First Days of School


Back to School. We had just arrived at the motel two days before with five suitcases of clothing and nothing else. The greyhound bus station was crowded and dirty. We ate in the dingy dining room at the bus station and then Mother got us a taxi to take us to the motel in a suburb of Southern California. How did mother choose this place, a suburb near Atlantic Blvd., inland a few miles from the ocean. Because there was a  church there and a church school and she was determined that my brother and I would go to church schools. She always knew how to contact the local minister of the church and found out where we could stay until she found work in a hospital.

The motel was a U-shaped and there were a few cars in and out in the evening. Our lodgings were a bedroom with a double bed, a small sitting room with a couch, chair and an electric hotplate, a bathroom with a tub that was stained with rust and a window that was so old it wouldn’t open. Mother and I slept in the bed, my brother slept on the couch. We walked to a local small grocery store and mother bought cans of soup and crackers, bread and milk and cereal for breakfast. There was no refrigerator and the manager let mother use the refrigerator in the office.

On Monday morning we got up early and dressed to get ready for our first day in a new school.
It was January and I wore a white, straight skirt made of wool, a blue sweater and a silk scarf around my neck. Mother had an interview for a nursing job and my brother and I began the 1 to 2 mile trek to the school. We had directions which my mother had written down and a little map that the motel manager had drawn for us. It started raining shortly after we began the walk and although it doesn’t rain much in Southern California when it does rain in January it pours.  After what  seemed a very long time and turning corners on new streets we realized that we were lost.    Looking at the map didn’t help since we didn’t know the local landmarks.
I kept saying to my brother “don’t worry, we’ll find it” and I kept wiping the rain off his face with my scarf. My woolen skirt had started to smell from the rain and we were both soaked. He was crying . I was trying not to cry, felt a knot in my stomach and my head had started to ache. The papers I was carrying were now very wet. Ahead of us we finally saw what looked like a school building. Concrete block with a wide lawn out front and flag pole and near the flag pole a sign that said school zone and the name of the school on a big sign in the front of the building.

We went into the office and stood at the counter for several minutes to get the attention of a lady behind the desk. We were both wet and smelling of rain soaked clothes and hair.  She asked where our parents were and I explained that my mother was looking for work and gave her our names, our papers   told her in an embarrassed and somewhat resentful voice   that we needed to enroll in school. The clerk looked aghast as if we had done something wrong. Finally after talking to several people she told me to wait and she would walk my brother  over to the next building where the elementary school was located.  He was very scared and wanted me to go with him so I again had to explain to this very short tempered woman that I would have to go with him.       I left him with instructions to wait until I picked him up at the end of the day and not to leave the school without me.  The woman and I   returned to the office and she completed the papers needed to start the first day in this new school.

I was so….. embarrassed. My wet hair was stuck to my face, my clothes were wet and I was afraid that the outline of my panties would show through the white skirt. My feet sloshed around in my shoes and my socks which were wool smelled and were sticky. Somehow I made it through that day and at the end of the day, met Tony at his classroom and we walked back to the motel. I have no memory of the other students that day. My   anxiety was so high that there are no recollections of that first week, except for the rainy day, the smell of wool and my brother crying.

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