Going back to first grade

Published 11:00 pm Friday, September 6, 2013

If I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I can bring back that first day of school just like it was happening all over again. I can feel the warmth of Mama’s hand as she walked me up the steps to the schoolhouse. I can smell the lingering whiffs of the sweeping compound used to clean the floors and hear the squeaking of the wood as we walked down the hall.

I was in “Miss” Barney Burnett’s room. She was a short, round, soft lady with white hair and glasses. She looked like my grandmother, who was 100 years old, too. I liked her right off.

The windows were raised and I could hear the birds singing and see the leaves on the big, oak tree dancing in the late summer breeze. I knew some of the children in my class because we went to Sunday school together. I knew that I was going to love school.

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We just registered that day – Friday – and Mama said that I was going to have to wait three whole days before I went back to school. After the weekend, there was Labor Day. That was a holiday, Mama said, so we wouldn’t start to school until Tuesday.

On Saturday, Mama took me to town to the dime store. She bought me three yellow pencils and a pencil trimmer, so I wouldn’t cut my hand off trying to sharpen my pencils with a knife, and a box of color crayons. I got a blue writing table with a picture of a horse on it. But the best thing was a book satchel. It was red, my favorite color, with blue trim and had buckles on it.

I was a proud schoolgirl.

Two of us sat at a table with places underneath where you kept your books and money for recess. Betty Kay and I were at a table together. There was a playhouse in the back of the room but I liked going outside. The playground was magical with two metal sliding boards, a huge swing set with board seats on chains and you could stand up and pump so high that you could almost go over the top.

The monkey bars were my favorite thing. At first, I just walked one bar at a time. But then I started skipping a bar. After the blisters healed on my hands, I set my mind to skipping two bars and got bragged on for that.

At recess we got chocolate milk in a glass bottle and soda crackers and then got to go outside and jump rope. The rope was made out of cotton and had knots tied on each end. We said rhymes when we jumped except for hot peas, when we were jumping too fast to rhyme. When you got out, you had to turn the rope. That was fun, too.

At play period, which was my favorite thing about school, we played drop the handkerchief, squirrels in the tree, farmer in the dale and statue. And, if we played nice and didn’t “chop,” we could play red rover.

The rest of the day, we learned things.

Back then, little children didn’t have to learn to read before they were off the bottle or learn their multiplication tables before they were potty trained.

Our reading books had big bright pictures and were about a boy and girl named, Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot. “Run, Dick, run.” “Run, Jane, run,” “Run, Spot, run.” “See Dick run” …. The book never did say why they were running from or where they were going. I wondered a lot about that.

Every day, Miss Burnett read us stories and told us stories. That was my very favorite thing about school. She said the most important thing was for us to be good listeners. We’d had practice doing that. Back then, children were to be seen and not heard.

Miss Burnett had a little boy named, Sweetpea, and she told us stories about him. I loved Sweetpea and wished he was my friend.

First grade was my favorite grade. Miss Burnett let us be little children. In second grade, we had to learn “cursing” writing and I had to take piano lessons. I socked a mean little boy in the nose and made it bleed and had to stand in the corner with my hands behind my back.

Standing there in the corner, I closed my eyes and pretended that I had not started to school when I was five and that I was back in first grade with my soft, sweet Miss Burnett.

Now, after all these years, I can still close my eyes and I’m right back there in first grade again. It’s almost as if I never left.