‘The First Day Of School . . .’

All across Minnesota this morning, the new school year began and kids headed off to school. The Texas Gal and I saw a few of them making their ways down Wilson Avenue – likely to nearby Lincoln Elementary – as I drove her to work. It brought back memories, of course, of the young whiteray heading up Fifth Avenue, wondering who would be his teacher and who would be his classmates.

I especially recall the first day of fifth grade. Three years earlier, my sister had been in Roger Lydeen’s class for fifth grade, and her respect and affection for Mr. Lydeen had been obvious that year, when I was in second grade. And as I headed to school, I was hoping that I would be placed in Mr. Lydeen’s class.

To my disappointment, I was not. I found myself in Mr. Johnson’s classroom down the other hall. Crestfallen, I examined my classmates, and was a bit baffled. A year earlier, there had been about thirty fifth-graders and thirty fourth-graders at Lincoln, and in an early attempt at tending to gifted students, the ten or so brightest fifth graders and the ten or so brightest fourth-graders – including me – had been placed in a combined classroom. And as I looked around at the kids in Mr. Johnson’s class, I saw that none of the other kids I’d been with a year earlier were present.

Had I been culled out of the smart kids for some reason? Maybe I’d been demoted because I’d had chronic difficulty getting my homework done. Maybe a smarter kid had moved into the neighborhood. Maybe I’d gotten dumber without noticing. Something had obviously gone wrong for me, but I had no idea what. As Mr. Johnson arranged an attendance book and a few other things on his desk, and as my classmates chattered around me, I tried very hard not to cry.

And then there was a knock on the door, and the school secretary came in and handed a note to Mr. Johnson. He opened it and read it, then thanked her as she left the room. Then he turned to me and said, “You’re supposed to be in Mr. Lydeen’s class.”

I needed no urging. I grabbed my notebooks and headed out the door and down the hall, still baffled but utterly relieved to be going where I belonged.

Here’s Joe Grushecky’s “The First Day Of School,” inspired by both his student days and his time as a special education teacher. It’s from his 2013 album Somewhere East Of Eden.

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