The dread of the first day of kindergarten
Labor Day is a traditional line of demarcation - the end of summer and the start of the new school year. While classes already have started in some parts of the area, there are schools which don't gear up until after Labor Day.
Each year at this time, as thousands of 5-year-olds get ready for their first day of kindergarten, I sympathize with them and know the mix of joy and dread they are feeling.
Of course, for many children who have been a part of day-care or pre-school programs, kindergarten is a logical progression, but, still, for many this will be the first time away from home under these conditions.
Whether I live to be 100, I'll always remember my first day of school - that early September day in 1944 - with a certain amount of pain and embarrassment.
I went to the Lincoln building in my hometown of Summit Hill. There were to be 25 of us in the morning kindergarten session. I lived about three blocks from the school, so my mother said she would go with me the first day to make sure I got settled. The main portion of Summit Hill is just a mile long and a half-mile wide, so mostly everyone was within walking distance.
For days before, I chattered non-stop about starting school. I couldn't wait. The night before, I was so keyed-up that I don't believe I slept for more than an hour or two.
I was up at 7, about two hours before class would begin. My mother had bought me new clothes for the big day. She wanted to take my photo before we left, a precious keepsake to be tucked away for the ages.
The clothes smelled nice and new. She smiled when she saw me all dressed. "Let me see you," she said with a satisfied look. It appeared she was crying. She put her arms around me and hugged me. "Now, you be a good boy, and do what your teacher tells you," she said softly but sternly.
My father, who had already left to open our grocery store on Market Street, ceded matters such as discipline and logistics to my well-organized mother. In a rare exception, however, he told me the night before in his stern voice: Mess up in school and expect double what the teacher gives you when you get home.
The fact that my dad made this point impressed me. For all of my school days, there was one unchanging, inviolate rule in our home: In school, the teacher is the boss. Period. End of discussion.
As we left, my enthusiasm quickly turned to apprehension, then dread. As we walked past the cemetery on West Hazard Street, across from the school, I had made up my mind: This was a really bad idea. I didn't want to go to school after all. Let's turn around and go home.
I stopped dead. My mother, who was holding my hand, kept going. The momentum caused her to jerk me about five feet through the air. "What's wrong?" my concerned mother asked.
"I don't want to go to school," I said as my eyes filled with tears.
"What?" my mother asked in disbelief. "I thought you wanted to go to school." "I don't want to go," I repeated. "Come on now," she said impatiently. "This is silly. We've got to hurry or you'll be late." "I don't want to go," I said with predictable monotony. I felt a tear trickle down my face and onto my new shirt. "Look," my mother said, attempting a more conciliatory approach. "There's nothing to be afraid of; it's going to be fun; you'll see."
She took my hand and started to walk, but I didn't budge. She pulled on my arm and started to drag me as my body went limp. Then mom really got angry and rattled off three oaths in Italian. Although I can't say with any assurance that I translated precisely what she said, I certainly got the general message. I learned a long time ago not to cross mom when she's mad. Reluctantly, I began walking, but I could not control the tears which accompanied my convulsive sobs.
When we arrived at school, most of my classmates and their parents were already there. Looking polished and combed, the children were sitting upright in their little chairs. To make matters worse, I was the only one crying.
For some reason, school, which just hours before had represented such great expectations, had now become the source of paralyzing fear. I couldn't explain it then, nor now.
I was introduced to my teacher, Miss Edith Storch, who tried to console me and assure me that things would be just fine. Her smile and gentle manner were pleasant, but I continued to bawl.
My mother called Miss Storch aside. I had a vise-like grip on my mother's leg, so I was pulled along for this impromptu conference. I remember my mother asking whether she should stay, but Miss Storch counseled against it.
My mother whispered to me that she was going to leave. I started screaming, "No! No!" I don't remember what happened next. I figure I went out of my head for awhile. The next thing I knew, my mother was gone, and Miss Storch had a grip on my hand and was leading me to one of the small chairs in the front row probably so she could keep an eye on me.
I reluctantly sat down, and Miss Storch went to the front of the classroom and began talking. About five steps away was a wide-open window. I bounded toward it, climbed up on the sill and, in a flash, jumped about five feet to the ground. I was in the schoolyard. I landed on my feet, stumbled a few times, then began running as fast as I could. But where would I go? If I went back home, my mother would kill me.
Miss Storch was hanging out the window calling after me frantically: "Bruce, Bruce, come back."
She was too big to fit through the window, so she would have to go through the schoolhouse doors. This gave me a big head start. I ran into the nearby cemetery, scurried about halfway through, then ducked behind a big tombstone, out of sight. I curled up and continued to sob softly.
I don't recall how much time passed. I must have cried myself to sleep. Suddenly, I was snapped to attention by familiar voices. I looked up and saw the relieved faces of Miss Storch, my mother and the borough's police chief.
I thought I was a goner, but, miraculously, there were no reprisals, no punishment. Miss Storch asked me to come back to the class. Now, for some reason, I wanted to and took her hand.
From that day until this, I have loved schooling and learning.
(Bruce Frassinelli, son of the late Phillip and Frieda Frassinelli, is a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School. He lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)