The little schoolhouse where my formal education began, in Isle La Motte, Vermont, is now a bike hostel.
There was an open house yesterday, and I gleefully seized the opportunity to visit.
I was very pleased to see that the restorations have been carefully and thoughtfully done. The blackboards are still on the walls, the woodwork is all the same, the windows are the same, the bookcases are the same.
It's just that there are now several beds, laid out dorm-style, in the Grades 1-4 classroom.
That's right: There were two classrooms in this school. One room held Grades 1 through 4 -- one row of about five seats for each grade -- and one teacher. The other classroom was for the "big grades" -- 5 through 8 -- with its own teacher.
I never made it to the big-grade room. I spent Grades 1 and 2 in this school, and then my family moved.
I remember the precise location of my Grade 1 desk, and I stood in that spot yesterday. David noticed that that was the exact spot that the sun was hitting the floor through the window.
Very Biblical, whot?
Several people visited the hostel/school yesterday, but only three of them were former students at the school. And all three of those former students (plus another cousin with the same last name) share the surname Jarvis! My cousin Julie had been there about an hour before I had, and a man named Gregory Jarvis (I'm not sure of his relationship to me, but I'm sure we are related -- he went to school there from 1933 to 1941, I think) was there earlier than that. He played the guitar and sang a song or two on their videotape.
We three members of the Jarvis tribe signed the blackboard.
The owner's friend took a recorded oral history from me and Gerald ... and maybe Julie, but I'm not sure about Julie. She may have declined to be interviewed on tape.
What do I remember about this school? Well, as I mentioned, I remember the location of my 1st grade (but not 2nd grade) desk, with pinpoint precision.
I remember this corner, which was right behind my desk:
I was a good reader, and every now and again the county superintendant of schools would come to my school and sit and listen to me read to him in that corner. Heh. That right there was the extent of our Gifted and Talented Program.
The other things I remember... Well, as I was speaking, I realized there was a strong theme emerging. The only things I remember are things that were fear-induced. Damn, that adrenaline is a potent memory enhancer.
I remember the first time I walked to school. I believe it was the first time I had ever walked anywhere on my own, and it seemed so far away and SO BIG. And I remember not being sure where the school was or where I was supposed to stop. SERIOUSLY! My mother was probably SURE that I knew where I was supposed to be going and WHY, and we had driven past this spot, which is no more than a city block from my home and smack dab in the middle between my family home and my grandparents' home, no less than 34 million times, but I really honestly didn't know what or WHERE I was supposed to be going! I remember feeling so sick and frightened inside. School? What is school? WHERE is school?
And yet, I was the kind of child who never asked "why?" or "what?" or "how?" I just did what I was told, even if I didn't know what the what was that I was supposed to be whatting.
We didn't have kindergarten. And orientation? These were the days before orientation was conceived. If we had it, I was absent that day. Or something. Terrified doesn't even BEGIN to describe what I was feeling.
And I was completely unsocialized. I knew my siblings, who were all babies, and I knew my parents, and I knew my grandparents, and I somewhat knew my cousins, but OTHER KIDS? Other PEOPLE? SCAAAAAAAAARY. Loud! Boisterous! Unpredictable! They bump into me and hurt me. I was a little whiff of a thing, and unsteady on my feet, it seemed.
And they knew how to use the swings and play ball games and bump and jump, and I didn't. Yeah. That was me as a six-year-old.
A teacher? I had no idea what that was!
So I walked, very similar to the little kindergarten girl (but much less sophisticated than she, by 1,000 miles) who was interviewed by the New York Times last week. When asked how she manages to walk through the woods to get to school, she answered, "I just walk straight ahead."
When I got to the school grounds and saw and heard lots of kids ("lots" = 30, maximum), something inside me said, "This must be the place. But is it? I don't know. I'm not sure," and I crossed the road and entered The School Yard. I wandered into the yard and slowed down to the point that I might fall over from lack of momentum and adrenaline intoxication. A grownup (must have been the teacher, I suppose) came up to me and must have asked me my name and told me where to go.
That is 100% of what I remember of my first day of school.
Would you ever guess that was me?
No, me either.
And here is another memory: For the Christmas ... I don't know what it was called ... show/pageant/presentation/play ... we were supposed to memorize Christmas poems. Mine was Twas The Night Before Christmas, or at least some part of it. Except that nobody had told me or my mother (apparently) that I was supposed to memorize it. Mind you, things might have got away from my mother. My father had just died that spring, and I was the oldest of four kids. Perhaps the task of memorizing Christmas poems was just a little bit too much for all of us to take on. Who knows. But there I was, up in front of all the parents and all the kids, FROZEN and red and purple and sweating and dying and freezing and shaking, and not having a clue what I was supposed to do. I specifically remember my cousin Tony getting up and spitting out HIS lines just before me -- PERFECTLY memorized, and at 400 words a minute. And me, dying 13,330 deaths. And the teacher really liked me and was so kind and smiling and sweet. She was trying to give me cues and feed me lines. I remember one cue in particular: She kept on pointing to the windows, making sweeping, dancing gestures towards the windows and nodding to me encouragingly.
I was wondering, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU POINTING TO THE WINDOWS FOR?
"... tore open the shutters and threw up the sash."
WHY ARE YOU POINTING TO WINDOWS AND TALKING ABOUT SASHES? Sashes are like satin ribbons that the Miss America girls wear across their tops!
I was a little girl well before her time, and notwithstanding this was only 1965, I am quite sure that I said to myself:
How I made it out of that experience alive, I will never know. In fact, I might have actually fainted for all I remember. I was somewhat prone to fainting as a child. And now I think I know why.
So yeah. The school evoked some memories yesterday.
All of them good.