Do you remember your first day of school? I do. We walked down the hill to the elementary school, my mother by my side and my new lunchbox in hand. I was starting first grade and I was a little nervous. My mom was probably thrilled because I was her baby. Now she’d have the days all to herself. I was also a little sad because my best friend, Jennifer, was not in my class. My teacher was Mrs. Kunnell. She had dark hair, swept up on top of her hair, and she wore a white dress. Now, I’ve been a teacher and I can’t imagine wearing white with a roomful of first graders. But I digress. She also wore hose and heels. Anyhoo, she knew my family because my older brother had her when he was in the first grade. She came right up to us and gave me a big hug. Which was a bit disconcerting because I didn’t really know her. Still, she was friendly and had a nice smile. I was excited because we were going to learn to read and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I ended up sitting next to a girl named Deborah. She was nice and had very interesting hair. It was brown with red and blond streaks in it. The blond turned golden in the sunlight. We became friends and I wasn’t so afraid or nervous anymore.
I only remember a few things about first grade. If you were good all week, then you got a happy face on Friday. If you got the chickenpox, the teacher would sit you far away from all the other kids when you came back to school. That happened to my friend, Michelle, and I was mad at Mrs. Kunnell about that for a while. And sometimes kids called you names. I had one of those names that rhymed with things like piana, banana, etc… Please don’t write me and tell me anymore. This one boy kept calling me names. I tried ignoring him, turning the other cheek, calling him names right back. But nothing stopped him. Finally, he made me so mad, I slapped his face. Well, of course, he ran to tell Mrs. Kunnell. And I started sobbing. I’d never been in trouble before and I knew I was this time. Oh boy was I! But Mrs. Kunnell took the time to find out what had happened and why I’d reacted so…well, violently. She gave me one of her famous hugs and wiped my tears. And I loved her.
Later in the year, after my friend Deborah and I shared a sleepover or two, we greeted each other one Monday morning. I said, “Did you have fun over the weekend?” She said, “My mother died.” I didn’t believe her. I think I actually laughed. I thought she was joking. But later, Mrs. Kunnell sent her out of the room to run an errand to the office and told the class that her mother had passed away and that we were taking up a collection of money and buying her a present, a necklace, to give her. That summer, my friend moved away. I don’t know what happened to her. I’m hoping one day she’ll turn up on Facebook. I’d like to know that in spite that trauma to her little life that she was able to continue on and do all right. As if any little girl really does okay without her mother.
So first grade was a big year for me. I learned to read. Or to read better. I learned violence has a short term effect but not necessarily a long term one. Although, come to think of it, I don’t think Greg called me names after that. Hmmm. I also learned that teachers can be your friend. And I learned that mothers die.
I hope the lessons learned this year as school starts are not quite so traumatic. But lessons will be learned. Lessons of the mind, lessons of the heart, and lessons of the soul.