Farewells and Rites of Passage

11 Oct

best-friends-6

It is the eve of the bar mitzvah of the son of one of my oldest, dearest friends. We still talk about our first day of kindergarten together even though we knew each other years before we started elementary school. It is therefore that much more poignant that I learned tonight that our kindergarten teacher just passed away.

Life strikes chords and balances at the most poetic moments sometimes.

On our very first day of school, we were met by a grandmotherly lady who ushered us past wooden trees bearing our names, and new vocabulary we were to learn. She would go on to teach us about the bicentennial, most likely from first-hand experience. It was going to be a great year.

In the strange way that our memory decides to archive information, mine categorized the most pieces of my elementary education from my first year: the three balance beams that formed a small set of risers around the piano our teacher played every morning; the soundtrack of our classroom created by the steady hum of scissors working their way down construction paper; the line we were required to form in height order so we could proceed down the halls in an orderly fashion (I was first); the smell and taste of Stone Soup, a book we studied and brought to life with a recipe; and the kindness and love our teacher managed to show each child day in and day out.

I still recall, with anxiety and relief, my birthday party that almost wasn’t. My mother was so late that the teacher made us all put our heads down on the desk and remain silent.

“If your mother doesn’t come in the next ten minutes, we are canceling the party.”

In my tiny neurotic mind, I envisioned car accidents, crime scenes, literal nightmares. I have not changed much. It never occurred to me that late might mean a traffic jam, a delayed schedule, a mere slip of the mind. It was always a catastrophe. At long last, I spotted my mother through the narrow, rectangular window in the door — keys in her mouth, knocking with some body part because her hands were occupied. She entered bearing boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and her ukulele (she was a real pro at “Puff the Magic Dragon”). I probably could have used a stiff drink, but I didn’t know about that either.

Kindergarten was also the year that everyone was getting their snacks stolen. It didn’t mean much to me until someone swiped my Funyuns. Enough was enough. Through early deductive logic and sleuthing skills I would continue to hone, I figured out who the thief was with a pretty crafty sting I engineered. That girl fell right into my trap. I confided in our teacher, not knowing whether this kind octogenarian would believe me but she must have had similar suspicions because my Funyuns mysteriously reappeared in my lunch box in time for snack.

Kindergarten was everything it should be, with great thanks to this teacher and her beautiful approach to teaching, to children, and to life.

On that first day of school, my friend and I sat next to each other on one of those balance beams, coincidentally wearing the exact same green polyester Snoopy pantsuit. I mean, what are the odds? Even in the 1970s. That fashion faux pas, however, was just another cornerstone on which a lifelong friendship was formed. This friend went on to light a candle on my own bat mitzvah cake, backpack through Greece with me, stand on the bimah as a bridesmaid at my wedding, attend the brit milahs of my sons, and celebrate with us only a year and a half ago at my own son’s bar mitzvah. She has loved me through some of my bitchiest days as a teenager to the woman I am today. Old friends are gifts that never lose their splendor.

It is six years after my youngest children entered kindergarten. I look at them and their friends sometimes and wonder if they will be as lucky as I have been. I hope so. There is nothing like someone who has traveled down life’s path alongside you– it is the comfort food of friendship, the roomy old sweater you wear on a rainy day, the favorite film you’ve watched over and over and over.

Tomorrow, with my husband and sons, I will celebrate my friend and her family. I will watch as the circles turn, as generations evolve, as tradition endures. I hope she’s not going to be wearing that green polyester Snoopy pantsuit. That would not look good at all.

Thank you, Mrs. Arkus, for the beginning. I hope your ending was just as lovely.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: