It was a long straight hallway with large marble tiles that pointed to a heavy, oversized solid oak door. There was a narrow rectangular glass inlayed in the door that ran vertically along the handled-side.
Before grabbing the handle, I peered through the narrow window and with all my might, pulled the door open. I was eight years old and this was my first day in my new school.
Every eye in the desk filled room turned at once to see whom this intruder was. Except for the teacher, Mrs. Taylor. She was dangling precariously from an eight foot step ladder which she used to access the ceiling high book shelves that filled one wall in the small classroom.
At once, my attention was drawn to her. She apparently was performing a dance number from the Broadway musical, “Cabaret” atop the stepladder. Principal Dabbs, who had accompanied me from the office to my new homeroom class, leaned over my shoulder with a slight grin whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry, she does this all the time. You should see her get wound up over ‘West Side Story’”.
Mrs. Taylor, upon recognizing visitors to her class, immediately bounced down the steps of the ladder, gracefully slid across the marbled floor and stopped directly in front of Principal Dabbs. “Thank you sir, I’ll take it from here,” she said as she grabbed my hand and made her way towards a podium that stood in front of the class. “We’ve been expecting you, please tell the class a little about yourself,” she said as she moved behind her desk at sat.
I was mortified and felt my face blushing as I stared out over the sea of desks, everyone, but one, occupied. “Well,” I stuttered, “I’m eight years old, my mom and dad moved here to this city last week. I have a new house, a new church and now, a new school.”
But, before I could go any further, Mrs. Taylor sprang gracefully from her seat and spoke as if in a pep rally, “What do we say to that, class?”
“Boring!” the class harangued. As they had surely been rehearsed in this exercise before.
“Tell us about you, try again, with feeling!” cried Mrs. Taylor.
“Well, ah, I like to go fishing with my dad…my dad has a boat you know. And, sometimes he let’s me drive it. I like baseball, too. My dad’s gonna take me and my little brother to a Astros game real soon.” I carried on, now, almost unaware of the class that lay before me.
Mrs. Taylor allowed me to ramble on for what seemed like an eternity. She finally interrupted me just as I began to describe my bicycle, but before I got to the part about the awesome ramp my brother and I were building in the backyard (to jump over tires or anything else that was deemed Evil Kneivel worthy).
Mrs. Taylor released me to my seat, “Very good, Gary,” she added. “Now, what do we think of that, class?”
“Awesome”, one kid hollered. “Great”, cried another, amid applause and one whistle (Johnny, the only one that had learned how to so far).
I moved towards my new assigned seat with much more ease than the dreaded track I had made through the large oak door only minutes before. Though I did not yet know any of the children in my new class, I felt much better because they knew me.
I made many new friends that day; some who are still my friends after thirty years. That morning, Bobby shared with me, he liked to fish too. We’ve spent many a summer afternoon fishing along the banks of the San Jacinto River. Jeff loved baseball, a passion that carried him through four years of college (with full scholarship). Ryan liked Evil Knievel, but he never broke my jump record of twelve tires from our backyard bicycle ramp.
Elementary school, by definition, is a place where one’s educational foundation is laid, where rudimentary academic skills are taught and learned. But, for me, it was the beginning of a life-long journey of learning, making friends and building relationships that last a lifetime.