Memories of Kindergarten
I asked myself this after seeing my daughter “graduate” from kindergarten recently. I say graduate because she will enter elementary school for the first time in the fall, away from the security of her preschool-K program that took place in a cute little yellow schoolhouse, circa 1947. Will she remember those formative experiences decades later? The field trip to the Barnes Foundation? The time they made passports as their classroom “visited” different countries? What will stick and what will be replaced by song lyrics, calculus, or grocery lists?
I attended a public kindergarten at a school on Long Island named Pine Avenue Elementary School (it’s been long demolished; it closed in 1980 and remained vacant for a while after that). The class was in a corner of the school and had two walls of windows and a wall of closets with cork board for hanging schoolwork. Our teacher was Mrs Hewitt. She was tall, thin, and had a very proper walk and way. She always wore skirts and those 1970s shoes with a cushy gummy rubber wedge.
The other kindergarten teacher was Mrs Caiola. She was also tall with short dark hair, red lipstick, and tended to wear polyester–flowery shirts and solid pants. We always heard she was nicer than Mrs. Hewitt, who could be a bit strict.
What’s sad is that the true corroboration of these memories is left to dusty boxes of old report cards. Which I have. In storage somewhere. By the way, I’m not a hoarder; I have a few boxes labeled “History of Moi” that are my personal time capsule. Unlike the New York Times, which posts all of its archives online, the same can’t possibly apply to school districts who must (and should) dedicate resources to the teachers and students who currently fill their halls. Google doesn’t cooperate; no mentions or obituaries to be found. I take comfort just in knowing those boxes are there; I don’t really have to open them. So memory is left up to what I can squeeze out of the noggin.
The principal was Dr Cicione. Pronounced chi-chee-own’. He was pretty authoritative but still a nice guy. (I’ll have a great story about him when I write about first grade!) He was blond with a mustache and wore bell-bottom suits. In 1977, he would just be considered on trend. He retired in 2009.
There was an area of our class with a pretend kitchen for playing dolls and family. It was a much simpler setup than the fancy tricked-out ones kids use today—no microwave or grill. In 1977, the toy kitchens looked like those from the 50s without being retro. The blocks used to build towers had to be 40 years old when we used them. We sat in wooden chairs at laminate rectangular tables that were parallel to each other. Everything about that class could be described as “sturdy.”
I remember learning how to make butter around Thanksgiving. We sat on the floor of the class in a big circle. We passed around a mayonnaise jar filled with cream and everyone got to shake it.
The playground, right outside our first-floor classroom, would never pass code today. The protective surface was sand–that’s pretty good. But the three bars, ascending in height, were made of steel pipes. The see-saws were really big and could result in big bumps on either end if your partner wanted. (We called them see-saws, not teeter totters). There were two large concrete sewer pipes for climbing and hiding. We certainly can’t forget the shiny aluminum slides that would scorch your bare legs when the weather was nice enough for shorts or skirts.
I can still name a LOT of classmates from that year. Our school district wasn’t all that big–our high school graduating class was just 220. Many of those classmates are currently connected via social media. But more important, I still consider several from that class of five- and six-year-olds true friends to this day. People are often amazed when I tell people I have friends from kindergarten. I say, “Why wouldn’t I?” It is a little daunting to think about the actual number of years that our friendships have endured, because then we would be old. We’re not.
One of the most memorable afternoons that have stayed with me and many of those friends to this day precedes the many occasions that were dubbed “wedding of the century.” We had our own. I can still name the “bride,” “groom,” “bridesmaids,” “priest,” and I think I can even remember the flower girl.
That, my friends, was the wedding of the century.
School ended at 3:30, and believe it or not, I walked home alone. We lived about seven houses from the gate in the fence encircling the schoolyard. But that would never happen today. We currently live TWO houses from our elementary school and our kids will get an escort to and from school. Those are the school’s rules. Kids can’t even walk home alone until 5th grade. Reminds me of “senior privileges” we got in high school. Chalk my experience up to one of those things kids from the 70s did and managed to survive.
It’s memories like these that make we want to push my kids to be kids. When they say they wish they could be grow ups to stay up late, or eat candy whenever they want, I push back. Trust me, I say, that is not what being a grownup is all about. There is some truth to their words and I don’t go into taxes, commutes, and other downsides of grownup-hood.
Robert Fulghum authored the bestseller, “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” in 1986. I started high school that year, still young enough to be a kid. Some people critiqued the work for being saccharine and common sense. The 50 short essays tackled topics including sharing, being kind to one another, and cleaning up after yourself. In other words, some might argue THESE are the things worth remembering from kindergarten. Perhaps as we age and we forget more of everything than we remember, that position holds some weight. I can think of plenty of adults who could actually stand to brush up on some of those life skills.
I hope that with the passage of time, my daughter will hold many memories close to her heart. When she was three, she could recall in detail events from when she was about 18 months old. But now, at almost six, things she used to remember from being two or three are gone. And this girl has a mind like a trap.
We all grow and evolve, to be sure. But there’s something earnest about having known people for 40ish years. With all of the names I remember, some things didn’t change. Many people remained somewhat the same. It was time before negative external influences took hold. The leaders then are leaders now. The likeable one is a psychologist today. The one who could color in the lines works in art. Sporty kids stayed sporty and excelled for years. Still other kids evolved so dynamically because they just needed time and courage to own who they became—but at their core, they were the same. It was before life got complicated, and paths diverged.
Technology was limited in 1977, and my daughter will have many more aids to keep her memories alive. But really, at the end of the day, it’s just photos and relationships. Like the Native American storytellers who kept their legends and languages alive through oral histories and cave paintings, the same goes for kindergarten. Here’s to all of us building more memories each and every day but always keeping a little brain space for kindergarten.