I look at this famous cartoon of the kid trying to get into school by pushing on a door that says “pull” and it takes me back to the day I ran to this school in the picture, to meet me big sister who I was pretty sure would be getting out of kindergarten any minute.
I was only three but I knew the way all right: up Charlotte Street and right on Blue Hill Ave., cross McClellan and there was the Endicott School. I found it fine. I got to the big front door. Then suddenly this giant Fourth Grade boy who’d been sent out to clap the erasers opened the door, looked down at all 35 pounds of me and snarled “Get outa here kid!”
Terrified. I turned and ran, across McClellan, clear past Charlotte Street where we lived, across Esmund, Wales all the way to Talbot Ave. and halfway to Mattapan, even as my entire family began the manhunt, searching in drainage ditches, garages, even in he in-ground garbage cans we all had in those days (Step on a pedal and the lid yawned open to reveal a maggoty metal bucket that a city worker weekly lifted out and carried to his reeking truck.)
I was my mother’s miracle-baby, come all unexpected at the last possible moment. I was the last link to the handsome husband she had lost 18 months into the marriage – AND I looked like just him.
She was more than frantic. She called the cops, little knowing I had been saved by then and was walking along Blue Hill Ave. next to the baby carriage of a Polish woman who spoke only Yiddish – she couldn’t understand me, I couldn’t understand her, but she had bought me an ice cream and I was fine.
The family didn’t know that of course. My poor 45-year-old mom, her pretty younger sister Grace and all three of the octogenarians we lived with: all had fanned out in different directions. Then at some point the police brought home another lost kid, the cop carrying the wailing child up our front porch stairs – just picture the howling and drama then!- but finally angelic Aunt Grace, driving 5 mph down Blue Hill Ave. in her Nash Rambler, spotted my curls and I was found.
I talked about this alarming episode for weeks on my way to bed. “I runned across the streets so I wouldn’t get runned over,” I kept explaining to Mom so she would see how sensible a person could be even at three years and three months.
You’d think all that trauma would have put me off school. It didn’t. I loved school, the fresh smell of the pencil shavings, that good white paste so salty and satisfying on the tongue, the obeying…. All you had to do was obey in school and how happy the grownups were! Who knew how much more would be required of us as adults?