Trials and tribulations of 1st grade memories

Pat Van Dyke Columnist, The Friday Flyer

Pat Van Dyke
Columnist, The Friday Flyer

Back-to-school sales! You gotta love them! This is the greatest time of the year. Lots of bargains in Walmart: new backpacks, sparkly folders and notebooks with a pledge from each student to keep their locker, notebooks, backpack and folders spotless.

When you count up my “First Day of a New School Year,” I have had 64 of these days beginning in my 1st grade year (I didn’t go to kindergarten) and ending with my retirement as principal. Which means 64 times, I have had a clean desk, new binder, and a new lunchbox complete with a smashed Twinkie.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Twinkies and Hostess chocolate cupcakes with the white squiggle on the top. But I have always questioned if anyone really ate Hostess Sno Balls or did they just sit on the shelf, day after day, month after month?  Even the cream-filled chocolate cake in the middle did not redeem the awful taste of the giant pink marshmallow covered with coconut.

Every fall, I have a flood of memories from my elementary school years flash back into my mind. I remember in 1st grade being so excited about the opportunity to learn to read, but by the time I finished reading my first book, I realized that the heroes, Dick and Jane, led a very dull life.  All they did was “Look and See.”

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the church in which I attended 1st grade and found things almost exactly as they were 60-plus years ago.

The drinking fountain where we sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” was gone, but my classroom was still there! I entered, pulled a chair to the back of the room, and sat down. Yes, this is it, and this is where I sat!

Why the back of the room?  All of you with the last names beginning with a “X,Y or Z” will understand. I was a “W” and spent 12 school years in the back of the room with the “Xylanders, Yates, and Zylstras.” We were always the last to get our lunch, last to be excused to recess, last to go to the library, and worst of all, last to use the restroom pass!

But when it came to poem recitation, it was a blessing. One-by-one the A-Vs would stand in the front of the room and quote the required poem. That gave us at least 40 minutes of extra time to memorize that same poem, unless the teacher “pulled a quick one” and did it in “reverse alphabetical order.”

As I sat in that room, I could smell new crayons, peaches and pink erasers. While I was taking in all of my memories, my brain started to play tricks with me and I was sure that I could hear the voice of Miss Brink, the dreaded other 1st grade teacher.

For those of us who were chosen to be in Mrs. Green’s room, Miss Brink was the “mean teacher.” The students in her room would try to convince us that she was actually quite pleasant. But we knew better! We knew that she put a secret potion in her water fountain that messed with their brains. It had to be true because Sammy, the boy who ate the white paste and said it tasted like mashed potatoes, told us so.

Just the thought of “Miss Brink” brought terror into the heart of every 1st grader in Mrs. Green’s room. You see, Mrs. Green was like a grandmother. But Miss Brink? Our mouths would become dry at just the mention of her name!

I had my first confrontation with Miss Brink one day at recess. My friend Pearl and I were racing each other into the restroom. The rule was “no running in the halls,” but when you had to go, you had to go!

Miss Brink took us both by our arms, opened the gigantic hall door, and marched us into Mrs. Green’s room. She gave us her best evil look and said, “You will sit in your seats with your head on the desk until recess is over!” She left the room.

I sat there considering the need to put my head on my desk? That was a strange request, but a comfortable one. I fell asleep.

A few minutes later, Miss Brink entered the room and ordered me to sit up straight. I tried to explain that I was only resting, but the drool on my desk gave me away.

This entire confrontation with the dreaded Miss Brink was confusing. Put your head on your desk and sit up straight? She must have thought that we were contortionists. But as a “somewhat obedient” student, I knew that I should at least attempt to grant her request.

Miss Brink did not think I was funny when I fell to my knees in an attempt to “sit up straight” and laid my head on my desk. She had no sense of humor.

This would have been the perfect time for Pearl and me to “make our break,” but Pearl didn’t understand my communication attempts, so I returned to my desk, sat up straight, made funny faces at Pearl, but still “had to go.”

Suddenly, my walk down Memory Lane was disrupted by Pastor Pete saying, “Where are the restrooms?” The restrooms? How did he know that it was there that my life of crime had started? Was he forcing me to return to the scene of my misdeed exactly like Jessica Fletcher does to the guilty person in “Murder She Wrote”? He’s been watching too many TV crime shows! He knew I was guilty!

I stood up straight and tried to look as innocent as possible while he followed me through the same huge door, which strangely had shrunk to less than half its size over the past 60-plus years.

But all was not lost. This time, I entered the restroom following Pastor Pete and shouted, “Look, Miss Brink, I’m going into the restroom without permission and I’m following a boy!”  I finally had my day in court!