Days to Remember

It is a late-August morning in 1965. I am standing at the screen door, clutching the only item I am required to take to kindergarten on the first day: a red-and-blue plastic mat to lie on during “resting time.” The door has one of those aluminum grates in it, a letter “B” in the middle, and I am peering outside between the bars. As I wait for the unfamiliar school bus to intrude on the familiar view through the window, the world seems a lot bigger than it ever had before.

I would attend kindergarten, first grade, and half of second grade in a classic early-20th century public school building, brick on the outside, wood and granite tile inside, huge windows, bulbous yellow suspended light fixtures. I know now that it was a normal, human-sized building, but in my memory, perspective is distorted—ceilings are a mile high, hallways are yards wide, and I’m a tiny creature looking up from very close to the floor. Which, in fact, I was. At semester break in second grade—January 1968—I moved to a brand-new building, one with all the features of enlightened 1960s design: carpet on the floors, soft lighting, and bubblers in every room (which was the thing that impressed my friends and me the most). I would spend the next four-plus years there.

A memorable day in that building came on the first day of fourth grade, 40 years ago this month (this week? Today?). My new teacher, Mrs. Goodmiller, told us about a student in our class, David, who was new in our school. She said he had just recovered from open-heart surgery. (I am guessing that he had transferred to our school because it didn’t have any stairs to climb.) On that day, I decided that I would make friends with David. We would go through a lot together—and put each other through a lot—in the coming years. We fought, rebuilt our friendship, fought again, rebuilt again. He would be my college roommate for a while, and a groomsman in my wedding. His heart trouble finally killed him at age 23, and I’ve never had another friend so close.

First day of junior high, first day of high school, first day of classes in college (both times)—not so vivid. A lot has disappeared down the memory hole, and I sometimes mourn the loss of it. When I see kids lined up at the bus stop, there’s something inside me that wants to say to them, “Make sure you remember everything.” But it’s an impulse not worth acting upon. First of all, you can’t remember everything. And second, when you’re five or nine (or 12, or 14, or 18), only one thing would seem more absurd to you than the idea that your days are worth remembering: the amount of time you’ll someday spend remembering those days that once seemed so forgettable.

I tried to find a song from 1965, 1968, or 1969 to complement this post, or something about remembering, or even school buses, but nothing really fit. So here’s one I’ve put up before. It always makes me think of Dave, and since a reader in California shared his memory of it via e-mail just last week, it’ll work.

“Dancin’ Man”/Q (buy digital version here along with other 70s and 80s dance tracks, some in extended versions)

2 thoughts on “Days to Remember

  1. Yah Shure

    Beautifully said, jb.

    As a kid, my shyness left me petrified on the first day of school each year, particularly with each building change. I’ve been asked to be the M.C. at my high school reunion next month, which will be held in the former junior high building. Having not set foot in the place in over forty-three years, it should be quite interesting to see what memories come flooding back. Hopefully, I’ll even be able to articulate them!

    For a moment, there, I was insanely jealous of the thought of you having had a Wurlitzer bubbler jukebox in every classroom. Can’t say as I’ve ever heard that term used to describe a drinking fountain before, but there’s a beautiful, though non-working bubbler at the Surf Ballroom that’s just begging for restoration.

  2. The bubbler threw me for a moment, too, though I regret I didn’t think about a Wurlitzer. I wonder if the bubbler/fountain line actually wanders along the border. Or maybe one can find culturally ambiguous folks in Taylors Falls, Minn., or St. Croix Falls, Wisc., who use both terms.

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