Wednesday, August 4, 2010

First Grade

I started first grade 2 days late in September of 1953. We moved from Penfield to Webster on Labor Day Weekend, and it was the Thursday after the Tuesday when everyone else started, that my mom got me registered and delivered to Ridge Road Elementary School. I was the new kid in two ways, both because I arrived late and because I hadn't gone to kindergarten in Webster the year before. It's interesting that I remember arriving that first day of first grade and standing in the doorway waiting to be admitted, when class was already in session. There are few really clear images of first grade still on file in my brain. I suppose I remember those first minutes because I was probably scared and because it was the first time I had come face to face with Mrs. Todd.

Mrs. Todd was a formidable presence. I doubt she was very tall, but she seemed to tower over all of us. I doubt she was that old, but she seemed ancient. She was so stern! And she dressed in old-fashioned dresses with handkerchiefs pinned to the bosom. She took my hand that first day, and, before leading me to my desk, introduced me to the class. "This children," she said, "is Gregory." I shrunk inward. I hated my first name in full form, still do if truth be told. "Greg" was all right, but I really wanted to be Bill or Bob or some other cowboy name. And there I was labeled "Gregory" on my first day of first grade. The label stuck, too. All the other kids called me Gregory. Of course, everyone else had to suffer the same formality. We called Bill Merritt "William;" Rick Walker "Richard;" Charlie Moore "Charles," and Jim Ross "James." You had to have a good non-variational name like Gary Masline to be called by a reasonable kid kind of title. All year long, we went around talking like stuffy grownups. "William gimme the paste!" "Want to play duck duck goose, Richard." Because I really don't remember what we all looked like back then, I imagine first grade populated with a bunch of miniature 17 year-olds. And we all answer to these foofoo names.

I got ahead of myself. Back to Mrs. Todd. Every morning we had to go through "inspection." She'd walk each row and make us show both sides of our hands, then smile to reveal our teeth. Finally, she would stare down into our hair. I never knew what that was about then. But the scariest thing was the way she walked. Mrs. Todd had one leg that was considerably shorter than the other. Though she wore special old lady shoes, she would still dip to one side as she she came down the row to our desks. Dip-step! Dip-step! she approached. I can see her still.

She was a wonderful instructor, I think, not being a very good judge of teachers at that point in my life. I know we all started off learning and pretty much stuck with it. And though I remember her as scary, it is affectionate fear.

I tried in vain to find a photo of Ridge Road School at Google Images. Not surprising, in that the building in Webster hasn't been a school for a long time. The last I remember, it was the property of the army reserve. That's why this post is illustrated with a photo of an "Old School."

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