With my sister Patti, 1953, setting out for that big journey across the street for my first day in the first grade.
First Day of School
In our house, a pencil sharpener fastened to a shelf
with a little handle I could turn myself.
All the curls of wood and lead safely caught within,
as I gave the pencil sharpener one more little spin.
Five newly sharpened pencils, clutched tight in my hand,
then bound into a secure bunch with a rubber band.
Dropped into my school bag with eraser, tablet, ruler.
Everything unused and clean. Nothing could be cooler.
The school warning bell rings out as my saddle shoe––
crisp black and white, unblemished, for it’s stiffly new––
makes its first step out my door to cross across the street
and with other six-year-olds, to find my proper seat.
Lynnie, Henrietta, Sheila, Diane, Sharon.
Clevie, Meridee and I, Rita, Linda, Karen.
Lyle, Keith, Clinton, Jeff, Georgie, Jimmie, Billie––
come from all directions, running willie-nillie
to get to school before the bell sounds its final peal.
All those years of playing school finally here for real.
We stand in lines inside the room as she calls our names.
No more days of playing random childhood games.
Reading and arithmetic, that little cardboard store
where we learned to count out change, make shopping lists and more.
Spelldowns standing up in front, facing towards the class.
Your hand up when you had to ask for the bathroom pass.
Marching all around the room singing “Charming Billy.”
Can he bake a cherry pie? Those lyrics were so silly.
Then we stomped and pointed–our volume without match
as we sent the boys out yonder to the paw paw patch.
Are you too young to remember? Or is it that you’re old,
your remembrances supplanted, your memories grown cold?
Do you not recall the ink wells and chalk erasers?
The recess bell, the sandbox, the swingers and the chasers?
The teeter-totters creaking and the merry-go-round?
Every playground adventure? That cacophonous sound
of shouts and jeers and teasings, the tether ball and slide.
All the joyous sounds before we were called inside
to spend time with Alice and Jerry, and with “Run, Spot, run,”
reading words over and over before the day was done?
They swirled around in all our brains––phonics, words and numbers
stirred our active childhood minds from their former slumbers.
It was so many years ago that we set out that day
upon a road that later would carry us away
from that square white building with its tower and tolling bell
that for the first eight years of school we would mind so well.
Streaming in from all the sides of our little town––
brilliant students, dunces, class bully and class clown.
It was a collaboration that ultimately made
eighteen little boys and girls ready for second grade!
The prompt was collaboration.
There are two faces in my first grade photo that I have no memory of. They left before second grade. I am the little blonde girl in the middle of the second row. If anyone remembers the little girl next to me or the little boy next to her, please let me know and I’ll add them to the roster. In second grade, they were replaced by two newcomers, Clifford Leading Cloud and Judy Toni. Eleven of us in this photo completed all 12 years of school together. Our first grade teacher was Mrs. Sandy. Her husband, Pink Sandy, taught generations of Murdo kids how to swim in Johansen’s stock dam!