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Prompted By Kindergarten

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School picture – the photographer posed each of us holding a crayon

I already knew how to read when I got to kindergarten. I could write my first name in capital letters. I also knew colors and numbers and days of the week. This was partly because my sisters thought it was fun to teach me, and partly because, as the third child in the family, I just picked things up on my own. So I should have been bored in kindergarten, but I wasn’t. It was fun to be around lots of other kids my age, since there weren’t any in my neighborhood. Plus there was this little boy named Casey who was kind of cute. . . .

I went to a school called Number Three School, a big, three-story brick building about a ten- to fifteen-minute walk from my house (with five-year-old legs, maybe twenty minutes). It served kindergarten through 8th grade, so my sisters, who were in 6th and 7th grade that year, were both still there. They would walk me to school in the morning and home at lunchtime. Then they would go back after lunch, but since kindergarten was only a half day, I got to stay home with my mother in the afternoons. In case you’re feeling sorry for my sisters for having to walk me home, I should tell you that there was no cafeteria at the school and everyone went home for lunch. I have no idea what the kids with working mothers did, if there were any.

My teacher’s name was Mrs. Sturges, and she seemed ancient, although she was probably younger than I am now. She had gray hair with a purplish tinge to it – all the older teachers at the school had purplish hair because they used something called “bluing” which was popular among women with gray or white hair in those days,

(Note: A quick internet search yielded Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, still being sold today, marketed as a laundry product, but with the following note on its website: “Countless letters from elderly citizens tell us that Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing is a wonderful addition to the rinse water when washing gray or white hair. It eliminates yellowing and gives their hair that beautiful whiteness which cannot be obtained even by products made especially for that purpose.”)

It must have worked as promised, because those teachers’ hair certainly never looked yellow, but it did look slightly purple and I wondered if they didn’t realize it, or if they liked it like that.

Although I have very vivid memories of first grade the following year, and reasonably good memories of nursery school the previous year, I find that I don’t remember anything about what we did in kindergarten. Except for music. That must have been the activity I liked best, or at least it was the only one that was memorable. We all gathered around the piano and sang while the teacher played. (I am wondering now if kindergarten teachers were required to be pianists in those days.)  Sometimes we sang songs that we already knew, and sometimes she taught us new songs. When there were new songs, I would always position myself right behind her, so I could read the words of the songs over her shoulder. That way I could easily sing them the first time through, and also I didn’t ever have to memorize them. Mrs. Sturges never noticed that I was doing this. One day, we had a substitute teacher, a younger woman, and she saw it immediately, coming up to me after music was over and saying, “you were reading the words to the songs, weren’t you?” I said yes. Apparently she never told Mrs. Sturges though.

At the end of the year when I got my final report card, promoting me to first grade, it said “Reading Ready.” My parents and I got a good laugh over that.


Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    You were, not surprisingly, a precocious reader, Suzy, though surprising Mrs. S. never figured that out when you were singing songs. That has no doubt led directly to your current leadership role at Retro. Manifest destiny, no?

    Also not surprising that you would have an early interest in music. And that is a very sophisticated picture of you, though the crayon sort of gives away the age. Perhaps you should have insisted on a quill pen instead.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love that photo of adorable you, Suzy. Also, the picture that emerges of a confident learner and one who knew to place herself in just the right place behind the piano so that you could learn the words to the new songs. How clever!

    I’m sure we had music in kindergarten, but I don’t remember much going on until First Grade in my school.

  3. Marian says:

    This is great, Suzy. What was it about kindergarten teachers in that era who knew how to play the piano and had purple (or blue) hair? Describes my kindergarten teacher to a T!

    • Suzy says:

      There must have been some young kindergarten teachers somewhere, but I certainly never saw any. My first grade teacher, on the other hand, was fresh out of school and very excited about her first year of teaching – and she had red hair!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, was that a Polly Flinders dress? What a cutie! Even as a what would now be labeled “kindergarten ready” kid these days because of your academic skills, you knew it was still fine to have fun and spend time learning to interact with kids your age. That piano thing has come up in several posts. I think teachers did have to know how to play piano back then. I have a vague memory of friends who went into elementary education taking piano in college.

    • Suzy says:

      It WAS a Polly Flinders dress. I used to get one every year. I also put my daughters in Polly Flinders dresses, although not the same ones, unfortunately, because my mother didn’t save them. But she bought new ones for my niece (now 42), which came to my older daughter (now 34), then my younger daughter (now 23), and back to my niece for her daughters (now 11 and 6). Everyone has worn them for school pictures!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember getting my daughters matching Polly Flinders dresses. They seemed pleased because they were little but it was a bad idea. When the older one outgrew hers, the younger one refused to wear the same dress again. You can probably relate to that!

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I certainly wore many hand-me-downs. I think there may have been some instances where my 2 sisters had matching dresses, and I wore first one and then the other. I was so much younger that we were never all in matching dresses.

  6. Ah, a kindred spirit, Suzy: my Kindergarten experience, too, is a fuzzier memory than nursery school and first grade. Ours was a walking school, too. I doubt anyone had a walk of more than about four blocks (there were many, many children in the neighborhoods.) Good story.

    • Suzy says:

      Our house was right on the line between two different school zones, which is why it was such a long walk. Technically I think we were supposed to go to the other school, but my parents thought Number 3 was better, so they insisted we go there. On rainy or snowy days my grandfather drove us to school.

  7. What a lovely look at what public schools were like, back in the early years of our post-WWII hegemony! A piano-playing teacher, walks to and from school. No cafeteria, assuming that all children would be nourished. We were born of a significant time, at once moving ahead through stability into change.

    I have suspicions about your terrific photo. Are you sure you weren’t the editor of Retrospect back then? Was that crayon red?

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