I don’t remember my first day of school.
But I remember lots about that first year.
Berta Simons, a tiny little woman with gray hair mounded up on top of her head in a bun. Cat-eye glasses and orthopedic shoes and an oh, so quick smile from ear to ear.
Every day I was safe in the warmth of her classroom, with the radiators humming next to the windows.
Nothing made me happier in those days more than a new box of crayons. A big chief tablet. The smell of sharpened pencils. Tiny bottles of Elmer’s glue. And a big cigar box to put it all in.
Back in those days kindergarten wasn’t required in Texas, so I didn’t go. My birthday fell in September, though, so my parents had to make special arrangements for me to begin first grade when I was only five.
It didn’t seem to matter much. I wasn’t that different from the rest of the kids.
She pointed to the end of the dog’s tail in the picture and asked us what you called that.
Every kid in the class started raising hands, some practically jumping out of their seats, as if they would implode if they didn’t get recognized.
“Rump.” Snickers all around.
“Butt.” Full-blown nervous laughter, followed by “Uuummmm!” and hands being clasped over mouths. It’s 1967, remember.
More guesses, followed by a loving “nooo,” or “not quite.”
I raised my hand slowly from the back of the room. She called on me.
“Tip,” I said.
It was one of those slow-motion moments in time, when the world seems to stop, hanging in anticipation of the response.
A response that will set a course for a lifetime.
She paused. Grinned. And said, “that’s right.”
From that day on, Tip and Dick and Jane became some of my closest friends.
Thank you, Mrs. Simons, for teaching me to read.