Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nostalgia Or if your Yard is a Mess, Feel Better

When the Matron was a Wee Miss, she skipped kindergarten and went right into the first grade, thanks to Era of Looser Policy and the very fine brain which is still serving her well (except when the hypochondriacal lobe takes over).

The week before that momentous event, Wee Miss's mother -- just 26 years old with three children - practiced the near-mile long walk to and from school with the great big 5 year old Wee Miss! Every day, Mother and Wee Miss walked down a long dirt driveway, took a right and walked 10 city blocks, took a left ("Where there will be crossing guards on Monday, I promise"), turned a sharp right on their heels at the corner, crossed a street and went right up to the front door. Then they practiced going home: straight to cross the street, quick left, turn left and walk 10 blocks to the driveway.

Wee Miss knew those steps as intimately as she knew her invisible Bear Family that went everywhere with her: Papa Art, Mama Jane, Little Art, and Janie. These bears were always at her side, rustling up trouble and going on tremendous Odyssey-like adventures that offered Wee Miss hours and hours of entertainment and escape.

Of course, only when she got older did she appreciate the deep-sea plumbing of the human psyche that gave allowed her child-self to give the imaginary family the names of the family she longed to be in -- that of her wealthy Uncle Art and Aunt Jane. But that's another story.

On the big day, Wee Miss - adorable as all get-out in a gingham dress and black patent leather shoes -- confidently waved good-bye to her weepy Mama and headed down that drive way. Right. March, march, march. Left. Cross the street. Sharp right! Cross and in!

She did it!

Wee Miss had a rock star first day! She adored every last little thing about Education -- from the graham cracker snack to the endless supply of Intellectual Task. Truly, mostly the Task. Indeed, forty (ahem) some years later, and she's still in a classroom.

At the end of the day, the class lined up and two straight lines of untested lives obediently trudged to the doorway, where the teacher set them free.

Wee Miss frowned. This doorway didn't look familiar. This spot? Was this the same door she entered?

It had been a long day and she was of Great Faith. So she crossed the street, took a sharp left to cross another, turned right and started walking.

And walking and walking and walking and walking and walking and walking and walking.

By the time she got four times as far as ten blocks, she knew she was in trouble. She knew she went out the wrong door. Wee Miss, five years old in blue gingham and braids, stopped walking and stood deep in the middle of a great big city with no idea where she was or where to go.

The Matron so remembers this little girl's feeling! She was horribly afraid and really wanted her mama, or at least to sit down and have a really BIG cry. But Wee Miss was overcome with certainty regarding her situation: she must take charge and be very very wise.

As she stood there, thinking, an idea came to her -- the idea came in so perfectly, all wrapped up and shining and singing to her: do this, do this!

Wee Miss decided she would find somebody else's mama to save her. She knew a mama was the key. So she started looking at yards, houses, sidewalks to see which ones held toys. Wee Miss actually walked past a few trim yards with a lone trike or doll. Insufficient evidence. She wanted guaranteed-bona fide Maternity by the barrels!

Finally, she saw the house! The yard was a wreck! Toy guns, buckets, shovels, balls, dolls, wagons, trains, trucks and tea sets! A mama lived here, for certain!

Wee Miss carefully climbed the stairs and rang the bell. Five children flew to the door at once.

"Mama! Mama! There's a little girl at the door! She's lost!" Children parted like the Red Sea and Moses appeared.

That mama swept up Wee Miss in a great big hug that was nearly the child's undoing. She handed her a cookie and poured the milk.

"Your poor mother is probably a nervous wreck!" The Mama lit a cigarette to contemplate. No Wee Miss didn't know her address or her phone number. All she knew was straight left, left, step.

The Mama slapped the table. "That's what we'll do! We'll drive to the elementary school, go to the right door -- why, we'll go to all the doors if you don't recognize one -- and we'll follow those directions!"

Then she stood up and her perfect, beautiful self said: "Let's go find your mother."

And they did! They piled in a station wagon like puppies. Drove to the school where the Wee Miss quickly identified the right door. And before they were five blocks down, the street was full of flashing red lights and patrol cars -- and her Mama!

Hard to say who suffered most --the Mother or Wee Miss because both were pretty much puddles, as was the woman who saved the day. She and Wee Miss's Mama hugged for a long, long time.

And the next day, Wee Miss walked to school alone--with a note--and her teacher brought her to the right door.


Becky said...

Lord, Mary! That is a grabber! I felt like I was lost in the city with Wee Miss!

I don't know if I would have been able to let you go off to school by yourself again after that.

Jenny Grace said...

That was some fast thinking from the Wee Miss!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I'm sure this comes as a shock to the Matron. Prepare. When I was in Kindergarten, I too got lost. And the similarities in our stories do not end there.

