As you can probably tell from looking at me, it’s been quite awhile since I went to school, but I can still remember what that first day was like. It was exciting and anxious at the same time. Will your friends be in class with you? Will you like your teachers? Will you get to sit next to a pretty girl?
Although I can’t actually remember the very first time I stepped into kindergarten class at Tilton Elementary School, two blocks from home, I can for some reason remember the year before, when I was too young to go. I remember sitting on my front step and watching some of the other kids on the block trooping off to school. I can still, to this day, remember feeling sorry for myself and dreaming of what a magical place school must be, where you learned all kinds of special things only the big kids knew.
I also remember waiting for the neighborhood kids to come home after school and how different they suddenly seemed. They had a worldly sophistication those of us left behind didn’t have. There was a mysterious air about the way they talked that could only be picked up from whatever secrets were being kept in that light-tan brick building I wasn’t allowed to enter.
In those days, no one went to preschool. I don’t even know if there was preschool. Everyone I knew just started out in kindergarten. Unlike today, where you’re expected to know so much before you enter, kindergarten was the place you learned to spell your name and to tie your shoes. I think we sang a lot.
My most vivid memory of kindergarten is an embarrassing one. It was during nap time. I’m sure they had a different name for it, but essentially that’s what it was. If memory serves, we had milk and cookies, then we pulled the mats out from the wall and were instructed to lay down and be quiet for a half hour or so. I’m sure they said it was for our own good, but I suspect it had more to do with giving the teacher some time to gather her thoughts. I imagine a group of 30 5-year-olds, even if they are well-behaved, which we were not, can be quite a handful.
In any event, I was lying there and a red-haired girl named Dee Dee was lying behind me. Apparently, she didn’t feel much like napping, so she decided to take my shoes off. No idea why, she just did. Being a boy, and having been taught to always respect girls, I let her.
For some reason that may only be clear to a 5-year-old boy, which I haven’t been for a very long time, I just laid there, feeling her remove my shoes. They had buckles instead of laces, and I can still remember her struggling to undo the buckles. I think she was even getting mad about it. At one point, she grabbed my foot like it was my fault she couldn’t get my shoes off.
To be honest, I was a little afraid of Dee Dee, as were all the other boys in class, which is probably why I didn’t say anything. She was a bit of a tomboy and talked tougher than any of the boys, who had also been taught to respect girls, even if we didn’t totally understand why.
When kindergarten was over, I did the only thing I could. Since I couldn’t find my shoes and since I certainly wasn’t going to ask Dee Dee where they were, I walked home in my socks. Fortunately, she was big-hearted enough to leave those alone. When I got home, of course, the first thing my mother noticed was that I didn’t have any shoes on.
When I explained what had happened, my mother marched me back to school, where the teacher found the shoes Dee Dee had hidden in the classroom. The next day, the teacher made Dee Dee apologize to me in front of the class, which made me her sworn enemy the rest of the school year.
Fortunately, her family moved before we started first grade.