Back To School

My good neighbor and friend on the second floor of our condo building told me to come downstairs and take a look at something he wanted to me to see. I immediately grabbed a couple pieces of candy and followed suit knowing I would be greeted by his two youngsters as soon as he opened the door.

The older of the two, the seven year old boy, took a look at me and without batting an eye, said: “I want candy.” He was quickly admonished by his father. “That’s not the way to ask for something.” Begrudgingly, the boy added, “please?”

While offering one of two choices, I asked him if he was now going into second grade and he acknowledged as such. Actually, he shrugged as if to say, “what of it?” or in today’s parlance, “whatever!” He didn’t seem to be put out that he was giving up two months of summer freedom that allowed him to get up whenever and watch his pleasure on television until day camp started. On several weekends, the family went to their cottage in Michigan by the beach. In his mind, I guess, there is only so much of the good life that one can take before going back to prison.

The girl, however, was a different story. Five years old and fully aware that she was leaving the safe haven of kindergarten and now going on to the mean streets of first grade where you had to sit at a desk and pay attention to the teacher.

She said, “I’m not going to first grade. I’m going back to nursery. I don’t even know how to read!” Her brother threw in his two cents (with inflation, I guess it is now five cents) and said that she couldn’t go backward and had to face the music. She said, “un, uh! I’m going back to nursery and that’s that!”

My mind raced back- it being a long trip- to 1957 when it was time for me to go to school. I had not gone to nursery, although I think my older sister might have. We attended a private school and it required taking a school bus a distance of a little more than a mile and a half.

A year earlier, she had surreptitiously abandoned our daily playing in the apartment while Ma did her house chores. It usually meant- for us, not Ma- jumping up and down on the green sofa-turned-bed while we watched Liberace dressed elegantly in tuxedo on television play the piano. Now I had to jump alone while my sister mysteriously went off each morning on an orange bus and came back later in the day bragging how she was getting smarter and smarter.

I was intrigued as she would usually return with construction paper filled with her crayon drawings and paintings. Not only that, but she could recognize letters in a book. This had possibilities but I was concerned about the hours one had to commit to this.

But in the fall of 1957 I did not go to kindergarten school because of a technicality. I was not quite five years old when class began. I missed the cutoff by two weeks. I was not so lucky come January when the second semester began. It was time to go and I was dragged to school literally by Ma.

She brought me into the basement of the mansion where kindergarten class was held. I was crying hysterically until I turned and saw a vision of loveliness- my teacher. All of a sudden my desperation turned to acquiesce. If I was going to be taken down, it was okay as long as she was along for the ride. It was as if I was assigned a second Ma.

As it turned out, school wasn’t so bad after all. We got to color with crayon and paints, sit in a circle and sing songs and even take naps whether we were tired or not. I learned, however, that the girls got preferential treatment. In any dispute, the girl classmate was always telling the truth and not the boy. Once, I was sent to another room and told to stand in a corner for what seemed like hours. Go fight city hall, right?

For the rest of that school year, I took the same school bus as my sister. She was an upperclassman, being in first grade so she didn’t want to sit next to me. I didn’t care because this was an opportunity to make new friends. Besides, the bus smelled like puke which encouraged the rider to carry the same feeling and it was also a time when motor vehicles were powered by manual transmission. It seemed as if the driver would attempt to shift gears every thirty seconds. The herky-jerky movements of the bus added to the nauseous feeling creeping up inside our little bodies.

The following year, we abandoned the broken down bus service and for the next two years until we moved within a half block of the school, we took daily taxicab rides back and forth. But, that’s another story.