I was six years old, with pigtail braids down my back, when I began my first day of school.
Our school was tiny: one teacher, one room in the basement of a little country church house.
I took my lunch box, and my thick cream sweater, and a dimpled grin, and my big brother Johnny. My parents dropped us off in the morning, and told us they would send our friend Kenton, a single man who was living with us at the time, to pick us up in the afternoon.
I do not remember what my parents told me. Be good? Have fun? Make good choices? I do not remember what my teacher taught, what maths or languages we studied. But I do remember the end of the day.
For some reason, three o’clock found me upstairs in the coat room, perhaps packing up my books or finishing a cleaning chore. Through the window I saw our van drive into the church parking lot, with Kenton at the helm. Excited by the return of the familiar, I stumbled down the stairs into the classroom, pigtails flying, shouting “JOHNNY!! KENTON’S HERE! THE VAN IS HERE!”
My voice fell crashing into the startled silence. I sensed a firm hand on my shoulder, guiding me toward my desk, and the low, calm voice of my teacher saying, “Why don’t you stand right here for a moment, until I dismiss you?”
He did not raise his own voice, or even look surprised, God bless him. A bruised reed he did not break. I stood quietly in my place, not as shamed as I might have been, my world still intact. But after that day I knew not to shout in quiet places.
I was six years old, with pigtail braids down my back, when I finished my first day of school, and I remember what I learned.