First Day of School

Clutched in my hand was a handkerchief tied in a knot around my lunch money, a quarter and a dime. My father walked into the school with me. Did he hold my hand? I don’t remember. I was frightened I know. Most children had their mothers with them. My mother was home with my younger sisters, ages 3 years and 1 month.

The school was a red brick building, two stories tall. My first-grade classroom was in the basement. My father led me down the stairs, looked at the numbered doors. Miss Conover stood at the door, smiling at the children as we walked in. I recall her hair being a reddish blond color and in a page boy. My father said goodbye to me and left.

Trying to put myself back in that time I conjure up the smell of the lined paper we used to learn to write. There were rows of heavy lines and a dotted line in between. Lower case letters generally only went to the dotted line. Our pencils were large, easy for small, uncoordinated fingers to manipulate, I suppose. I picture wooden desks, with a seat attached. The desk surface was on hinges and we stored our school supplies inside. On top of the desk was an inkwell. We never used the inkwells. Must have been used in earlier years.

I remember feeling a great deal of apprehension about going to the cafeteria on that first day and handing my money to who? Would I know? Would I know how to get my food? Maybe I was nervous about what might be served and whether I would like it. Would I be forced to eat something I didn’t like?

While I don’t remember how paying for the lunch was resolved, I do remember that one thing on my tray was a small light green plastic bowl with canned peaches in it. I didn’t know what it was and was afraid to try it. Miss Conover came over and asked why I hadn’t eaten them. I did try a bite and I think I liked it.

And that is absolutely all I can recollect about my first day of school.

I know that Miss Conover embarrassed me terribly one day when I had mistakenly written two periods at the end of my sentences. I don’t know why I did it, but I thought that was the correct way. She was annoyed with me and pointed to the board. I then tried to fix the problem by joining the two periods together in one huge penciled dot. She raised her voice in anger and scolded me in front of the class.

At some point during that year, or perhaps the summer after my first-grade year, Miss Conover got married. She no longer taught at our school. My mother heard that she married a millionaire. She came back for a visit one day and wore a full-length fur coat. I didn’t run up to greet her and stroke her coat like some of the other children did. Instead, I became invisible in the back of the room. That wouldn’t be the first time I hid myself in school.

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