April,12, 2021

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     There are memory moments for every grade in life, whether that is literally first grade, or making the grade or existing on any level for a particular time. The moments become part of language unique to the individual, and you can go back and use the words again when you must, for whatever reason. They are anchors set to mooring in each of our foundations.

     I actually have such a memory moment from first grade, which was in the still-existing Sloatsburg, N.Y., elementary school. Perhaps the school was encouraging wee young ones to be responsible by giving us hall lockers, extras that you don’t usually get until middle school, if not high school. But there they were, a long line in the hallway. No locks, of course, because most first graders, at least in my time, at least me anyway, would not have fathomed a combination lock, and any key would have to be kept on a lanyard around our necks.

     Each morning, we would, as instructed, find our locker by number, itself a learning exercise, and then hang up our coats and put our bag lunches inside. No books, no homework then. We might have a pencil or two.

     To this day I associate my first-grade locker with a shiny yellow raincoat that my parents bought my brother and me. Inside was fabric that had traffic stoplights on it, and I can recall staring at those momentarily as I quickly hung up the slicker and hustled off to class.

     Don’t recall too much else about that first grade, except the paintings we did with the palms of our hands and the planter on the windowsill that looked like a head and was filled with dirt and grass seed that sprouted green hair. 

     My parents soon moved us to another school district that did not have lockers for first graders, just the usual cloakroom in the back of the classroom. So where I hung my yellow raincoat with its amazing fabric I do not know. Perhaps I left it in the Sloatsburg locker. Maybe it is still there.

      But I took the memory moment with me, and I’ve used it to pull me back to shore when that has been needed. There was a sort of security in that locker, a place of my own, where I stashed my coat with stoplights on the way toward growing up.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.