As much as I hate to admit this, it was — gasp — 50 years ago this month that I set off at 4 years old, in my little blue plaid dress with matching hair ribbon, for my first day at Gouldville School.
Some aspects of that day are still clear as a bell. When we entered the kindergarten classroom, our teacher, Mrs. Mary Smith, welcomed us all with her wide smile and vibrant voice. We sat at our little desks and began learning about colors. I remember watching her write on a big easel pad with Magic Markers, and couldn’t wait to have my own set of markers because I just knew I’d magically be able to write like she did.
Of course, that took a bit of time.
One day after school that fall, my mom and I sat down to watch a fun new program on MPBN. Yes, I saw the first “Sesame Street.”
Those were good years. My grandmother went to Gouldville, as did my mother and aunt, so there was tradition there. I remember sounds: the bells, of course; the familiar squeak of the wooden floors; the cacophony in the cafeteria. I swear I can still smell the sweet, lemony floor cleaner old Mr. Taylor, everyone’s favorite “buddy,” used; the mimeograph fluid; and the new-ink smell of books opened for the first time.
In the winter, our goal was to be allowed on the fifth-grade “snow mountain,” that huge pile of pushed-back snow from the snowplow. All corners of the playground had them, but the fifth-grade one was, of course, The Biggest And Best. If you got away with playing on it in a younger grade, you had achieved a major coup. When you reached fifth grade and it was “your” mountain, well, you ruled the world.
Our teachers led us through the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, then launched into lessons. We made take-home art projects, did neat science experiments, wrote and solved math problems, learned to print and envied those in higher grades who were learning cursive. We read ever more challenging books, thinking we were cool when we read our first “chapter book.”
At recess, we played “Red Light” and “Mother, May I,” tetherball and four-square, or “Shipwreck” if we were inside. These were actual games that involved movement and interaction.
We didn’t have rubber mulch under the playground equipment then, and climbed on steel monkey bars. Somehow, we survived. We scraped our knees and elbows on the asphalt, and after a Band-Aid from the school nurse we were off to the playground again.
We had real knives in the cafeteria and no one thought twice.
We had police officers and firemen come to the school to talk to us, and no one ran scared.
We had student patrol members who guided the younger kids across the street safely.
There might have been a rare playground scuffle, but utter rage and threats on life were unheard of.
We had fire drills. We didn’t have active shooter drills or instructions about lockdowns.
While it is sad that we must have these things today, how much we have learned to keep kids safe. There are things going on around us that we can’t turn our backs on, but sometimes the greater challenge is to live life in spite of it all.
So take a lesson from grade school. Go ahead, be a kid again. Splash through a puddle. Run over a pile of leaves just to hear them crunch. Count the colors in an Aroostook sunset. And — though we may grumble at the fact that the white stuff will come sooner than we wish — vow to conquer your own “fifth-grade” snow mountain.
Paula Brewer is the assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times and St. John Valley Times, plus websites TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (207) 764-4471.