Today I’m starting a new series on my blog. I am going to post photos of different times in my life and tell the story of what occasioned them or what was going on at that time in my life. Today I start with a photo of my Kindergarten class in public school. I was the only Amish child in my class.
Click on photo to enlarge: Linda is the one right behind the sign; I’m on the far right, front row
I will never forget my first day of school.
The first bit of sun shone through the leaves of the oak tree outside my window as I awoke. I got up quickly when I remembered what day it was. I put on my brand new blue dress, my black stockings and shoes, and my new black organdy kopp. Then I went downstairs for breakfast. I was so excited, that I could only eat one little pancake.
“Can I go out and wait for the bus now?” I asked.
“The bus won’t be coming for another half hour,” Mem said. “Why don’t you play with Susie until it’s time to go out?”
I stacked the wooden blocks and let Susie knock them down. They rumbled on the pine floor.
Mem moved around the kitchen. I heard her get out the bread bowl. I looked up to see her put it onto the wooden board. “Mem, are you going to bake bread without me?” I asked.
“Yes, I am. Why? Don’t you want me too?” Mem asked.
“No, I want to help when I come home from school,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll remember that for next time. I’ll do it this morning since I’ve already started, then next time I’ll wait for you.”
Lizzie said, “I’m going out to wait for the bus.”
“Me too!” I said. I got up so fast, that I startled Susie.
While Joe, Lizzie, Susan, Brian, and I waited for the bus, Rae Sykora came out with her camera and took a picture of us all standing in a row. I hoped Mem wasn’t looking out the window at the time. She never seemed to be looking when Rae took pictures of us. I wondered if Mem secretly wanted Rae to take pictures and if it was one of the Amish rules Mem didn’t agree with. She didn’t say it, but I could sometimes tell by the way she acted that there were Amish rules she didn’t agree with.
From left to right: Susan, Lizzie, Brian, Joe, and me
We heard the bus coming, and then it turned down our road. I jumped up and down in my excitement.
I stretched my legs to follow Lizzie up the tall steps onto the bus. The bus steps didn’t look so big from the kitchen window. Lizzie chose an empty seat. Then, with a roar, the bus started up Hale Road. I looked at the house and saw Mem holding Baby and waving from the kitchen window. I waved back. I had a fluttering butterfly feeling in my stomach. But when we turned the corner onto Butternut Road and I couldn’t see home anymore, I got scared. I tried not to cry, but when the tears came anyway, I wiped them with the back of my hand. I was glad Lizzie didn’t notice. She was looking out the window, to see who was getting on the bus.
I saw mostly English children getting on the bus. At one house where the bus stopped, two girls got on. One was tall and thin, the other was shorter, with dark hair. I watched for a girl in plain Amish clothes. One Amish girl and her brother got on. The girl sat in the seat across the aisle. Lizzie talked to her in Amish. Her name was Linda. She and Lizzie were both starting first grade.
When the bus stopped in front of the school, children poured out. They were all around us, bumping, shouting, and walking. I clung to Lizzie’s hand. We walked slowly into the school, down the long green hallway, and up the gray cement stairs. Lizzie stopped in front of a room. An English woman bent down and said something to me in English. She looked kind, but I didn’t want to understand her. I could usually figure out what people were saying in English by then, but I had to concentrate on what they said and watch their expressions. All I could think of was Mem at home and I wanted so much to be there, kneading bread with her in the warm kitchen. I put my arm up over my face and cried.
Lizzie talked to the teacher, then said to me, “Du musht ana hucka” (you have to sit down). She showed me a desk in the second row with my name taped in the top corner. I sat down and looked around. I saw none of the other children were Amish. I whispered to Lizzie, “I want you to stay with me.”
Lizzie said, “I will be right next door in the first grade room,” and left.
I looked around. The short, dark-haired girl I saw getting on the bus with her tall sister sat in front of me.
The desks were lined up in rows, facing the teacher’s desk in the front of the room. Behind the teacher’s desk was the blackboard and above that were the letters of the alphabet in black letters on green paper. The room smelled of crayons and paste.
I watched what the other children did when the teacher said things I didn’t understand. When the children lined up halfway through the morning, I followed them out of the room, down the stairs, and out the back door to the playground.
There were teeter-totters, swings, a big slide, and a merry-go-round. Three girls played hopscotch and others were jumping rope. I wished I knew how to ask if I could play too. I finally took a ride on the merry-go-round that made me dizzy.
After snack and rest time, the teacher guided us to the bus. I wished Lizzie were there. I worried that the bus driver didn’t know where I lived, but to my relief the bus turned down Hale Road, and stopped at the end of the lane. I got off the bus and ran into the house. When I opened the kitchen door, Mem looked up from slicing warm bread, as its smell filled the kitchen. “How was your first day of school?” she asked.
“The playground has so many things to do! I’m the only Amish girl in my class, and the teacher is really nice and…” I stopped to catch my breath.
“Sounds like you had fun,” Mem said.
“Yes, I did!”
When Lizzie came home from school, she told Mem I had cried.
“You did?” Mem said. “You didn’t tell me. Were you scared?”
“Yes, at first,” I said.
The next morning I cried again. I had liked playing school with Susan Sykora in their barn with the dirt floor, my bare feet dangling from the bench of their picnic table. Susan was a good teacher, but I could run home and see Mem anytime I wanted. I thought about Mem doing her morning work, and I wanted to be there where it felt familiar. I didn’t listen to Mrs. Maloney talking to me in a kind voice. She tried guiding me to my desk, but I didn’t move.
Mrs. Maloney went next door and got Lizzie who said, “Du musht ana hucka.” I looked at her through my tears as she walked quickly back to her classroom. I stopped crying and sat at my desk.
When I was coloring the robin on the sheet the teacher handed out, I was sure I wouldn’t cry the next day.
But I did. I pretended not to understand when Mrs. Maloney said, “You need to sit at your desk.” I wanted her to get Lizzie. Instead, Mrs. Maloney guided me to my desk. I put my head down and cried.
I didn’t know anyone was standing next to my desk until I heard her say, “Hi.” I stopped crying and listened. Then I lifted my head and wiped at my tears with the back of my hands. The girl from my bus with the dark hair was standing there. She had on a yellow dress with pink flowers on it and a bow tied in the back. She had dark hair and brown eyes, like my own. “Hi,” she said again.
“Hi,” I said.
“What’s your name?”
I started to say Lomie, and then I stopped myself. “Saloma,” I said.
“Mine’s Linda. Want to see my desk?” She pointed to her desk in the next row.
I nodded and got up from my desk. Linda was showing me her pencil case when the bell rang and we had to take our seats.