Continued from Chapter 3: Mem Buys and Baby and a House
Susan Sakura from next door spent a lot of time that summer “teaching school” in the barn across the yard from our house. My siblings and I were her students. She was ten years old, and I was five. There at the picnic table, with my bare feet dangling above the dirt floor, she taught me how to write my name, how to color pictures, and how to say my first words in English. I thought I was all ready for school.
I eagerly waited for the bus to arrive on my first morning of school with Joey and Lizzie and with Susan and Brian from across the lane. Mrs. Sakura came out with her camera to take a picture of us. She lined us up near the mailbox, which was just out of sight of our kitchen window. She knew Mem couldn’t say yes to taking the picture if she asked permission, so she took it while Mem wasn’t looking.
When the bus arrived, Lizzie took my hand and helped me up the bus steps. I sat on one of the brown seats next to Lizzie, and we waved to Mem standing just inside the kitchen window, holding Baby Simon and waving back to us. Then with a roar, the bus took off up Hale Road. When I looked back and couldn’t see Mem anymore, I felt like an arrow had pierced my chest. As the bus kept going, taking me farther and farther away from Mem, a lump formed in my throat. I tried to hold back my tears, but I couldn’t. Lizzie told me there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, but the tears wouldn’t stop running down my cheeks.
Stepping inside the school was even scarier. There were children moving fast in all directions. Lizzie took my hand and led me to a room, and said this is where the Kindergarten class was. And then she was suddenly gone and children I didn’t know were moving all around me. I stood in the hallway outside the kindergarten classroom and felt all alone. I put my face in my elbow and cried. A woman came and talked to me in English. I couldn’t be sure of what she was saying, though I thought she was telling me to come into the room with desks and sit down. I just kept on crying. Then Lizzie was there saying, “Du muscht annah hukka.” I shook my head, indicating I didn’t want to sit down, and I said, “Ich vill de Mem — I want Mem.” I longed to be with her in the familiar kitchen, making bread with Sylvia and Sadie playing together on the floor.
Lizzie and Mrs. Maloney kept urging me, and finally I went into the classroom and sat at the desk with my name taped on the top left side. I put my head down in my arms on the desk and kept on crying. Then I heard someone next to me say, “Hi.”
When I stopped crying, the voice said, “What’s your name?”
I lifted my head and looked at a girl standing by my desk. I wiped my tears with my hands and whispered, “Saloma.”
“Mine’s Linda,” she said. She smiled at me. Through my tears I saw that she had dark hair and brown eyes, like me. Except she wore a blue print dress and a ribbon in her hair that hung down her back. I could never wear such fancy clothes.
Just then the bell rang and all the children sat down at their desks. I couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying as she passed out papers. Everyone else opened their desks and took out a box of crayons. I opened my desk and found in it a brand new box of crayons. I took them out and colored a picture of a little girl picking flowers.
I followed the example of the other children for the rest of the morning. During recess, I played on the swings with my new friend, Linda. I loved the feeling of the wind rushing past my ears and the butterflies in my tummy.
When the children in my class started lining up to get on the bus to go home, I wondered how the bus driver knew where my home was, and I wondered what would happen if she dropped me off at the wrong house. Then when I saw her driving down the dirt road toward our home, I knew it was going to be okay.
I’m sure I must have burst in the door, breathless with excitement, talking in a blue streak. But I didn’t say a word about having cried. Only when Lizzie came home later that afternoon, did Mem find out. I promised her that I wouldn’t cry again.
The next morning at school, I did cry as I stood in that busy hallway outside the kindergarten room. Mem seemed so far away. Lizzie came and told me, hastily, that I had to sit down. I tried following her, but she said, “You can’t come with me, that is the first-grade room!” She disappeared into the crowd of children. Mrs. Maloney caught up to me and gently led me to my desk. She told me, in her kindly manner, to sit down.
The third morning when I started to cry, the teacher just led me to my desk, and asked me to sit down. By then I was getting more used to school. I was learning English quickly. With no other Amish children in my class, it was English immersion.
I think now that my kindergarten experience of going into a class with no other Amish children and having to learn a whole new language and culture prepared me for leaving the Amish fifteen years later. Kindergarten was not yet mandatory even in the public school, so it was a choice Mem made to enroll me that year. I am so grateful for that now. Had I ever told Mem that this experience had prepared me to leave home, she would likely have regretted sending me to kindergarten.
Chapter 3 to be continued.