I clearly remember my first day of school. In those days, my public school had two years of kindergarten which was called junior and senior kindergarten. I started junior kindergarten when I was three years old. I was going to turn 4 in October and I believe they weren't as strict back then as to age as they are now. I don't remember being scared at all. I wanted to ride the school bus and go to school. My sister and I would always play school -- she always got to be the teacher since she was older. I remember my mother telling my sister to bring me to the right classroom.
I remember my sister holding my hand and taking me down this flight of steps to where the junior kindergarten was located. At the door she quickly let go of my hand -- mission accomplished -- no pep talk or reassurance -- she'd done her duty.
I remember the classroom had hooks along one side where you hung up your coat. There were big tables, an area for rhythm instruments and I remember the boys who would shove in front of everyone would always get the cool instruments and the shy ones like me would be stuck with the very uncool "rhythm sticks" which were nothing more than two sticks you hit together.
I remember my mother bringing in cupcakes for my 4th birthday and how strange it felt to have my home world and my school world collide by seeing my mother in my classroom.
We had fire drills, of course, and there was a bathroom attached to the classroom -- and we'd go in the bathroom and then have to crawl out this window for the fire drill. The teacher, Miss Brubaker, was a large woman and she never crawled through the window, but rather left the class and joined us wherever we were on the lawn. I was always worried that in case of a real fire Miss Brubaker wouldn't make it using her alternate route.
Later on, we'd have fire drills and I remember my second grade teacher telling us that we can never stop to get our coats because, "Your parents can always buy a new coat, but they can never buy a new you." Made sense to me.
And then we'd have air raid drills too. And the bells would be different so you'd know if it were an air raid drill or a fire drill. At first we would crouch under our desks, but later the system was changed to we would all line up in the hall way, lining the walls, with our faces against the wall. In those days, it made perfect sense, but I wonder what the hell they think this would do since we were within the area of impact if New York City was hit with an atomic bomb. Somehow facing the wall would protect us? From what? Our faces could melt and adhere to the wall, no doubt. But we did it. With no talking, of course. I don't think we really understood what an air raid drill was.
I really loved that elementary school. It was built in the 1920s, this imposing, official, commanding building. Like what banks used to be. When you first entered these huge front doors, there was a rotunda, with a world globe in the middle of it. I thought it was a huge area until I returned as an adult and saw just how small it was.
The other thing I often think about is the total unsafety of the playground. All concrete and hardness and I may have written about this before, but in addition to swings, see saws, jungle jim, there was a "fire pole" where you had to be in 3rd grade to use. You'd climb up this metal ladder and when you got to the top, there was no guard rail or anything and you'd lean forward, over open air, and grab the "fire pole" and wrap your legs around it and slide down. I'd say it was about 20 feet. I don't ever remember a kid falling or getting hurt on it, but I don't think you'd see a fire pole today.