It was the first year I walked the three short blocks and one and a half long blocks to PS 94 alone. My BFF was taking several buses to a new school for smart children. I missed her. I wondered why she had to be so smart and leave me.
Everything at PS94 was big. As I would crouch in the hallway with my head tucked under my arms for the air raid drills, I couldn’t imagine those massive doors collapsing. In the fourth grade, I had the seat in front of one of those doors. Mrs. Cedar presided over a corner room, near the staircase. Rather than opposite the windows, the massive wooden closet that housed our coats and galoshes was in a narrow hallway that led to our room.
I had the first seat in the first row. Since the door was always open, I had a view of those coming up and down the stairs as well as the slop sink. Now for those of you who do not know what a slop sink is, it was a deep sink on every floor where you could go to wash your paint brushes. Usually we were sent in pairs making a trip to the slop sink a time for socialization. Likewise, you hoped for someone you wanted to visit with to be sent with you to the basement with its caged piano and scary bathrooms.
It was from that seat that I watched and observed. I was liked by my teacher and my gazing in the hall was rarely noticed. I wasn’t a favorite though. I remember the day we came back from the Science Fair. My experiment was either substandard or I made an excuse and didn’t have one. I hated the annual Science Fair. Many kids had help from their parents and had electrical wires to make a door bell ring or other fascinating displays. I don’t remember what was said to me but I remember the feel of the frown on my face. I thought it would never leave…
I don’t remember if that was the year we made reliefs of the dinosaurs or the solar system. I remember those projects but the years escape me. What I do remember is the black and white composition notebook. I probably had purchased it at the Woolworths, or maybe Alan’s Stationary store. I loved going to Alan’s, a crammed store full of school and office supplies – I’d convince my mother to let me buy book covers with Dartmouth and Yale on it rather than the paper bags that normally protected my books.
In that composition notebook, Mrs. Cedar had us journaling. We would write a one or two paragraph composition on its pages. Perhaps it was weekly, or daily, I don’t recall. I just remember the pages. One day, as I gazed in the hall, I heard Mrs. Cedar say, “Joyce, I’d like you to stand and read your composition.” I was behind. I hadn’t been writing. I thought I had plenty of time to write something and catch-up. It had been weeks since she had us read in class.
Since the frown had finally left my face, I feared it would return. I stood. I opened my black and white composition book. I turned some pages. I knew the topic that was supposed to be on that blank page. I took a deep breath, and started to “read” from the blank page. Yes, I read from the blank page. I made it up as I went along. I breathed again. I looked at Mrs. Cedar. She smiled, and said “You may sit down, that was very good.”
As we scurried to leave that afternoon, someone, I think perhaps Debbie Dennis who sat several seats behind me in row one said – “you didn’t have anything on your page?” I said, “I know. I made it up.” She smiled… I smiled… we passed the slop sink and down the stairs we went – Mrs. Cedar never knew.