Many years later, I will learn that the tags had to be worn for identification in case of a nuclear attack. There is a war in Korea, and a cold war with the Soviet Union, things I am only dimly aware of at the age of four. In a few weeks, we will have an “air raid drill,” where we will be taught that when a siren somewhere outside goes off, we must put our arms over our heads, crouch down, and get under our tables. We are not told why. Like the dog tags, I accept these things as routine parts of going to school.

    On this first day of kindergarten, the time goes very quickly. We learn each other’s names – the boy sitting next to me, who wears glasses and has suspenders holding up his trousers, is called Stanley. The tall blonde teacher, Miss Ostrovsky, plays the piano and we learn a new song in which our fingers all have names – Thumbkin, Pointer, Long-Man, Ring-Man, and Pinkie. Mrs. Gordon reads us a story. And we cut out pieces of paper and stick them together to make a picture – mine is of a tree, and I am very proud of it.

    I love kindergarten.

    • Well first, Ronne, thank you for your kind words about my blog posts. I appreciate them very much. Thank you for “breaking the ice” with your first comment!

      And most of all, thank you for sharing this delightful memory of your first day in kindergarten! Your memoirs are going to be great fun to read. XO

      • Thanks, David. I hope they will be fun — though there is a great deal that was not happy about my childhood — a “rich tapestry” of sorts. Writing the memoir has been a very emotional — and in many ways very healing — experience.

      • I understand, Ronne. It’s brave of you to take this on and I’m sure there’s healing in it.

      • Ronne, I sent you an e-mail a few minutes ago but it bounced back. Thought you’d want to know.

  2. All I remember from first grade was the ton of homework I had to do…this was in Hong Kong in 1970 (though I imagine they still give a ton of homework in Hong Kong in first grade these days). 🙂 Can’t wait to see your video!

  3. First grade was great!

    My teacher drove a Studebaker – although I can’t remember her name! Ha!

    I ran races at recess with my “boyfriend” – received a FB birthday message from him last week on my 53rd birthday! One day I fell while we were running, and he stopped to help me up so we could finish the race together.

    Our teacher sat with us at lunch every day and once made me eat my cooked carrots. I threw up!

    I loved riding the square “skateboards” in PE.

    Girls HAD to wear dresses – no slacks allowed! (and this was a public school)

    I walked to and from school, and a neighbor boy bullied me on the way home. My two older brothers “explained” to him one day that he would leave me alone from now on. He did!

    I remember lining up in the gym to get a shot – the one that left a round mark on my left arm.

    Dick and Jane – who can forget learning to read?! I loved it!

    One of the boys was technically the “uncle” of another girl in our class.

    Because I walked to school, my nose was very red and cold every morning in the winter. The kids called me Rudolph! (I didn’t mind!)

    Thanks for the opportunity to share, David! Lots of fun on this snowy Colorado day!

  4. We were to copy out a sentence or two on [very] wide-lined tablet paper. When my paper came to an end before my words did, I set to ERASING the whole page so I could start over – a ridiculous process that SO ANNOYED Mrs. Troutman that she thumped me in my little 6-yr-old arm.

    Oh, and I had a red dress in 1st grade w/ Cheryl embroidered on the pocket.

    • So even then you were driven by a need to get it right, a foretelling of the professional artist and author you were to become. Fascinating!

  5. even then an obsessive twit. no wonder my teacher slugged me – that being said, I have to tell you what my old Uncle Lester once told me. he was well into his 90s when he claimed wanting to go around to all the nursing homes & knock his old teachers out of their wheelchairs. he was a fierce old buster.

    • You gotta watch those old guys. Larry Wakefield’s grandpappy was a tough old bird in his 90s who still made his daily rounds and was known to have a few shots on occasion. You didn’t want to mess with him. My old physics professor hit 100. At his party a bunch of cheerleaders pranced around him. You should have seen his smile.

  6. I remember having to sit in the back of a row of desks that were bolted to the wooden floor. I believe there were at least 40 first graders. I had to sit in the last desk at the row’s end because we lined up by height; even at that age I was tall. My teacher was Sister Marie Therese, and she didn’t hurt us. I think she even liked kids, unlike the nuns to come in the other grades. We each got a small black box to keep in our desks. Inside, it was divided into 3 compartments. One held some small colored wooden sticks. One had tiny cardboard squares with letters, and the last the same squares but with numbers. I loved that box of things. I could make words and spent an enormous amount of free time making pictures from those wonderful sticks. The numbers? I ignored them!

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