In the lazy days of the summer of 1947, mom started to speak to me about how much fun it was going to be in school. When I started. This Fall. In kindergarten.
At some point it dawned on me that this school business wasn’t a subject she was going to drop. Determined to nip this in the bud, I declared, as politely as I could that having given it much thought, I concluded that I was having quite a nice time, thank you, thus my attendance at this school thing wouldn’t be possible.
Notwithstanding my dissent, the morning of September 2 found me sitting beside my dad on the front seat of his venerable ’37 Pontiac. I guess he decided to drive the short one block over to Harvey Street School because he was also taking my friend Carol Hodgson, who lived across the street, and would also be entering kindergarten.
Following the instructions the school had provided, he just dropped us off in the playground where we were to wait until we would be escorted inside. By today’s standards it seems like an overly loose way to do things. So there Carol and I stood, awaiting the opening of the door. Surrounded by a growing pack of other apprehensive kindergarteners, to my abject horror, I suddenly noticed something else: they were all girls! Aghast, I contemplated the future of a year in which I would be the sole male in a covey of twenty or so giggling girls. Happily, my concerns were washed away when a teacher came out the door, spotted me, and informed me that I should have been dropped off at the boy’s playground which was at the other end of the school.
At that point the bell rang, and we were herded like little sheep into classrooms where we met Miss Helen Jean Wilson who would be our mentor and friend for the upcoming school year She was born to be a kindergarten teacher, and did so for 35 years, retiring in 1968. She lived to be 104 years old. A kindergarten teacher is a profession where you fall into one of two categories. Either the, “You can’t pay me enough to do this” column or the “I love this so much I’d do it for free” category. Fortunately, Miss Wilson was the latter. We sang, pasted, and undertook sundry other activities as she kept us busy the entire time. We had two daily rest periods, where we’d put our heads down on the desk. I later realized these two daily rests are for the teacher- a five year old doesn’t want (or need) the rest!
So that first morning, there we all were assembled, sitting in a circle of chairs. Well, not quite all. One chair was vacant. Miss Wilson told us that our last classmate would be joining us shortly. She told us that his name was John Trusler. She also told us that John’s dad was the Inspector for the city’s elementary schools. I didn’t know what that was, but it seemed to be important. Sure enough, about mid-morning, we were startled to hear the classroom door slam open violently. All eyes turned in that direction. Miss Wilson rushed to the door and grabbed a pair of brown-oxford shoes worn by what would turn out to be John. Holding on to John’s upper body was a short rotund bald man, his head a bright red from the triple causes of embarrassment, anger and exertion. All the while, John was flailing and screaming “No, no, no!”. He somehow managed to get a foot braced against each side of the door frame, in an all-out attempt to keep himself out of Miss Wilson’s classroom. Ultimately, he was wrestled into the room, and plunked bodily into a chair, at which point John calmed himself sufficiently for Miss Wilson to resume and Mr. Trusler to withdraw. I remember thinking: Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute here! If the inspector’s own kid doesn’t want to be here…he must have inside information about it…this school thing must be a lot worse than we’ve been told!
On a side note, John and I became good friends, and we were in the same class right through the eighth grade. It’s funny though, I never thought to ask him what his big problem was about coming into kindergarten on that first morning! But the excitement on our first day wasn’t over yet. Miss Wilson was speaking to each of us in turn, asking us to stand up and tell about ourselves – our pets, our family – things like that. One of our new classmates was a girl named Linnea Nilsson. She was seated directly across from me in the circle. Now I don’t know if Linn missed the opportunity to visit the bathroom before she headed to school that first morning or what, but in any event, when it was Linn’s turn to speak, she stood up, hiked up her skirt and deposited a small pond on the floor in front of her. I don’t recollect what all ensued after that, but it definitely disrupted the assembled class as you might imagine.
One more recollection of that first day: in that circle of chairs, my friend Carol Hodgson sat beside me on my right. On my left was a girl whose name was Carol Carlsen. I remember thinking that that the only two “Carols” in the class were sitting on either side of me. As it turned out, those two classmates sitting beside me on my first day of school would be the focus of an interesting coincidence that would occur almost forty years later.
Here’s the story. It happened in October of 1985, after I had driven up to North Bay on a Friday from Toronto to attend a weekend reunion for Harvey Street School. Incidentally, one of the organizers of this event was none other than our kindergarten teacher, Jean Wilson, then 79 years young!
That evening there was a cocktail reception at a local hotel where we got to meet a lot of people who had passed through the hallowed halls of our elementary school over the years. Each era of classes had its own chairperson to act as coordinator for the weekend events. In a conversation with this person, I inquired if she knew who had come the farthest to attend the reunion. She replied, “Yes I do – that would be the former Carol Carlsen- she’s come here from West Virginia.”
To which I responded, “No, I don’t think that’s right. We had two “Carols” in our class, but the one who moved to West Virginia was my neighbor, Carol Hodgson-now Carol Young. She married a man from Elkview, West Virginia right after high school and moved there. I’m sure of that- I knew her pretty well.” Glancing at her roster, the chairperson said, “No, it’s definitely the former Carol Carlsen who’s here.”
Naturally I made a point of seeking out this person at the reception.
I found her, and sure enough, it indeed was the other Carol. The one who sat to my left on that circle of chairs on that first day of Kindergarten. And she indeed lived in West Virginia. In Charleston, less than fifteen miles from Elkview! She had no idea that her former classmate was practically a neighbor!
Now what is the statistical probability of the only two people in our class named “Carol” both ending up living in the same community, 700 miles away. By the way, I don’t know if the two Carols ever got together!
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Ian Saunders was born in North Bay in 1942 and lived there for 20 years before a life elsewhere. He has been writing a family memoir and is sharing some of the North Bay connections in Back in the Bay Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org