Mom and Dad always were amused when recalling my first day at school. I came home at dinner-time after a miserable morning and was told I’d like it better in the afternoon.
“Oh,” I said in some dismay, “have I got to go again?”
The traumatic First Day was made no easier by the noble heap which was Christ Church School. The two-storey building had been built by the Victorians out of red brick which had instantly absorbed Wolverhampton’s grime – so it had to be put behind cast-iron railings which had straightway rusted beneath their black paint. Of course, it was claimed that the railings were to prevent children running into the road outside – but I knew better . . .
I don’t think I’d been well-prepared for that first day. Nor, for that matter, for any of my schooldays.
Mom took me down to Leicester Street and there were other mothers doing the same with their children. We kids avoided looking at each other, partly from shyness, partly from strangeness.
We were met by the stately, navy-blue headmistress, Miss Evans. She was to loom large in our lives over the next few years. She had gold-grey hair and never smiled, even when a child brought her a bunch of flowers. She would take the flowers, put them to her nose, and say the usual words of gratitude but no light came to her face. Some time later, I learned that she had no sense of smell, so perhaps that explained it.
Miss Evans led us briskly into a classroom and very quickly dismissed the mothers. I was sat near Dennis and Joan Hart who had been at school for a few months because my birthday fell in the middle of a school year. They both wore bright red jumpers and smiled because they knew what school was all about. Dennis had a runny nose.
I cried a lot and kept turning round looking for Mom. But she had disappeared. My first teacher, Mrs. Jones, concerned and loving though she was, failed to appease me.
And so it was, day after day, that I missed my Mom and needed appeasement. It got better, of course, as we heard tales of the Little Brown Elf and, later, could manage “Do you see Rover, Kitty?” on our own in our Beacon Readers. Yet I never lost the feeling of intense homesickness during my whole school life.
Often, I had to be dragged down the road, and prised away from various pieces of street furniture, to which I frantically clung, by Mom, Gran’ma, Auntie Rene – or any combination of all three.
* * * * *