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One Photo; One Story: Second Day Of School

In trying to sort out in my mind what really happened during my first days of school.

I began to recall a room full of children, playing with toys and shapes and plush soft

animals that needed to be put away for fear of them escaping. I remember a sweet soft

talking lady telling us she couldn’t wait to see us tomorrow. I couldn’t wait to see her

either. I Loved her but I never saw her again. We left Newark, New Jersey and Our

Lady Of Good Council and moved five miles away.

The second day was a confusing mess. I have thought about that day over and over since.

I still argue, I was right for being stubborn and not saying a word and sticking to my

guns. I don’t talk to strangers and presidents get shot.

I was five and a half years old. It was a few days into the school year of 1966. We moved

a few days after the school year began so I started a bit late at Saint Peter School in

Belleville, New Jersey.

I don’t know what mom was thinking on the first day at my new school.

She left me on the first line of kids she saw, kissed me good bye was gone. I

stood there alone.

She left me in a world of strangers. I knew two things. I was NEVER supposed to talk to

strangers and presidents get shot.

I remembered the drill. “Never talk to strangers, Mark. They will kill you. Chop you up

in little bits, stuff you in coffee cans and bury you in the woods”. Over and Over this was

drilled into my head. All the while the news coverage of President Kennedy’s

assassination aired on tiny black and white televisions throughout my childhood.

When I realized my mother was gone and before I could get my wits about me,

SHE was on me, like white on rice. As if she could pick out the weakest one. She must

have been watching the school yard like a hawk. A full figured woman in a gray formless

robe and a helmet, no taller than me, wild with rage. She stood nose to nose with

me and smelled of mothballs. Her gnarly yellow teeth gritting with the

excitement of spotting me. I think I caught a whiff of Dinobile Cigars.

She began peppering me with questions.

“Who are You? Look at me boy. Whose class are you in? Tuck in your shirt. Did you

hear that bell? Where’s your tie? Answer me boy. Look at me. Answer me! I’m talking to

You boy”!! Louder and louder, the questions came. I said nothing. It made her angry.


I stood my ground. She was a strange stranger. The likes I had never seen before. If any

one was going to chop me up and stuff me in little coffee cans and bury me in the woods,

It would be this one.

Then she said the words; “I’m taking you to ‘Sister Mary Lois’”. The name filled me

with woe.

The name would scare the living shit out of every child for the next seven years. She was

meaner than a sack of rattlesnakes and owned the only spanking machine ever invented.

As if I were a hostile witness she fired off questions I didn’t hear.

“BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, mister. You’ll know what’s good for you, BLAH BLAH

BLAH….”I no longer made eye contact, hoping she would go away. Then she grabbed

my ear and I slapped her hand. It stunned her.

Uh Oh. Now I am getting chopped up, stuffed in coffee cans and buried in the woods.

She went wild. Grabbed me by my other ear with a vice like grip and dragged me up the


She was taking me to Sister Mary Lois. I didn’t know who the lady was that was pulling

me all over the school but she was not nice.

Sister Mary Lois was shorter than me. She eyeballed me and slowly walked around

checking me out. She looked at my shoes as if they would give her an idea as to what she

was dealing with or if I had super powers. Realizing I did not, she stood in front of me

and looked me in the eye and began to ask the same questions.

“Who are you boy? Whose Class are you in? Where’s your tie? Answer me boy!!! Over

and over. Louder and louder, she had a slight stubbly mustache and bad breath and I said


Surely this one was going to chop me up. Her sentences ran on and on. The questions kept coming until she

finally said something I could hear.

“DID YOU POOP IN YOUR PANTS?” That got my attention. I did not poop my

pants. I still said nothing.

Sister Mary Lois had enough, she couldn’t break me until she said, “That’s it, I’m calling

the police”.

I let out a scream as If I were being chopped up, stuffed in little coffee can and being

buried in the woods. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, I kicked and screamed and cried.

The strange ladies were scared of me now. I had lost all control of my emotions and

they couldn’t stop me. Then the phone rang.

Some how my mother’s instinct must have told her to call the school and remind them it was my first day.

Then a strange thing happened. Sister Mary Lois said my name and gave me juice. She

grew nice. No cops, no getting chopped up and you

know, buried in the woods.

Sister Mary Lois said she was taking me to meet my new friends. The first lady with the

vice like grip disappeared, I never saw her again. Ever.

We went down to my new classroom.

The classroom was quiet, children were practicing words I knew. Like ‘CAT’, ‘DOG’,

‘MOUSE’ and they were reading them out loud. I hadn’t said much at this point but I

knew these words. My new teacher welcomed me and asked me to sit down.

The teacher asked me to say the word she held up on a flash card. I read it and

said: “CAT”. She held up another. “DOG”, another “MOM”.

The teacher was so impressed she said; “Mark you are so smart, someday you’ll be

president!” “NO!!” I screamed. “I don’t want to be president. President’s get SHOT”!!!!!!

I kicked and screamed until my mother showed up. Sister Mary Lois always remembered

who I was and watched me out of the corner of her eye until the day she retired.

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