Miss Lee And Me

Posted: Monday, August 18, 2008 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
Comment | Trackback Bookmark and Share

I talked with two of my granddaughters in Lincoln, Nebraska on Sunday to wish them well on their first day of school this week.
6 year old Zoey is starting the first grade while 18 year old Allison is one of the fresh new freshmen at the University of Nebraska. She arrived on campus over the weekend. Mom and dad were there too helping her settle in and saying their good-byes sort of stunned at the realization that their baby girl wouldn’t be going home with them.
Even though Zoey already has a couple years of pre-school and kindergarten under her belt, you can bet her parents..mom especially..will be shedding huge crocodile tears Wednesday morning when their only child..wearing her Hello Kitty backpack..gives them each a hug and..with the school bell ringing in the background..happily skips off to begin a new exciting chapter in her young life.
I have rather foggy memories of my first day of school at Volga in 1952.  There’s a home movie showing  me on my bike peddling off to the school house three blocks away but I sure don’t recall mom being terribly sentimental over my historic departure. That’s probably because she had to run back into the house and start cooking up something for my brother and me to eat when we peddled back home for lunch a couple hours later.
The more I think about it, though, there are some things about that day that keep rising to the surface of my memory. The strong smell of floor wax as I walked into the building. The smiling face of the guy who waxed those floors, custodian, Clayt DenOtter who..for the 12 years I knew him through school.. always seemed to be holding a large dust mop in his hands. The squeak of the wooden stairs as me and a group of kids I’d never seen before walked up to the second floor and were pointed toward the 1st and 2nd grade classroom in the northeast corner. I remember entering the brightly lit room filled with little desks and hoping to find at least one familiar face sitting in them. And there he was, my friend Dixon Hoberg who lived just up the street from our house. He gave me a nervous little wave. A row over sat Lynnal Annundson..another neighbor.. who had a big smile on her face appearing anxious for the adventure to begin. I also spotted my cousin, Diane DenOtter who looked particularly terrified.
I suppose we were all a little scared to be bunched together with so many strangers.  At the tender age of six the only other kids I had known to that point were either relatives or classmates from First Lutheran Church Sunday school.
And then…there she was..the most stunning sight of all; our teacher, Miss Lee,  standing in front of her desk at the head of the classroom. She was like no woman I’d ever seen: tall, slender, statuesque, dark haired wearing a silky blouse, pleated black skirt and bright red lipstick. Nothing at all like mom or any of my cheerful heavy-set aunts whose wardrobe consisted mostly of  gingham dresses.
      I was in second grade when this photo was taken.  I’m square in the middle of row two; the only kid who wore a sport jacket for picture day. Dixon is in row one..second from the right. Lynnal is on the far right of row three, cousin Diane is in the center of that row and at the left stands my very first teacher, Miss Lee.Miss Lee broke the ice by having each us stand up, say our name and tell a little about ourselves to the rest of the class. She carefully went over the things we’d be learning in the year ahead and at recess time she even taught us some new games to play. By the end of that first day no one felt like a stranger anymore or quite as fearful about day two.
I imagine that Miss Lee (I never did know her first name) is long gone. I wish now that I’d had the chance to tell her thanks for helping ease us all across that threshold from awkward kid to promising young student.
I hope Zoey and her fellow first graders are so lucky.

Leave a Reply