School started in East Baton Rouge Parish this week and most places around the state. The happiness and the trepidation are posted on social media.
As I took it all in, I reflected on my first day of school. I lived a block from the historic McKinley High School, which had become an elementary school. I thought I would be going there, but it wasn’t to be.
I had on a new shirt, shorts, sneakers, socks and underwear. It was the first time I could remember that everything I had on was new.
Before I went on my way, my grandmother reached into her beautiful handkerchief (her bank) and gave me two quarters. It took my breath away.
I was extra happy to be going to school because it had been a tumultuous summer. First, I was hit by a car as I was leaving vacation Bible school. I still had a nickel-sized bald spot on the side of my head were my scalp had been stitched together.
Several days earlier, I had set the sofa on fire in my dad and stepmother’s house. I had lit and tried to puff on a cigarette butt from an ashtray. When I was nearly discovered, I shoved the lit cigarette under a sofa cushion. You can figure out the rest.
So it was with some uneasiness that I walked down the street to meet up with my stepmother who would be taking me to school.
Still, I was so excited. We walked past McKinley and headed to Reddy (Street) Elementary, about a half-mile away.
We walked through the busy business district of what is now called Old South Baton Rouge. I was only focused on one store and one store only — Bucky Moe’s.
Bucky Moe’s, about the size of a one-bedroom house, sold everything from single eggs, to single cigarettes, soft drinks, ice cream cones, wallets, handkerchiefs, MoonPie cookies, nail clippers, canned goods, meat, poultry, cheese, sunglasses, Cherry’s potato chips, pickles … well, everything.
My stepmother took me in and I bought 2 MoonPie cookies, one for her and one for me, with two pennies I had from the day before. The two quarters were still a secret.
We walked past a distant cousin’s house, where in future weeks I would stop and wait for him so we could walk to school together. Interestingly enough, he today lives next door to that house.
We turned into a wide, long drive that was between a nice white house and a two-story white apartment building. There was a persimmon tree in the yard. I would discover later that persimmons are not figs and biting into an unripened persimmon can turn your face into a fright mask.
There were shiny new cars parked there. These people had to be rich, I thought. I filed that location away in my targets for Trick-or-Treat file. This would definitely be a place for treats.
As we got closer to the school, I could see a lot of children. Once on the campus, there were children everywhere. Bigger kids were laughing and playing. Children like me were standing with parents and older brothers and sisters.
Just before she left, my stepmother gave me 50 cents. I did not tell her about the money from my grandmother. Minutes later in the auditorium, I found out who my first teacher would be: Mrs. McKinley. She lived around the corner from me and right across the street from McKinley Elementary. I had thought that school was hers.
It was the most exciting time of my life. I knew a couple of students. One had witnessed my boy-meets-car accident. This was all new and I loved it: Sitting at a desk. Wearing new stuff. Seeing other people in new stuff. Recess. Having books.
We had lunch together and I was excited about drinking milk from a little carton.
The one negative was that I was admonished a couple times by Mrs. McKinley because I couldn’t sit still for a long period that morning. Days later it would be determined that I should not sip a cup of fresh dripped coffee and chicory with my grandmother before school.
When I got home, I exploded with how great school was. It was then that I discovered that my grandmother had not spent a day in a classroom. But what also started that day, was a few minutes set aside each day for me to identify something I had learned at school.
She also did not ask if I had anything left from the two quarters she had given me. I still had one quarter.
At the end of that first day, both me and Annie Rose could not have been happier.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly column, at firstname.lastname@example.org.