Memories Are Waiting

WOULD you want to go back to your first day of school?

That’s what someone asked me while I was watching the actual first day of school last Thursday at Marengo Elementary.

My first reaction was: “Are you kidding?’’

But, in the hours afterward, I started thinking I might have been too hasty. I went to school for 16 years, including college. It seemed at times like a lifetime.

It actually has been only about a quarter of a lifetime, and there were some wonderful memories attached to school.

I came to the conclusion that I’d think about it — but only if someone guaranteed that I would not have to take algebra or geometry.

The staff at Marengo wanted to make sure that everyone had at least one good memory to take home from their first day.

There were slogans written in colored chalk on the sidewalks in front of the school:

“Happiness is learning together.’’

“You’re amazing.’’

“Can’t wait to meet you,’’ next to a big smile emoji.

Guards were cheerfully helping students who were being dropped off by their parents. I went back the second day, and the students were still getting the white-glove treatment.

“I hope you enjoyed your first day,’’ one guard said. “Keep that big smile.’’

Crossing guard Agatha Montgomery admitted that the first day of class presented challenges.

“That first day is always stressful because you have new people and parents who don’t understand that they have to wait, but they learn after a while,’’ she said.

Montgomery, in her third year as a crossing guard, wasn’t complaining.

“People are really friendly. They are really grateful that we are here, and they show it,’’ she said.

A first real sense of responsibility for me was being a school crossing guard at my elementary school in the 1950s. If you did not clean your white guard belt, you got a demerit.

I would have a hard time — white belt or not — dealing with the traffic on the opening day of school. That is definitely an adult’s job.

Before the students were allowed in, Xiao Shang waited patiently with his daughter Ella, who was entering the fourth grade. She shyly nodded her head “yes’’ when I asked if she was excited.

“She hasn’t seen her friends all summer and she wants to go back to school, but then in a few weeks …” her dad said with a laugh.

Some of the parents were helping each other take pictures as keepsakes of that first day of class. Some students waited by themselves and then went to their classrooms. They obviously were the grizzled veterans of fourth or fifth grade.

I couldn’t miss the backpacks that were stored on hooks outside the classrooms. Almost everyone had a backpack — most of them colorful — and some of them bigger than a student’s back. I carried my elementary-school supplies in a cigar box my dad brought home from his drug store.

Principal Patricia Cheadle had a smile on her face and a warm welcome in the midst of the crowd hunting for classrooms.

“The first day of school is always exciting, both for the principal and the teachers,’’ she said. “No one sleeps the night before. And it is not easy for the students coming back.’’

There had been about a month’s worth of preparation leading up to the start of school on Thursday, the principal said.

“For the teachers, the first day means a lot of smiles and getting to know as many names as possible,’’ Cheadle said. “Maybe you can learn a little something about each student, and the next day, you can learn a little bit more.”

Lou Bregman and her dad Adam were preparing for her first day of kindergarten at Arroyo Vista, the city’s other elementary school.

Lou had seen her older brother make the jump to elementary school and she was excited — up until the big day. She was so nervous that she didn’t want to eat for fear of being sick, and she kept fixing her hair to make sure it was just right.

“She was timid when she first arrived, really nervous,’’ said her dad, who described his daughter as normally outgoing.

The parents were allowed to stay with their children the first five minutes of kindergarten.

“There were two dynamics at play, and it was interesting to watch,’’ Bregman said. “Parents who had children in school for the first time were showing their children where everything was and helping them with their name tags.

“Some of the parents who already had children in school were both watching their child and talking to the other parents.’’

The first day of class Thursday was a mixture of grim faces and also of smiles. I remember both emotions when I think of my elementary-school days.

How would you answer the question: “Would you go back and do it all over again?’’

Write and tell me what you think, or send me a favorite elementary-school memory. I’ll include them in a future column.

My email is Please write if you have any story ideas about people, places or things of interest to South Pasadena residents.