I want to extend greetings to all the rugrats who are back in school today, and especially those who are attending the first day of first grade. This is my gift to you.
(This piece is also an excerpt of a much longer piece I am in the process of writing.)
On my first day of formal education I had jam sandwiches. They had been deposited in my little green lunchbox along with an apple and a few cookies by my mother. Right from the start I hated that pale green “lunch-kit”, as my mother called it. Not sure why, but I think I may have already had my introduction to ‘coolness’ in that some kids had cooler lunch boxes than did I. They had ones with Thermoses in them, for example.
Bloody cheapskate parents setting a pattern that was to dog me all the days I lived with them. While they were the people who spawned me I often felt like an inconvenient houseguest.
“When is that kid going to leave?”
On that first school day I walked the mile-long trek up the highway with my mother and granny. I was glad my granny came with us. I’d like to have walked to school with her every day. I liked her better than my mother. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but frankly I did.
I don’t remember much about the day. I recall feeling hugely superior to the kid who was crying his eyes out and clutching at his mother’s skirts. No tears for me, crybaby. How mortifying. Oddly enough, I went right through school to the end of my senior high school year with that kid – and I never forgot that he cried on the first day of school.
The school I was deposited in was Burnaby’s Douglas Road Elementary/Junior High. It’s still there (pictured). Relatively unchanged. That’s the sort of thing that is meant to warm the heart and leave a person, regardless of age, with a sense of connectedness. While I can feel nostalgic about some elements of my past, my school doesn’t really do it. That’s mainly because I hated school for the most part. Compulsory education seemed to be some sort of violation of who I was and in being compelled to attend I was plucked from a life of sunshiny days and freedom of movement and thrust into a place of mean-spirited nastiness, rivalries, pants-pissing kids, and an inability to leave when the whim struck one.
Now, first grade wasn’t my invitation to educational incarceration. I had attended kindergarten the previous year, but it was an OK thing. It was only half-a-day and involved a lot of playing mainly and even a nap was thrown in when the teacher got too exasperated to carry on for a full three hours, or whatever it was. One particular naptime sticks in my mind. I was lying on a mat and the teacher stood immediately above me. It struck me that I could see right up her long straddling legs to the very top. What was actually up there I was unsure about, but it seemed like a nice thing to do. What this says about me at that tender age, or whether my behavior wasn’t healthy maybe isn’t worth countenancing, so let’s leave it there – OK? Anyway. I blame her. Trollop.
My memory of that first day is compromised by the passage of a great number of years. I do recall, jam sandwiches apart, that we who were literate were asked to write our names. I was quite able to do that since mine is only three letters long, so I should have been grateful my parents hadn’t named me Dominick, or something equally challenging. In truth, I could actually read a fair bit by the time I started school. Once I had whipped through my name we chatted about the rudiments of the three Rs, but didn’t proceed further. The morning was dreadfully long, in my recall. Then we broke for recess, an alien concept theretofore, and were shooed out to play on that bright September day, leaving the teacher some space for a belt of gin or whatever she did while we were absent.
Back at it after recess and we plugged along until jam sandwich time. Ate those. Sent out to play again. Back. Then the longest afternoon of my life a priori had to be dealt with. And it was. And when my mother and grandmother met me at the end of it all I was, to my dismay, informed that the next day would start the process all over again and they wouldn’t be walking me to school. Carol, the big girl from next door, whom I really liked, would take me in hand.
And all I remember about that ensuing day was that Carol, a kind of touch little minx, beat the shit out of another girl on our way up the road. I liked that.
And so it began, the first day of 12 years of public education, combined with multi years of university after that. I had little idea on Day #1 what I was letting my self in for.
Welcome to school, kiddies.