I was living in Scotland when my two little friends from down the street started first grade. I wasn’t allowed to start with them because my 5th birthday was one day past the cutoff. My mother spoke to the headmaster, but he was a stickler for the rules.
My mother was determined, though. She found out what textbooks the school was using and where to buy them. She asked my friends what they learned each day and she worked with me at home. A couple of months into the school year, the old headmaster left, and my mother went in and talked to the new headmaster. Voilà! I was in!
I have two memories at this school. I was standing in line to approach the teacher’s desk to ask if I could go to the bathroom when I wet myself. Teacher basically told me it was okay to butt in line if it’s urgent.
A better memory is making watercress sandwiches on buttered bread. I remember it as being very good, but it’s been 50 years since I had one, so I can’t vouch for what I’d think of it today.
I started 2nd grade in Scotland, then halfway through the year, we moved back to the States. I attended two more schools in second grade and two schools in third grade. Maybe three. I forget. Thus is the life of a Navy Brat.
At some point in 2nd or 3rd grade, one of these American schools wanted to put me back a year. After all, I technically started 1st grade when I was four, so I was a year or two younger than most other kids in my class, plus I was small for my age. Again, my mom stood up for me. She saw no reason for me to repeat a grade. She had skipped a grade in elementary school herself, which may have informed her decision that my age didn’t matter.
This time of year, we see so many first-day-of-school photos and reminiscences. My first-days really don’t stand out, maybe because there were so many of them.
Things finally settled down in high school. I did most of 8th grade and all of 9th grade at Gordon H. Garrett High School in North Charleston, South Carolina. Then my dad got stationed in Panama City, Florida. That’s a hop, skip, and a jump from my parents’ hometown of Pensacola, so the plan was that my mom and I would live in the house they built when they first got married, and daddy would live in our motor home in Panama City and come home on weekends.
I didn’t want to leave Charleston. I had friends and I was happy. We lived in a mobile home on a little cul-de-sac in a trailer park, and I knew the neighbors. I was 13 going on 14, and I tried so hard to convince my parents to just leave me there, and I could take care of myself. Of course, they refused.
So, I transferred to Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola. I did make some friends, although many of them were in 11th grade, closer to my own age. I got involved in chorus and several clubs. My senior year was kind of a washout in many ways. I mean, the French club always took a trip to France until I joined. No one asked me to prom. The yearbooks came in late, after seniors’ last day, and we weren’t allowed to pick them up until we returned our gowns after graduation, so I didn’t even have a chance to get it signed.
Our class has had several reunions, and I’m always surprised that some people actually remember me. I don’t feel like I was memorable.
Thinking about school days always makes me rather melancholy. The bad memories tend to stand out. It’s just such a different experience than my parents had. My mother went to Brentwood Elementary School in Pensacola, Florida through 7th grade. (I went there, too, in parts of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.) She went to Clubbs for 8th grade. She did the last four years at Pensacola High School. Some of her classmates she knew her entire life, either from living down the street or going to the same church or from school. Her senior class (1954) was the first to attend and graduate from the “new school” on Maxwell Street, which is still in use today (2021).
My senior class at Washington (1982) was supposed to be the first to attend the “new school” off Airport Boulevard, but the building wasn’t ready in time, so rather than move us in after the year had started, they let the next class get the honors. My old school is now a district administration building and bus depot. Nothing to be proud of. Nothing to be excited about.