September of 1999 was probably the most exhilarating time of my whole entire life. It was the night before the first day of kindergarten at Sandwich Central School and I was so ready the morning. I never went to pre-school or daycare, I spent the days and nights with my mom and dad. My mom packed my lunch box with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, animal crackers, cheese sticks, a juicy juice, and every other possible snack for a spoiled kindergartner. Like every other night my mom helped me brush my teeth, take a bath, and lay out my clothes for the next day, but there was a new and exciting energy in the air. I was nervous, scared, and afraid for my first day but I just had a feeling it was going to be a good one.
I remember getting out of my mom’s Rav4 that morning. The smell of autumn lingered in my nose as I sat waiting for her to come to the back and unbuckle me. I watched her as she walked first to the trunk of the car to get my backpack, and then finally to me. She held my backpack in one hand and held my hand in the other. We walked across a paved pathway covered in worn outlines of four square and hopscotch over to where other children were eagerly standing with their moms and dads. I looked around at my new classmates and though I didn’t know it then, most would turn out to be very good friends of mine.
One of the aids at school named Mrs. Booty started to yell towards our direction in a loud but oddly comforting voice. She stood straight up in a long dress and Birkenstock sandals, with short grey curly hair and the biggest smile and shiniest teeth I’d ever seen. She told us she wanted to teach us her favorite song. “Repeat after me!” she chanted as she began to tap her feet. “SCS is the best! A head above all the rest! SCS is number 1, and we have a ton of fun!!!” Mrs. Christensen then emerged from the double door entrance to the classroom and motioned to our parents that they could let us go inside with her.
My mom grasped my hand tightly and softly said “I love you sweetie to infinity and beyond!!” like she always did, before she turned to leave. Funny how moms can give you such a sense of security. I walked into the class with the rest of the kids and took a big gander. New class, new friends, new teacher… that’s a lot for a five year old to take in all at once.
We introduced ourselves, our favorite animal and color, and talked about our families. After that we all lined up at the door and William got to be the first line leader, after Mrs. Christensen of course. We walked down the huge hallways and past the towering crimson lockers that we would someday get to use. Mrs. Christensen took us all the way down to the sixth grade wing where all the big kids went, and we watched in awe as their giant feet rushed by us.
Annie and I became friends pretty fast because we both had annoying siblings that we laughed about together. I started crushing on Caleb and Reese, played kickball with Molly at recess, played games with Cody, chased butterflies with Lindsey, and in what seemed like a week the year came to an end. I went back to SCS every year until the end of elementary school, and each year, became closer and closer to my classmates. My class had 13 students from start to finish. Some came and left. In 1st grade I lost my best friend Lindsey to a cancerous brain tumor. Lindsey and I ate chocolate flavored whipped cream right out of the can, and had matching glasses. She had to wear an eye patch and glasses when her cancer was at its worst, so I wore some too.
I couldn’t grasp or understand the concept of death as a 6 year old but I could feel it. I felt a deep hollowness in my chest but I wasn’t sure why it was there. I thought Lindsey just left for a while, because that’s what the teachers and parents and adults would say to us. They would tell us glumly that “Lindsey went to a better place” and that she “wasn’t in pain anymore”, so I thought I was supposed to be happy for her but I knew that something was going on. Even at 6 years old. After Lindsey died, we cherished and celebrated her. Our first grade class and the whole community came together and built her a butterfly garden in the heart of the campus that remains at SCS to this day. It is true that terrible things bond people closer together and that is partially why SCS is such an important place to me.
From second grade on I was playing soccer every fall, basketball every winter, and softball every spring. Every year my school routine was steady, as the green leaves of summer turned to foliage, the smell of pumpkins changed to gingerbread houses, and snowmen melted into mud. Everyone made the sports teams. You didn’t have to be good, you just had to go to practice with a grin on your face. Games weren’t competitions, they were just for pure fun. Everyone got to be in chorus and band if they wanted to be. There were no tryouts to see who the best was. Everyone’s art was displayed on the corkboard of the art room, even if your creation looked like a blob of color.
Every student at SCS was recognized for almost everything we did at school. The relationships that I made at SCS have impacted my life from the very first day of kindergarten, to today, September 12, 2013. My class of 13 kids went through life changing events, and we all worked through them together, as friends, and as a community. I remember every teacher I had at SCS, and the special bonds that we got to make with them as such a small group of kids. Growing up in Sandwich and schooling at SCS is the best thing that has happened in my life, because it taught me how to be a compassionate human being.