3rd grade in America, plaid lunchbox, excitement, strike & PS 185

Back in the day!

Back in the day!

We had just come home from Camp Challenge at the end of August 1968. The biggest excitement of my life was about to happen, I was to enter 3rd grade at PS 185 in Bayridge, Brooklyn, NY. 

Going to school in England had no grades. All I remember was wearing my uniform, since every school in England has to wear a uniform, assembling in the auditorium every day for “Daily Prayer”, and then going to have our studies. I had no clue what American schools were like, but I was excited.

That morning September 4th, 1968 my mum got us up probably before the sun rose. We had to have a full breakfast before we got dressed, and as usual, it was either porridge or porridge. On a good day it was scrambled eggs, which were always disgusting because she always made them soft, there’s nothing like eating soft, mushy eggs at 6:30 am, yuck! That first day we were just so excited I didn’t mind the usual porridge, with squeezed orange juice and tea. Oh but let’s not forget the most dreaded daily ritual my mum gave us; a whopping tablespoon of cod liver oil, that was enough to bring up whatever I had just eaten, I promised never to give my children COD LIVER OIL!

After breakfast the race was on; fixing our hair with pin curls from the night before, finding our paten leather shoes, making sure my sister and I were dressed exactly alike, Mum watching us brush our teeth, scrub our hands, putting our tights on and then, after finding our shoes under the bed, she made sure they were so tight with the buckles I looked like I was holding water in my feet. I don’t think I remember a day that went by where there wasn’t a bow, or ribbons in our hair. We had to look like we were

1968 to 1972

1968 to 1972

dressed to the nines, every single day. Mum always believed in uniforms, and coming from a country that only had them in schools this was going to be her way of giving us class not a bunch of dirty kids from England.

The week earlier Mum had taken us to 86th street to shop for this momentous occasion. 86th Street in Bayridge was considered the only place to shop for everything, and eating anything. There were no malls back them, but 86th Street was only 3 blocks and 2 avenues from our house on Shore Rd. Mum didn’t have a car because she never learnt how to drive in England so we walked everywhere. I was used to it. So in tow we had my baby sister, who at this time was only 2 and wasn’t going to school, but my younger sister Ka was 6 and she was most definitely going to school. We all looked like a kindergarten class, all holding hands so we never ran off. Mum always had her faithful cart she brought from England, it held enough bags so nothing had to be held in any hands.

When we moved to the states we didn’t have the right clothing. In England it was damp a lot and our summers never were hot or humid, Brooklyn was a steam bath, even in September. So we had to find clothing that was “practical”, a Pastors wife was always practical. The only shop on 86th Street that was in our budget was “Century 21”. It was very close to “Marks & Spencer’s” in England, my Mum was in heaven. It was slap dab in the middle of the street, I remember that it looked like it took up the whole avenue?! I’m sure it didn’t, but it was as close as I remember. With my Mum shopping for our clothes we never had a say in whether we liked anything she chose. If it looked good and suited the season, she bought it. Of course as little kids we were human and while Mum was finding the appropriate wear, we were running in and out of all the hangers and clothing, trying on hat after hat, we had so much fun, until we got a swat on our butts & got in order as perfect children who just arrived from England. No matter what I said I liked or didn’t like I had to wear a shirt with tights. It could be 90 degrees out but tights had to be on my legs. So Ka and I had to wear the same things, and buy the same things she did. We got a break in our top, it had short sleeves, but under it was the usual t-shirt. I think I had to wear a t-shirt until 7th grade, I was a late bloomer.

Then it came to our chose of a lunchbox. My sister got a cartoon one and why I picked a plaid one is beyond me. I think I thought “well I’m the oldest and this plaid lunchbox is very plan, I’m not into cartoon lunch boxes?” I regretted until 5th grade when I smashed that stupid thermos and got what I really wanted, “The Partridge Family”! That’s another story. In England you didn’t have the sophisticated lunch boxes with a cool thermos. We had boxes, literal boxes, but most times we just ate the free hot or cold food, in America lunches weren’t cheap and my Mum knew that. Just 2 weeks before shopping we had registered for school and found out everything we were going to expect, but the worst was finding out my sister who was 2 years younger than me was too smart to enter 1st grade and skipped it to 2nd, was I jealous, but I got over it.

We had our clothes, lunch boxes and as we were walking towards our house we decided to stop at a pizzeria and “Nesles”, which was an orange drink to die for. We never had pizza in England and didn’t even know how to eat it, I think the Italians looked at us and just laughed. My mum was cutting our pizza. Cutting pizza! We did eventually learn to eat pizza the right way and only way in Brooklyn! Time to go home, oh but Mum forgot our paten leather shoes, another stop, “Thom McCann” the only place for decent, practical shoes. “Mummy can we go home now?” Yes we were finally going home. I think we dragged ourselves home, but my Mum had the energy of a hundred women and never wavered. “Girls, pic. k it up, stop dragging your feet!” I said, “Mummy I’m so tired!” Mummy said “D you’ve been tired since the day you were born let’s go” and go we did. I slumped on the dark yellow sofa and still couldn’t stay there, I had to take every item to my room and place them neatly in my closet and dresser so I would know where everything was, we also bought the store out of every t-shirt and frilly underwear that we could afford.

So back to my first filled, hopefully excited day of PS 185 on Ridge Blouvard and 86th Street. This was it! School in America. My Daddy stayed home that day from church and decided to drive us. I was so excited I was afraid I was going to get sick! I went over my inventory, I had my pennies for a carton of milk, my lunchbox was neatly made by Mummy, my bows were tights intertwined in my pink tails and off we went. Daddy got to the front of PS 185 on that September morning, right on time and before we got out of our boat of a car, we noticed a lot of kids and their parents angry and walking away? Daddy said, “Stay in the car for just a minute, I’ll find out what happening”. Always minding my Daddy we did. He came back with the dreaded news…All teachers in the New York area in September of 1968…were on Strike! “Daddy what does that mean?” Daddy looked at us and said, “You can’t go to school until the teachers decide to teach” I know I asked a million other questions, but the end result was I cried and cried. I had tights on, a plaid lunch box, this wasn’t fair! I cried so much I remember Daddy telling me to calm down.

Unfortunately that was my first day at PS 185 and I already had a bitter taste for a school I hadn’t even attended. My Mum actually pretended for the rest of the days we stayed home to teach us and made our lunch. I was so happy, but sad I couldn’t be in a real school. Little did I know that going to school after the strike was going to be a horror in Mrs. Cozminsky’s 3rd grade class…


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