Do you have memories of your very first day of school? I think it was the most exciting day of my 4, almost 5-year-old life. My birthday is in September, but they let me begin at age 4 anyway, as I was nearly the right age.
Andy, my older brother, had begun school two years before, so I absolutely knew that school was a wonderful thing. I had accompanied mom and my baby sister to school to watch him in various school programs and events, and my mind was alert to all the exciting things that went on there. I distinctly recall the thrill of seeing a kindergarten skit on good oral hygiene where one of my brother’s fellow students got to wear a giant tooth outfit, while another child, wielding an enormous play toothbrush, proceeded to brush her. It didn’t get more exciting than that!
My first day of school, I remember being up very early. It was a source of tremendous frustration that I had been assigned to afternoon kindergarten rather than morning. It delayed the advent of my first day by several hours. My next memory is putting on the dress mom had laid out for me. Back then, you didn’t show up at school in shorts and a t-shirt. I had a green dress with buttons that were shiny red apples, white socks and black patent leather shoes. Mom had curled my hair with curlers the night before so I had curly hair for that all important first day.
The next big moment was getting on the little school bus that pulled up in front of our house. It was one of those small buses that only holds a few children. It amazes me how fearless I was that day. I had seen Andy get on the bus countless times, I guess, so I figured it was safe. The driver of the bus was also our Lutheran school’s secretary, so I knew she was safe as well. On the bus was our neighbor girl, Julie. She was another familiar face, so the bus was a happy place.
I arrived safely in my classroom, heart pounding away. I can still smell the smell of that room if I try. The wooden parquet floor was shiny that day and all the small chairs had chair covers on the backs with different animals embroidered on them. I wondered which animal would be on mine. There were round yellow name tags on a bulletin board, and I was told to find my name. For the first time, my confidence wavered.
In the rush of the other children and the excitement, all the names and letters looked alike suddenly. I was crushed. If I failed at this first big assignment of finding my name tag, would I be a kindergarten failure? Before I knew it, big tears were cascading. At that moment, a grandmotherly woman put her arm around me and asked me my name. She helped find the right tag and pinned it on my dress. I was so relieved. I recognized the nice lady, Miss Weber. She was my teacher, and with her help, the sun returned and my first day of kindergarten was under way.
The big, bright classroom had a play store with “real” play groceries and shopping carts. It even had a play cash register and play money so we could shop. I was enchanted. There was doll furniture and doll clothes and all sorts of puzzles to conquer. But the highlight of the kindergarten day was getting to watch a TV program called Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. My parents didn’t have a TV at that time, so this was all new to me. The program was captivating. While I’m not certain what this says about me, my favorite puppet character was Lady Elaine Fairchild. I liked her spunk and forthrightness. I suppose a psychologist would say she was a “deep influence” on me. (Hmmmm.)
I loved every single moment of school. We had a puppet stage, goldfish (just like Mr. Rogers), story time with all kinds of exciting books, and there were lots of children to get to know. I went to school with many of them up through 6th grade. Those days actually were formative. My belief that books were wonderful was cemented, I learned all the basics academically, and had it confirmed in my mind that learning was an exciting thing.
Some lessons in kindergarten, while not as pleasant, were also valuable. I learned about bullying. One hostile child left her deep teeth marks on my arm when I wouldn’t give her my place in line at the slide on the playground. The world, I learned, wasn’t always such a happy place. I also saw one boy named Billy kick at the teacher when he was corrected. Never had I witnessed such an audacious display of rebellion. At home, I told mom that I was “astonished with amazement” at the naughty Billy. (I wonder what ever became of him?!)
This time of year I always get nostalgic for school days. I see the big bins of school supplies and remember those happy times, the highlight of which was my getting to play one of Chicken Little’s chicks for the play at kindergarten graduation. I had a feathery yellow outfit and an orange paper beak held on by a nylon stocking tied around my head. It was the beginning, and end, of my acting career, but my family assured me that I had done a credible impression of Chicken Little’s offspring.
I am thankful for Mt. Olive school and the great start I received there. One memory that stands out more than any other was Miss Weber sitting at a little organ (it was an old pump organ) which we all stood around and sang songs like, “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb”, “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus”, and “My Best Friend is Jesus.” I also remember the kindly, elderly Pastor Berner who conducted the chapel services in the church. The Christian influence was felt by the children, and that part of my education, without a doubt, was the most important of all!