Sean begins kindergarten shortly after Labor Day. And like every other mother in America who is sending a child off to kindergarten, I can’t believe this day has arrived so quickly. It seems like just yesterday that we found out we were expecting.
I guess I should be reflecting on the past five years and how they have slipped away so quickly, but what I find myself thinking about is how the past 45 years have slipped away so quickly.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in kindergarten. When I look at my kindergarten class picture, I can name nearly every student, the teacher and even the school principal. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten one single detail of my life, which in many ways is unfortunate, because there are many events which would best be forgotten.
Here is everything I remember about kindergarten:
I was in the afternoon class. There were 30 kids in my class and one teacher — no aide like they have now. The teacher’s name, God bless her real good, was Mrs. Kelly. According to the class picture, she had a first name and it started with “B” but no one ever knew what it was.
Mrs. Kelly was probably about 25 or 30, but in her picture she looks much older. In 1965 everyone looked about 20 yeas older than they actually were. That was the style. I remember one time I called her “mom” by mistake and I thought I would die.
In the spring, Mrs. Kelly took the entire class on a walking field trip to the IGA which was half a block from school. We had to cross a set of defunct railroad tracks and a busy two-lane road to get to the store. And just now I’m trying to imagine doing that with 30 5-year-olds and it gives me the shivers.
For reasons unknown, just before we got to the railroad tracks, Jean Ann D. freaked out and tried to run away. Mrs. Kelly sprinted after her and chased her down. I could not believe my eyes. I was a compliant child and it would never have occurred to me to do something like that. I distinctly remember wondering why on earth would anyone do such a crazy thing? Who doesn’t want to go to the grocery store? When we got to the grocery store, the store manager opened a box of Capt’n Crunch and let everyone have a handful of cereal. That pivotal moment cemented my deep and abiding love for Capt’n Crunch.
Mrs. Kelly broke her leg during the school year (maybe chasing after Jean Ann) and so she sometimes sat in the front of the class with her foot in a cast resting on a chair. She read “Make Way for Ducklings” and “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel” – still two of my favorite children stories. I liked the way she held the books out to the side while she read so we could see the pictures.
One time Mrs. Kelly called me to the front of the room and pulled me up on her lap and felt my forehead. She said I looked like I didn’t feel well. I had a fever and she called my dad to come and get me. It made me feel special to sit in her lap. I took note of it because I don’t think other than that one time, she knew I was in the class — not too surprising given the class size and the fact that I didn’t do anything crazy like run away.
One time Mrs. Kelly brought out a box of percussion musical instruments. Everyone picked one and we all marched around the room banging on whatever lame instrument we managed to grab. I wanted the triangle, but never got it and I certainly never got the tambourine, even after Mrs. Kelly made everyone trade instruments with someone else. I remember feeling mighty ridiculous marching around the room banging two sticks together. Consequently, I never took band.
There was a little pretend grocery store set up in the classroom and sometimes we would get to play grocery store, my most absolute favorite activity. I loved the tiny toy cash register. Everyone wanted to be the cashier. For many years thereafter, it was my dream to be a cashier.
One time just as the bell rang and the class was being dismissed, my boyfriend Jerry got a nose bleed. The teacher had him lie down on the floor with his head tilted back. All the students ran out of the room to go home, even the teacher was out in the hall. Jerry started crying so I turned back and stayed with him in the empty classroom, kneeling down beside him as globs of blood dripped out of his nose and down the side of his face. I was a compassionate angel of mercy even in those days.
One day, my dad was late picking me up from school. All the other kids had gone home and I was the last one left. The school was eerily quiet and I was beginning to get concerned. In those days, I thought a lot about becoming an orphan and made plans about what I would do if I became an orphan. Once I heard the word orphan and learned what it meant, I could not think of anything else. As I waited for my dad, who might not be coming for me, I imagined my exotic life in an orphanage. As I waited, I didn’t cry, because it would have taken more than being orphaned to make me cry. Nonetheless, I was relieved to see him when he finally showed up.
My dad took me to school every day in his car, known as Clunker #2, which he had hand painted primer gray. And every day before school, and I do mean every single day, he fixed me a boiled hotdog which he impaled with a fork and served up with a splotch of ketchup on a plate. After a nutritious gourmet lunch, I would crawl up onto the bench seat of Clunker #2 beside my dad while he drove me to school. Because I was fiercely independent, I always jumped out and ran into the school by myself, never looking back.
The year I was three, I got a maid’s outfit for Christmas which included an apron, a hat and all the tools of the trade. One day I decided that I should like to wear the maid’s outfit to school. Dad put his foot down on that one. I threw a fit, but he stood firm and sent me back to my room to change. That was one of the few times in my life that my dad has said no to me.
Everyday before getting in the car to go to school, dad would make some clumsy attempt to make my course thick dry frizzy bad hair presentable. He never succeeded, but he will certainly get a star in his crown for trying.
Jeannie S. wore a leg brace. Her parents owned a gas station. Billy R. had braces on both legs and some sort of medical problem and my mom would have long telephone chats with his mom. Brian M. had a spot on the middle of his nose and it was terribly cute. Laura G. wasn’t quite right and was known to bite. Rhonda D. used to roll up on her back during nap time and pull her panties down to her knees and then pull them back up as she rolled back — another thing that would have never occurred to me to do. There was so many new things to learn at school. Cassie B. was the cutest girl in the whole class. She was also the cutest girl in high school.
One day, towards the end of the school year, my mom let me walk the 3/4 mile home with Jerry. I don’t know if one of the moms followed us at a discreet distance, but not in ten million years would I let my 5-year-old walk a mile home down a busy road. Not in twenty million years. It was a different time.
After graduating kindergarten, 13 of us went on to Catholic grade school together through 8th grade and then we joined up again with most of the rest of the class in high school.
I still get together with Jerry and some of the other “kids” every couple of years and have dinner and wax nostalgic. There’s something kind of cool about getting together with people who share a history, people who are rooted in the same soil.
Sean is a lot like me. He compliant, forgets nothing and loves to play grocery store. In a week, he’ll begin making his own kindergarten memories and he’ll meet people with whom he’ll share a certain history.
And maybe if he’s really lucky, when he’s my age, he’ll still be connected to a few folks who occupied the same sweet kindergarten time and space.