JFY Staff Share Theirs
Autumn in New York
by Joan Reissman
It’s been a long time since I had a first day of school, but memories have a long shelf life.
I’ve always been a clothes horse and always loved shopping. Getting new outfits was something I looked forward to every school year. It seems hard to believe, but when I was in the lower grades girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. I didn’t care. I was happy to get new dresses every year.
I grew up in New York City. My mother would take me from department store to department store up and down Manhattan so that I could pick five new school outfits. In the world before the internet, department stores were the main retail venues. We would visit seven or eight department stores to shop for school outfits—B. Altman, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Best & Co., Ohrbach’s, Gimbels, S. Klein, De Pinna.(We never liked Macy’s.) My mother was a hard-core comparison shopper, a skill I learned in our annual school safaris.
Don’t think all I cared about was clothes. I was also excited about getting a new loose-leaf binder and other school supplies. And of course seeing friends I hadn’t seen all summer. And, I suppose I should add, learning new things. Every year I felt genuinely happy anticipating the challenges of the new school year gift wrapped in the gorgeous autumn foliage of Central Park. Though the department stores are almost all gone, I can recapture the feeling of those days by crossing Central Park West and retracing my steps into the one precinct of those memories where the landscape hasn’t changed.
A Simpler Time
by Cathie Maglio
The weeks before the first day of school were always busy with clothes, shoes and book bag shopping. On school mornings, my mom was always the first one up, making sure we had a good breakfast and packing lunches to take with us. She always had the local radio station on with the news and school lunch menus for junior high and high school. To this day, I remember the announcer’s lilting voice intoning “Today’s lunch is hot pastrami on a bulkie roll.” Even though I didn’t eat the school lunches, I can still smell that pastrami.
I remember picking out the outfit I was going to wear on the first day, then walking up the street to school with all the neighborhood kids. It was an annual reunion, meeting all my friends on the playground before school. Looking back, it seems like a simpler time. It was a simpler time. And it’s comforting to remember it.
Fourth Grade Confidential
by Greg Cunningham
First days of school for me were always a mash-up of emotions: excitement to see friends again, but depression knowing that a long year of dreary schoolwork and drowsy dawns lay ahead.
The most vivid first day memory I have is starting the fourth grade. We had moved across town that summer and I was changing elementary schools. I was the “new kid,” looked upon with some hesitancy and blatant curiosity by the other kids when I first arrived outside the school. As the new student, I got to meet our teacher before the rest of my class. Oddly, it turned out that she had just transferred from the same school I had just left. I didn’t really know her, but she was a recognizable face among a sea of unfamiliarity.
Suddenly, at recess, I was the kid everyone wanted to talk to. ” What’s the new teacher like? Is she really strict? Does she assign a lot of homework?” I didn’t really know the answers, but I did my best to respond to my newfound friends in a novel environment. Thanks to the accidental coincidence, I was immediately accepted by my classmates and made many friendships, some of which have lasted to this day.
It was the second time I had changed schools. If college is included, three more changes were to come. But the other first days at new schools would be new for all my classmates as well, transitioning into middle school, then high school, then heading off to college. Other first days in new environments were far less eventful: ritualistic welcomes from administrators and faculty as we all tried to spontaneously blend in with each other. But the first day of fourth grade is the one I’ll never forget– thrilled to be the new kid with the confidential inside track.
First Step to Literacy
by Eileen Wedegartner
As the youngest child living in the small cul de sac, I was delighted to join all the other kids as they marched up to the end of the road and got on the big yellow bus. There was Lisa, Geoff, Colin, Liza, and my older sister Anne. Getting on the bus, I smiled, recognizing kids I knew from the lake near our home. I felt safe. I already knew one of the two kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Byrne. She was related to the townspeople who ran Dell Dale Dairy Farm. Her nephew was also good friends with my older brother. When she saw me walking up the path, she turned to Mrs. Lynch, my assigned teacher, and said, “Oh, you are going to love having this bubbly little girl in your class this year.” I smiled at her. My brother, 12 years older, was already a junior. He and his friends had given me the nickname “Bubbles.”
I walked down the makeshift hall flanked by a stack of cubbies five boxes long and three boxes high. Our first task was to find our coat hook and cubby, both labeled with our name and picture. We hung our jackets on hooks directly across from the cubbies and put our bags and shoes in the cubbies. From there, we proceeded to the mats in the reading corner.
The reading corner was a warm area on the other side of the cubbies. It consisted of a rocking chair for Mrs. Lynch faced by 15 mats with our names on each. There was a colorful rug too. As instructed, I sat down on my mat and looked around the room in wonder. To the left of Mrs. Lynch’s chair were a TV and a library of books. To the right were bean bags. In one corner of the room was a play area with a kid-scale kitchen – pots and pans, a table, cribs with babies. In another corner were student tables and arts and crafts. In the corner that shared the wall was the adjacent classroom with a sand table and Lego table. I was amazed. I was eager to explore, but I stayed put on my mat.
As we all took our seats, Mrs. Lynch sat down in the chair. She told us that when she raised her hand and put a finger to her lips it meant she needed us to be quiet and focus on her. She demonstrated, and we obeyed. She assured us that we would get to play every day, but we needed first to have a morning meeting and share a story. Then she told us we would meet some very special people each week – the Letter People. On this first day of school, we were going to meet the first Letter Person. With that, she held up a large brightly colored poster of “Mr. M with Munching Mouth.” He was enormous. Monstrous, even. Yet we laughed, and she showed us a video and hung the poster above her chair. Thus did we set forth on our long march toward alliteration and literacy. Thank you, Mr. M.
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