Friday, June 12, 2009

Fall, 1939

Tests have been administered and final grades assigned. Movement up the stairway of formal education has been granted or denied. Shouts of joy or groans of frustration have been visited upon myriad students -- and parents. Graduation announcements have been sent, gifts and cards purchased, ceremonies attended. Those so inclined and financially able to do so are in the throes of preparation to enter an institution of higher learning in a couple of months, most with excitement, some with trepidation. Others wonder and worry about where in the world they are going to find jobs.

The bright yellow buses are stilled, housed in huge warehouses for repairs and maintenance. Neighborhood streets are full of children on skateboards, bikes, motorized scooters and (gasp) afoot! The local recreation center swimming pool is open for business. Basketball goals have been dragged from behind garages to the edges of driveways and makeshift teams of players take turns trying to make baskets and stay out of the way of sometimes impatient motorists. Boom-boxes play on carports and in back yards until the curfew hour, with an occasional passing motorized juke-box breaking the stillness of the night.

All this school-related activity called to mind my first foray into the public (U.S. style) education system. The year was 1939. In September of that year I had reached an age sufficient to admit me to kindergarten in El Paso, Texas. We lived just far enough away from the school that my mother decided that I should ride the city bus from our one-room apartment to the school each morning, although I would be allowed to walk home after school. I think that she knew that my curiosity sometimes caused my attention to wander, and being a little late getting back home in the afternoon was preferable to being late to school.

She and I rode the city bus to the school when I went to be enrolled. During the trip, Mother went over and over the procedures for paying the bus fare, appropriate behavior while on the bus, and where to get off --- and so on and so on. She accompanied me to my classroom, where I met the teacher and obtained a list of supplies needed (tablet and pencil was about it, as I recall). Then we walked from the school back to the apartment, with Mother going over and over the exact route I was to take, stopping at cross-streets, looking both ways, etc., etc.

The next morning, I caught the bus at the nearby corner, sat up like a big girl, minded my manners, and got off the bus in front of the school. The red-brick school building had one story raised about eight to ten feet above the lot, and a large, partially below ground-level basement. About a dozen big steps (at least they looked that way to a five year old) led from the front walk upwards to the main floor.

With tablet and pencil and (probably) lunch box in hand, I started up the steps to begin my first day in school. I was so excited! However, standing about half-way up the steps was a huge boy (must have been a sixth-grade student) who challenged me, in fact, barred my way with outspread arms and said in a loud voice"You can't come in here!" I think I tried to get past him; after all, I had to go to school! But, try as I might, he continued to forbid my entrance!!! So...

...I turned around and walked home.

That my mother was astonished to see me is an understatement. When I told her what had happened, we got on the bus and went to school again. It was then that I learned that kindergarten was down the steps at the side of the building. Only big kids got to go up the steps onto the main floor. After explaining to the teacher why I was tardy on my first day, Mother went back home to care for my two siblings who had been left in the charge of the landlady.

I don't remember anything else at all about my first day of school, but there are other things that I do remember about that school year, and those, perhaps, will be other stories. I might even write about why, to this day, I can't stand the taste nor smell of Pet Brand evaporated milk.

23 comments:

TSannie said...

I cannot imagine any 5 year old I know today being capable of riding a city bus or walking home. Times have certainly changed, and not all for the better.
A lovely story and I can't wait for the Pet Milk saga!

Arkansas Patti said...

Well written story Pat and not the ending I imagined. That first day of school can really make us realize how much we have to learn and rarely is in books but how to navigate life.
Love your bus trip and walk home alone. I did the same thing (walking to school) and in those days, there weren't the worries we have today.
I only too well remember Pet Milk. We stuck to that junk long after it was necessary and I used to beg to eat at friends houses that had "real"milk.

NitWit1 said...

Great. Reminded me how Daddy tutored me to walk to school and back, staying out of people's lawns-walk on the edge of the road, etc. And Mother was always waiting for me at the gate. There is poem about a Mother waiting at the garden gate for the return of her child.

I want to hear about PET MILK.

When we were in Morocco, there was no safe fresh milk from any animal.

The commissary had "reconstituted" pasteurized milk, which I assumed was powdered milk. YUCK.

rhymeswithplague said...

Very good, Pat! I enjoyed this account of a thoughtful and resourceful 5-year-old who, when faced with an insurmountable obstacle, came to the right conclusion, trusted her parents and did what she had been taught to do.

I'm holding my breath now until you write about Pet milk.

Pat - Arkansas said...

TSannie: Thanks for the visit. Yes, times have changed... a lot. There is no way I would put a five year old on a city bus alone these days, to go anywhere! It's bad enough to see young children standing in the (sometimes) pre-dawn hours waiting for a school bus to take them twenty or thirty miles to the other side of the county so that racial balance in the schools can be maintained. What used to be "neighborhood schools" (to which MY four children walked both ways, a matter of only 10 blocks or so) are now populated not by the children who live in the surrounding area, but those who have been bussed in from who knows how far away? There's something wrong, wrong, wrong, with the education-delivery system!

