Not many people can take pride in spending three years in first grade. I know I would not, and truth be known, it really is nothing to brag about. Yet it was those three years in first grade that led to my success in life. I am sitting here at my HP computer, thinking; life has been good. I retired from teaching after 40 years, 20 years in special education and 20 years in regular education. I hold an Education Specialist degree in reading. I am married for over 40 years to the most understanding woman I could ever wish for, and am the proud father of a very successful daughter. Oh yes I have 3 grandchildren, and a great son-in-law. Yet my path to that success did not come easy, as I had many struggles and setbacks.
If you are interested I will let you in on why I spent three years in first grade. The year was 1954. I started school in the first grade; I never went to kindergarten, even though most of my other brothers and sisters went to kindergarten. My mother saw no reason for me to go. My first two years of first grade can be summed up in a word, outsider. My mother sent me to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic school, because we were Catholics and she wanted me (as she did my brother’s and sister’s) to have a Catholic education. Only by the second day I knew I did not fit in, I looked different, I talked differently and I dressed differently. Even though we always wore blue pants with a white shirt and a red tie, my pants were hand me downs and my white shirt looked pale yellow because of the huge amount of lime we had in our well water. I felt every eye in the classroom staring at me.
I made few friends. When we went out for recess I would watch other students play, sometimes thinking they were talking about me. I fought with anybody who said anything I took as an offense. I even felt like the Nuns were against me. One nun kept trying to get me to write with my right hand. I resisted she hit the back of my hand with a ruler. I was considered incorrigible and was sent to the back of the room or to the office. So I played hooky.
I was so determined not to go to school I threw my shoes into a hole full of water dug for a septic tank. Yet, it was my older brothers who may have had something to do with it as they did not like school any more than I did. We walked to school, so that gave us the opportunity to hide out in the woods. Every day, my mother made sure we had a brown bag lunch, and every morning we would start out as though we were going to school only to stop in the woods and lull the day away. We made little camp fires to keep warm during cool days and my oldest brother even became proficient using the sun dial method to tell time. It worked flawlessly until one day my mother received a telephone call from the principal. We all bowed down to the old hickory switch my father cut from the old hickory tree. The licking hurt but it was not enough to keep us from missing school. We missed so much school they sent a truant officer out to the house. My mother who I think at times felt like the old lady who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn’t know what to do. So whenever she saw the truant office coming down the road, she had us jump into bed. When the truant officer left she’s yell at us for not being in school. I missed over 80 days my first year, and my second year was no better. My parents even tried to send me to summer school, but I fought that too. With no other choice they enrolled me in a public school and while I felt anxious I soon felt accepted.
It was the fall of 1956; my mother enrolled me into Middlebelt Elementary school. The first few weeks you might say I established my territory. You see some boys decided to pick on me because my clothes were a little ragged, my hair was a little long, and my speech was a little slurred. But more than anything I felt embarrassed because I was so much older than my classmates. So when these boys felt the urge to pick on me, they felt the wrath of my temper. It did not take long for the teasing to stop. Some of classmates thought it was cool that I could beat up second and third graders. They did not know I should have been one of them. It was in first grade I developed a compassion for the underdog, the less fortunate, and those who had to tolerate the teasing and abuse because of their mental and physical differences. (Next struggling through grade school)