I went to Hilda's house to play after school. Hilda's mother (who spoke no English) announced that the play date was over, and it was time for me to leave. I did not know how to walk home from Hilda's house. Hilda's mother frantically shooed me out the door. And then down the street.


But I knew that if I could get back to my elementary school, I could get home. So I looked for houses with tell-tale signs of children. Then I practiced my speech. And then I knocked on doors. A woman finally answered one. I said, "I'm a little girl who's lost. If I can find my way back to Beethoven Street School, I will be able to find my way home." The woman invited me in, but, of course, I knew better than to go inside of a stranger's house. So I waited on the porch while she fetched her son (age? high school? college?) to walk me to my school.

And once I was in front of the school with the nice young man who had walked me there? My hysterical mother in drove up (she'd been combing the neighborhood in search of me), and then came screeching to a halt. She saw me with that man, she screamed at him, pulled me into the car, and sped away still screaming.

When all had been explained, Hilda's mother got a telephone call and an earful -- an earful a word of which Hilda's mother probably didn't understand.

I suppose this could have been a post on my own blog, but here it is conveniently nestled in your comment section. At least for now . . .

smalltownme said...

This makes me cry. (So does Cheri's story.)

But the Wee Miss was brilliant.

witchypoo said...

The Wee Miss had the smarts and the composure to deal with a difficult situation. Where did she ever pick up her hypochondria?

thefirecat said...

For a moment there, I thought I had fallen into an Elizabeth Enright story. :)

Becky Brown said...


You really made me remember what it was like to be a small child and feel like I was in way over my head. And yet? The rationale! I remember the rationale, too. It has served you well.

That mama was a peach. What a gem.

Heather said...

What a story! I am certain I would not have been as level-headed at five.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

My journey was not as long, but I have a very similar story. One day, instead of 3 blocks up and 2 blocks over, I went 2 blocks up and 3 blocks over. I just could not figure out how they'd torn down the school and put up houses overnight.

JCK said...

Got teary over this one...

Patti said...

I scarcely remember the world where a five year old would be allowed or expected to walk alone. It gives me chills. I don't know that the world has changed that much, but we certainly know more about every little thing that happens, especially the bad ones.

Unknown said...

Oh! I remember that feeling of sheer terror when I got lost in a department store.

Whew! It all came back to me.

racheld said...

On my quarter-mile walk to school, there WAS no getting lost---every soul in town knew every other one, and we made that trek four times a day. To school in the morning, home for noon dinner with our families, back in the afternoon, then a more leisurely stroll home after three-o'clock bell.

Your fear in the being lost is echoed by my own terror whilst standing in the yard of the last-house-before-the-school, peeking around the viburnums at that noisy, elbows-and-shouts group of Football Players, the really BIG ones, who yelled and punched each others' arms and towered over every being on the planet.

It took me WEEKS to keep my own Mary Janes on the path all the way to the school door, and that was after many morns of waiting for the bell to call them all inside so I would not have to run the gauntlet of giants in order to LEARN.

You took me back to those hot September days, standing in that spot, peeking through the dusty shrubbery toward that magical place where all the books lived.

Lynda said...

You took me there with you - beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Oh man. I got lost once, too, but my mother sort of expected it and trailed me as I tried to find my way home. You were a smart cookie to find a Mother to lend a hand. I teach my kids that--if you're ever lost or in trouble, find a lady with kids. Maternal instinct, baby.

Minnesota Matron said...

Cheri -- you should post that one day! Thank you for the comments and kind words everyone! I will admit that I got weepy just writing this one. ...

Anonymous said...

Better than a whole book. This strikes achord with me.

Jocelyn said...

If you hadn't been wearing gingham and had braids, would this story have been as good?

Well, yes.

You have affirmed the instruction I always give to my kids: if you're ever lost, find a "Mama Woman."

Michele R said...

What a great story. What a nice lady to help you. Did you ever see that family again? In Kindergarten my mom would leave before I had to and I'd have to watch the clock and leave the apt. on my own. School was only about 4blocks away.

Beth said...

The “adventures” of Wee Miss go a long way to explaining the nature of The Matron today. What spunk and determination!

Amelia Sprout said...

That brought back memories of my first times walking to school (grade 4) when we moved into town. I was told repeatedly that I was not to walk in any alleys. I was only to walk on the streets so I could be found if needed. Also, bad people were in alleys.

Daisy said...

i have a lump in my throat just thinking about it!

MJ said...

Funny how many children of that era (and earlier) were expected to make it to school on their own. I was the same. I was terrified of being hit by a car and would only cross the street if there was no car in sight ~ I wouldn't even cross if a car sat patiently waiting for me to cross!

Perhaps that's why I still march every day with little 3 year old N in tow (and protesting) so that K is fetched from school. We don't live far away from school but I need the peace of mind that she is safe.

Anonymous said...

Yay for Mamas! And yay for Little Miss, who clearly was well on her way to being the Wise Matron.