Rachelle's first day of school circa 1977
This story has become legend. I remember my niece Nicole asking me to tell it to her over and over again before her first day of school. I grew up in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, on the outskirts of steel town on a dirt road, far from neighbors. This becomes important to this story as I was a smart kid, but not a super socialized kid. I am the youngest of six kids, ages spanning across two decades. When I started school, my older sister (by eight years) Denise was the only sibling still living at home. I remember that I COULD NOT WAIT to start school. I was mostly excited about learning to read as I had most of my books memorized. It occurs to me now as strange that my parents couldn't help me out with the learning to read thing. . . . as I distinctly remember my mom saying it was something I would learn in school and I COULD NOT WAIT to learn to read. Did I mention that? So, my birthday is on November 1st, which just happened to be one day past the cut off for starting school. Since I COULD NOT WAIT to start school to learn to read my Dad took care of it so I could start school. He changed my birth certificate. No big deal. To October 31st. A little white out and I imagine a friend who was a notary? I'm not sure of the details. (Make sure to read my Halloween blog as I will revisit the falsified birth certificate - that's a whole 'nother story about how I found out my real birth date - at eight years old!!!!) At this point, all I know is that I skipped kindergarten and went straight to first grade because by God I was Jim Donahoe's daughter he said I was ready. Remember that socialization part? I may have needed that. Anyway, I had a brand spanking new Raggedy Ann and Andy lunchbox and thermos that I looked at every day leading up to the BIG DAY! I also diligently practiced screwing the thermos lid on and off as it was a bit tricky for me and during the test runs, proved to be a bit leaky as I couldn't always get it quite right. This is an image of that lunchbox, that I absolutely adored, except for that shitty thermos. Now, for as excited as I was, it is strange to me that I cried almost the entire first day of school. Did I mention that there were other kids there?It wasn't just me and the teacher, which I think I would have liked because Mrs. Hall was REALLY nice. I LOVED her. My memory here is bit patchy, but I distinctly remember sitting in the school cafeteria sobbing uncontrollably when the very sweet lunch lady (not the mean one - that's another story too) asked if I wanted to sit by the little girl across from me. I remember nodding yes, not really caring, but I could tell I was freaking that little girl out. Her eyes widened and I continued sobbing while sitting next to her. I don't know what triggered the sobbing, if anything. I was just UPSET - okay? The next memory I have is back in the classroom, where Mrs. Hall is cleaning out my lunchbox because I didn't get the damn thermos lid screwed on right and milk had leaked out all over everything and I was leaving a trail of milk behind me everywhere I carried the lunchbox. Then it's after school and a lady asking me where I lived and I said "Highland Hills" and even while saying it I knew full well I didn't live in Highland Hills, I lived in Archer Heights. We drove by the sign for Highland Hills to get to where I lived. She placed me in the bus line for the Highland Hills bus and I looked over at the line for the Archer Heights bus, recognizing some of the kids I'd ridden to school with and knew that I had made a bad decision, but I felt powerless to do anything, so I fell in line as we were herded onto the bus, the WRONG bus. I sat alone with my Raggedy Ann and Andy lunchbox on the seat next to me in it's own puddle of milk. And I sat there through every stop as kid by kid by kid exited the bus, until it was just me and the bus driver. Then I finally got up, carrying my drippy lunch box with me and approached the bus driver and told her "I don't think I live here. "Ummm, no shit. Archer Heights may sound like a housing development, but don't let the name fool you. It was a West Virginia holler and I have memories of bus drivers gunning the engine and barreling downhill just to make over the next snow covered hill in the winter time. We had neighbors with tires stacked as high as their houses as a fortress to keep out trespassers and the old guy whose whole porch was made of empty soda cans with windows cut out and everything! I couldn't see another house from my yard and our next closest neighbors had their washing machine on the front porch that ran with dark grey water you could see through the glass and while my mom did let me play with the Well's kids when they came to our yard, I wasn't allowed to invite them inside. They had to be my "outside" friends because she didn't want them in the house with their bare feet and dirt streaked faces. Turns out the "Archer Heights" bus made a second stop after the elementary school at the middle school and this nice bus driver must have radioed that bus or something because when we pulled up to the middle school it was waiting and I was sobbing again. My older sister was on the bus and completely mortified. She wouldn't even speak to me. She was in the eighth grade for god's sake and I'm sure I was the height of embarrassment for her. She moved her knees to the side and let me pass to sit on the inside near the window. I remember being so relieved to see her. I didn't even care that she wouldn't look at me and everyone was laughing. Later that night we got a phone call from a little girl in my first grade class named Rhonda who asked to speak to me. She was calling to remind me that we rode bus 82, so I wouldn't get on the wrong bus again. She became my new best friend.