Now that I’m 188 years old (just kidding) I have a tendency to forget some things; but there are some things, I can tell you, that none of us ever forget. Which things? The ones that came as such a shock that they were immediately imprinted on our brains, never to be forgotten.
The Chinese have a special curse: “May you lead an interesting life.” They got it exactly right. Read on.
I don’t remember much about 1938 on Staten Island. I was 6 years old, and the only thing I remember about it is just one heart-stopping morning.
Mom had walked me to school when I was in kindergarten, but when I entered the first grade she judged that I was old enough to make my way to Public School 16. She was right too; there were about a dozen kids in our neighborhood that went to good old PS16; so it wasn’t as though I was alone each morning.
However, one morning during the fourth week of first grade I stepped outside and none of the usual gang was in sight. That worried me! Mom had hurried me along a little that morning; and so when I saw an empty street I was worried I was late for school.
Off I zipped, not wanting to have the teacher yell at me the way she had yelled at one of the other kids who came in late. To make matters worse, all I saw as I hurried along were streets with no kids on them.
“Oh, boy!” I told myself. “I’m in big trouble!”
Man! Did I cover ground! My two little legs really moved; but as I neared the school and saw an empty playground with its 12-foot-tall locked gates locked, where there was usually a mob of kids having fun before the school doors opened, I redoubled my speed toward the wide brownstone stairs leading up to the large front doors of the “old building,” whose third floor held my classroom.
However, when I reached the top of those stairs a big old sixth grade girl standing there reached out and grabbed me. “You can’t go in!” she told me, frowning. “You need a note or teacher’s permission!”
Well, I hadn’t had much practice lying, but I improvised as well as I could, “I have teacher’s permission.”
“OK,” she said, letting me haul open the tall door and squeeze inside, where I instantly put it in high gear, buzzed up the spiral stairs, and stopped dead as I peeked into my classroom.
What a shock! My heart nearly stopped as I saw that it — and all the rest of the rooms — were empty!
“You’re not late, you bonehead!” I told myself, half paralyzed with fear. “You’re early!”
All kinds of thoughts went through my head as I realized that I had lied my way into the school, and the only way back out of it was past the big old sixth grade girl I had lied to. Plus which, any teacher I happened to run into inside was going to yell her head off at me if she saw me.
Half dead with worry, I began to explore. It took me many long panicky minutes as I ran through unknown hallways, and up and down stairwells that echoed with the sound of my shoes. And when I finally managed to escape into the schoolyard I found myself locked inside those huge gates.
You should have seen what I looked like after I squirmed under those gates!
Next week, more happy adventures.