First Things First in First Grade

Things sure have changed since I started school.

I remember the first day of first grade. That was the first day of school ever, for there was no such thing as preschool, and kindergarten did not exist in the rural areas.

We stood in line with our mamas to register. The girl in front of me was named Judy, and she was adopted. I thought that was the most magical word I’d ever heard. I figured she was a princess. She was the sweetest child. They moved at some point, and then she was back for a year later on before she disappeared again.

The girl behind me was Patricia. I remember how little she was! And she still is. At our last class reunion, she was still up to my shoulder, just like she was in first grade.

I remember being so excited about everything, but one thing in particular: learning to read.
I’d been hungering for this for a year or two. I would memorize “Nancy” in the Sunday comics of The Atlanta Journal and walk to my grandparents’ house and “read” it to them.

I remember the notebook I brought with me, the one that the teacher would use to teach me how to print.
I remember the pencils, all new and absolutely beautiful. Remember how they smelled?
I carried all my supplies in a brand new, red plaid, satchel that fastened like two belts across the front.

One of the things the teacher brought out was a big, plastic, pink boot with blue shoe laces. We lined up as she taught us how to tie our shoes. Now, I already knew how to do that, but I wasn’t about to lose a turn! It was so much fun; I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Before I knew it, I could read “see Spot run” and all the other adventures Dick, Sally, Jane and Puff had. I couldn’t get enough of it. As the year wore on, we progressed with bigger Dick and Jane books, which had a longer story plot and bigger words. At the end of the week we would be tested on how to spell these words and to pick out the correct meaning of some of them (Run: to go fast).

Learning how to print was a chore! I enjoyed it, but I so wanted my letters and numbers to look as neat as what was written across the blackboard. The teacher’s printing was beautiful, too.

I even liked math in the first grade. I loved the way it looked on paper, the one plus one equaling two and so on. Toward the end of the year we started with subtraction.

It wasn’t till sixth grade and the “new math” that threw me (and the teachers) off the tracks. I began to hate math then and never fully recovered. The death knell for math love was Algebra I and Geometry.

Our playground was a large area with a giant old oak tree that we could sit under if we got too hot, throw our coats on if they became too warm and chase each other around and around it.

Some of the children I already knew, but many of my already familiar faces were in the other class. I wonder if that was done on purpose, separating us, so that we would make new friends. I made friends that year that are still friends.

And my teacher! She was wonderful. I had no idea that her mother was the woman that lived two doors down from us, or that her brothers were my daddy’s good friends. As a child I had trouble connecting people to their family after they became adults. I remember when the light bulb came on that my grandparents were my parent’s parents!

One of the best things about my teacher, Mrs. Parks, was that she had the same birthday. If that’s not magical, what is? My mother made cupcakes on my birthday and brought them to school. The children sang happy birthday to Mrs. Parks and me. I wished for a baby brother or sister. My mother says it embarrassed her to death.

After lunch, we’d get these little cartons of ice cream with a wooden spoon on top of the lid. I loved the ice cream but hated the way the wood felt in my mouth. I tried to be careful to keep lots of ice cream on the spoon so I wouldn’t feel that texture in my mouth.

In between all these activities, our teacher taught us manners, how to behave and share in a group of other children, how to behave in the classroom, all the while getting us ready for second grade.
But that’s another story for another day!