Pat - Arkansas said...

Arkansas Patti: After leaving El Paso, I walked to whatever school I attended until I was in junior high. The nearest JH to us was almost 5 miles away, and so I did ride the city bus (cost a nickel)to school each morning. But old habits (and greed) die hard, and in reasonable weather, I would spend my nickel on a treat and walk the five miles home in the afternoon. The walk also allowed me to avoid some after-school chores which then fell to my unfortunate younger sisters who were schooled nearby. Heheheh!

Pat - Arkansas said...

NitWit1: A mother (not mine), waiting at the gate, is a featured character in my Pet Milk story, which I hope to write in the next few days.

Re: Milk in Morocco --NO safe fresh milk from ANY source? What were they feeding those goats? Or was it just general lack of sanitation that caused the problem? I'd love for you to write about that on YOUR blog some day.

I'm actually rather fond of reconstituted dry non-fat milk (Sanalac brand only) if made extra strength and served ice cold! It, or just about anything else is preferable to the evaporated milk that shall be unnamed... for now.

Pat - Arkansas said...

rhymsie (if I may be so bold as to borrow that sobriquet from Jeannelle, and, yes, I did have to look up how to spell that correctly, shame on me): Thank you for assuming that I was thoughtful and resourceful at that early age. I think desperation had a big part to play in my decision.

Breathe in! Breathe out! Otherwise, you won't be around to read the Pet Milk story!

jinksy said...

What an intrepid little soul you must have been. Thanks for this picture of another world far removed from the hurly burly of today.

Pat - Arkansas said...

jinksy: I actually was rather fearless until I reached puberty and began looking more like a girl. I think I looked like a small Dutch boy until then: a skinny, washed out brown blob with lots of freckles, bobbed hair with bangs; totally unappealing to anyone with mayhem on the mind.

Snap said...

Wonderful Pat. That first day of school can be such a chore!

Patty said...

I can't even remember my first day of school, guess it didn't make an impression on me. LOL In fact I can't remember much before the third grade of school. Have no idea why.

1939, I was 3 years old. That seems so far back now.

Snowbrush said...

You were given evaporated milk to drink? Was it reconstituted?

Peter said...

I can remember my first day at school, and my last, and there are days and moments in between that I wish I could not remember!

I also remember my first day at Sunday school, which was more fun than the days that I referred to above. I was three at the time, and I was put into the church Sunday school rather earlier than most children, I think we were supposed to be 5 years old and above, but I was big for my age, and I think that my dad was probably one of the teachers at the Sunday school. (I have an impression of a large room with children all sitting in a circle, and the teacher, a woman, wearing yellow.) Near the end of the session, the teacher asked us if any of us had a prayer that we wanted to say. One of the boys recited the children's rhyme, Humpty Dumpty ("Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...., etc") and ended it with a big Amen. I remember feeling very happy at this form of praying!

Pat - Arkansas said...

Peter: Love your Sunday School story. At least Humpty Dumpty would is acceptable in Sunday School, some other things not as much so. My three or four year old eldest daughter, when asked by her Baptist Sunday School teacher if she would like to sing a song she learned at home, belted out the commercial TV jingle for Busch Bavarian Beer! I have to admit, it had a catchy tune, but we had to leave town to escape from that story!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

What a wonderful story...I felt your excitement as well as disappointment on that first day!!! I used to walk to school as well...but kids could never do that today without an adult...times have indeed changed!! And Pet Milk? Is there anyone who likes it? I'll look forward to your story...as I look forward to reading all your posts!!! ~Janine XO

Suldog said...

Heck of way to start your first day at school! The big dope! He couldn't have explained to you WHY you couldn't go in that way? He deserves a dope slap even this late in the game!

afeatheradrift said...

Great story Pat. You write well too. I recalled my own kindergarten days. I walked the two blocks. My aunt lived across the street however and was the school bookkeeper, so I always had a safe haven. Fond days, the building is torn down now I think. Memories are so precious. Thanks for helping me remember.

Hilary said...

I love the nostalgic feel to your first day of school memory. I'm always amazed at how much detail you recall. I can't remember this morning's breakfast.

Jeannelle said...

Oh, my goodness...what an surprising first-day-of-school memory! And, well-told, dear Pat. I echo other commenters in saying I cannot envision a 5-year-old in this day and age being able to negotiate city buses and streets alone.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Cute story, Pat. You were doing just what your mother had told you to do, hadn't you???? Wonder why the man didn't tell you to go down instead of up??????

It's so funny what we do remember from our childhood. Isn't it amazing how much times have changed. We could walk anywhere in our town and feel safe. 'Taint so these days!

Great story.
Hugs,
Betsy

Marvin said...

I reckon my growing up in a small town where most everything was within walking distance had it's advantages.

[BTW: The Baptist Church seems to have outlasted Busch Bavarian Beer despite your daughters infraction. :-)]

Rose said...

A wonderful memory to share...I really enjoyed it. We had a pretty good walk to and from school...now, it probably would not be safe for a 5 year old to ride the bus alone or walk home. Really sad to think about.