Sawdust and a Bucket: First Day Memories

This came 24 hours ago from a man living in the cap city region of New York state:  “I’m reading your blog today post while waiting for the incoming freshman class to wander, meander, stumble, and eventually find their way into my classroom for their orientation. OK Back to work! (signed) Chris.”

God bless Chris, he’s a teacher. I know this,even though the two of us have never met.  

And God bless his incoming freshmen class. Today it was their first day of school.

From time immemorial the Wednesday after Labor Day was the first day of school for most everyone – until in recent years those cruel horsemen the retailers decided to push Christmas shopping every earlier, using powerful reins to cruelly yank the whole calendar back toward early fall,  the bit in our poor mouths tearing at our delicate cheeks aaaargh!

But back to the first day of school:

Can you remember it? And if so what do you remember?

I remember standing between my mother’s legs as she tried to contain my curls in 1,000 tiny elastics, little fat milk bottles smelling faintly of cheese, the sawdust brought in by the custodian to mop up the breakfast some poor child

I remember that the simple sight of the lunch my mother had packed me brought tears to my little eyes.

I remember how I suffered after walking back into class from the bathroom with the hem of my dress tucked up into the waistband of my underpants.

I remember our 8th grade English teacher pronouncing poetry “poytry” that very first day and then trying to get us to do the same.

Now what DO you remember? 

I wrote Chris back and told him to be sure he ate a good lunch, because – just in case you don’t know this – if you think sitting in one of those little desks is hard,  try being the person standing in front of that big desk, who, period after period , day after day,  has to make the magic happen. 

A prayer for all the teachers then, at the start of  another year!

10 thoughts on “Sawdust and a Bucket: First Day Memories

  1. I remember too those little glass bottles of warm milk that we paid 3 cents to enjoy, yuckk!! Never enjoyed milk since then.

    I also remember the beautiful Collette, dressed like a Bon Marche manikin sitting next to me in the first grade on day one and saving the janitor a nasty job by opening her cute little purse and…………. well, enough said. I really felt bad for her.

    After that it was all cool!!

    1. I think we learned compassion early in elementary school: all those bodily functions gone awry. They would have fit us well for our so-called golden years if only adolescence hadn’t got in the way, or Greek dualism or the story of Adam and Eve as we heard it, or whatever it was that taught us to recoil and feel shame about the body… Thanks for this sweet portrait!

  2. The “first day” is true magic, Terry. I had 59 of them as either a student or teacher. When I stood at the “big desk” and looked out into the faces of the newcomers, they reflected many of the emotions that I had on my first days as a child. As both student and teacher, you wonder doing those initial moments just where this path will lead. The experience was wonderful, and the memories are fine!

    PS: My first morning of Student Teaching was one I’ll never forget! We didn’t have much college field experience back then and that “maybe I’m getting thrown to the wolves” feeling set in just after I announced, “Hello. My name’s Mr Davis!”

  3. Miss D’avilla was the name of my first grade teacher, a very pretty woman with dark shoulder length hair curled into a page boy style. My third grade teacher saved all her comments about her students and when she passed away a few years ago, her husband, in response to the note I wrote to him sent me copies of the nice things she wrote. Fourth grade brought me to the classroom which was run by the school’s principal. She was stern but only used the rattan on boys. I remember one boy so frightened of it that he tossed his cookies in the hallway (I still gag when I hear the sounds or see the results of an upchucking); when he came back with reddened hands and eyes, children made fun of him. I was the smallest in the class (always) and stood up on my desk to yell at the kids who were making it worse for the boy. Then I was accused of “liking” him. It was only compassion; I could never stand to see a person ridiculed and humiliated. Not that I praise myself; it was something God put in me and can’t be denied or ignored. That principal sent a card with a nice letter inside on the birth of my first child. I wrote back to her and was saddened when I read of her death some years later. Teachers have the chance to instill such good character into their charges in the classroom.

    1. what a memory you have Andrea and isn’t it something that you stayed in touch over the years with your teacher. I;m also amazed you were a defender of the mocked and marginalized even way back then . 🙂

  4. College registration 1966, 67…when “paper was king”. It took days, we had to stand in long lines, wait hours to get to a desk and hear “the class is full, next!”

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