In 1921, the school system in our small town had a problem – too many kids and too few classrooms. The solution reached by those in charge of the Second Avenue Grade School was to turn an unused coal bin into an additional first grade place of learning.
Those of us who had just turned five years old were shuttled downstairs into this dark and dank place with its remodeled coal shuttle window and odors of stored floor polish.
Knowing I had been sentenced here with no chance of parole, I determined not to talk, no matter who was questioning me and at the first unsupervised recess I took off running the four blocks to my home.
Sent back in shame, I tried to slip in unnoticed with the other children, whose ruffled hair and sweaty faces from turns on the slippery slide had marked them as normal returnees from recess. That’s how the teacher knew I was a kid to be watched.
I tried to tell my parents I couldn’t find my shoes when it was time to go back to the dungeon the next day, but somehow I found myself again in that Black Hole, trying to learn a song about a hopping rabbit. Life was grim.
Then there was a knock at the classroom door. The teacher began to talk to a lady in a flowered dress who was saying something about coming from California and that she was sorry she was late. Behind her was a person dressed in white – we couldn’t see very much of this someone.
The door closed, the lady left, and the teacher push a child in beside her desk. “This is Charles,” she told us. “And he will be in our class.”
Now, the boys in our school usually wore overalls or ugly, colored short pants. This kid was dressed in a white suit and when the teacher pulled off his matching cap a shower of black glossy curls came tumbling out.
I had never seen such a vision and I blurted out without permission, “Miss Gardner can I sit with Charles?”
She was so shocked to hear my voice she pushed both of us into one desk. The sun came through the little window, the room smelled of honeysuckle and I could sing about the hoppy rabbit with gusto.
It was love – I didn’t know it then – but it sure felt wonderful.
Mary Elizabeth Mruzik