The First Day Of School

The First Day Of School
I am going to invite you on a journey back through time by way of the time travelers’ bus. The drivers of this special bus (that occasionally transport time travelers either backward or forward in time) are called memory and imagination. We are going to make two very strategic stops to two dates and events in the past.
First, we are going to traverse through time to the year of 1958. The month is early August and I am six years old. The days leading up to this day of destiny for me, especially the night before, had been consumed and possessed by anticipation, excitement, and a little anxiety as a little six-year-old boy whose world was very small and restricted. I did not know what the first day of school would be like. I had heard my three older brothers talk much about their experiences at school, their classmates, teachers, and even a few of the things they did at recess. These big brothers of mine had done a thorough job of feeding my mind and imagination with many things, whether true or false, about school. Now that my time and day had come to start school as a first grader, it would be an experience that I would never forget. If my memory serves me right, it was my oldest brother who was given the assignment to escort me to Gordon Elementary School where he was attending as a sixth grader. Back in those days, the elementary wing of Gordon School only went from first through sixth grade. All seventh graders who lived in Newtown and adjacent areas had to attend Maple Elementary School (located on Beauford Quarters). Having been dropped off, I met my teacher and most of my classmates for the first time. I already knew a few of them because they lived not too far from me in the neighborhood where I stayed. Howbeit, it was not any of my fellow classmates who helped to make my day and calmed the agitation and uncertainty that had seized me leading up to this eventful experience. It was my teacher, Mrs. Ernestine Robinson. Her friendly and smiling face, coupled with words of encouragement to us, inspired and assured me that I was going to be alright in this strange and very unfamiliar environment. There were a lot of firsts that I had to quickly get used to doing that I had never done before. One of them was how to use the bathroom (that each of the first-grade classes had in the very back of the classroom). I came from a home where we had neither indoor water or a bathroom, but a hand pump and outhouse. Consequently, simple things like using the commode, flushing it, and washing my hands in the sink were a challenge. For a while, I tried not to go to the bathroom during the school day, but had to succumb to the urgency and need to go. It took a little while, but my common senses finally prevailed and using the bathroom became a breeze. I will never forget that first day of school that laid the foundation for my entire twelve years attending one campus (from first through twelfth grade).
The next day in time that we are going to fast forward to was early August of 1965. I had spent seven years in the elementary wing of the campus of Gordon School and the previous year, as a seventh grader, I became a part of the senior class. Now that I had graduated to the eighth grade, it would be a whole new beginning interacting with all upper classmen who were much more mature and physically developed than my fellow sub-freshmen (as we were called back then) and I were. To add to the challenges that I would encounter on this first day of school, there was a convergence of five groups of sub-freshmen from all over the county – like different tributaries of a river that flowed into one body of water. There were students from Minturn Grove Elementary School in Minturn, Whittaker Elementary School in Little Rock, Hamer Canaan Elementary School in Hamer, Maple Elementary School located on Beauford Quarters, and of course, Gordon Elementary School. This conglomeration of eighth graders, along with the rest of the student body of Gordon High School, was easily the biggest gathering of people that I had ever experienced in my life. The mere size of the mass of people who had gathered in the gymnasium on this first day of school was both captivating and intimidating to me. I truly felt insignificant, inadequate, and even insecure to be in the midst of all these strangers and a few upper classmen of notoriety (who were known for their exploits as athletes). Starting with the eighth graders, each student’s name was called to come up to the front where his/her homeroom gathered around their teacher. They exited the gymnasium together en route to their homeroom class. Most of the students in my class were complete strangers from various elementary schools in the county.
This first day of school in early August of 1965 was truly a landmark experience that rivals my first day of school seven years earlier as a first grader.
After all of these years, both of these experiences are etched in my memory and I often revisit both of them for they seem as real today as they were back then.