On my first day of Kindergarten I turned around and walked back home.
Maybe if I’d have gotten that first hug from her like all the other five-year-olds entering those scary halls of learning at Tillicum Elementary School I’d have stayed but she never got the opportunity.
She’d get her chance though.
When I fell off the slide during Kindergarten recess and broke my collarbone she was there and I got that squeeze. Gently. And she dried my tears.
Chocolate milk, reading us stories till we went to sleep at nap time, of course the slide, the ever-present smile – truly everything I needed to know I learned in her Kindergarten.
When I graduated from high school she had me and all my classmates of her Kindergarteners-turned-young-
For every new Kindergarten class in the fall and every graduation class in the spring it was the same.
Whether you were with trepidation being released from your mother’s embrace to encounter hers down at the very end of the hall – ‘it’s the last room on the right’ – to which you slowly, fearfully shuffled that very first time over those polished red-tile floors, to the last time – the time when she threw a party just for you and those graduating with you, some to go off to college, some to the Vietnam War, everyone to somewhere in this big, big world – she never forgot you.
It helped having the same birthday.
She and I were both born on the same day in May. Though of course separated by many years of life’s experiences, in fact we were distanced geographically by only a couple of blocks. She lived just down the street and so at least once a year over many, many years, we’d have opportunity to exchange birthday greetings as our annual reminder crept up on the calendar.
Not only did we share the same birthday but we shared a final memory – in the same Tillicum Elementary, on the same polished red-tile floors of the same hallway that leads to the same Kindergarten classroom – ‘it’s the last one on the right’ – down which my grandson travelled last year to learn from his kindergarten teacher Ruth Jones the same things I learned – what everyone learns – when they have a teacher like those two:
Everything we needed to know.
So awestruck were Jacob’s classmates that such a picture was to be taken that they lined up as quiet as well-schooled kindergartners can be to witness the momentous occasion.
On the same polished red-tiled floors.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but nevertheless it must be rhetorically asked – especially so in Miss Luella’s example: is not the great object of education to inspire the student by way of the passionate teacher’s opening of the window to the world and, in that glimpse of possibilities, help them see what they could be; that their momentary unintelligible scribbles will one day have great significance; and that the journey of discovery begins now?
How our story ends depends most critically on how it begins.
With Luella Johnson.
Who has graduated: May 27, 1918 – March 21, 2014.