I was enrolled in East York’s inaugural junior kindergarten class in September 1970. For years and years after my family moved to Mississauga I endured quizzical looks and laughter from my classmates when I told them that I had gone to junior kindergarten and then senior kindergarten elsewhere. They all wondered what I was talking about: there was only one kindergarten. Little did any of us know that the tiny borough of East York where I grew up was an experimental ground in Toronto education. I thought that everyone went to junior kindergarten, but in 1970 it was new only to East York.
My first teacher was Mrs. (Deidra) Lynas. At four years old I recall my father making fun of her name, calling her “Mrs. Lioness”. I remember my first day of school as if it were yesterday: my mother walked me to William Burgess (Elementary) School and when we climbed the stairs to the door (now marked door number 9 on Torrens Avenue) I broke free and ran away. I remember my mother’s expression of surprise and exasperation as she ran downstairs and tried to catch me. She led me into Mrs. Lynas’s class and I was in tears. Mrs. Lynas had seen this kind of behaviour before and she was smiling and sympathetic, soothing to both parent and new student that everything was going to be all right.
I used to wait alone outside for my mother to come by to pick me up to walk home. It has crossed my mind many times over the years that if anyone wanted to abduct me then he very well could have. Time crawls at a snail’s pace in the mind of a waiting child as I wondered where my mother was. I preoccupied myself by looking left, at the cars along Torrens. I recall that my mother never walked me to school nor back home with my younger brother in tow. I think she used to leave him–a year and a half younger than I was–home alone. Was my often-absentee father looking after him?
I recall many class projects during my first year: with moon landings often in the news we made a rocketship out of an enormous box. We made necklace pendants by dripping white glue into small hollows we dug in a classroom sandbox.
Mrs. Lynas asked me why I never painted or drew known objects or things. I was quite the juvenile abstract artist. I recall my answer to her over half a century ago: “I like designs. I don’t like to paint things.”
In the middle of the day we had naptime. I liked that time only because we had juice and cookies. Students kept their own blanket in class and we spread it out over the cold floor. As I recall I never fell asleep during naptime.
When Mrs. Lynas assessed my reading comprehension she took out a short book and I read from it. I still recall every word in the book to this day:
Ride, ride, ride Tom!
I do not recall what Tom was riding (a bicycle, scooter, or wagon) but he kept going faster and faster and by the final page he got into an accident. I remember feeling self-conscious–at four years of age–emphasizing the exclamation marks in my reading. Seeing young Tom knock himself senseless wasn’t enough for me to get all emotional about. I have searched in vain for this very book for the past fifty years. I was a precocious reader and have memories in our East York basement apartment sitting at the kitchen table reading newspaper stories about the moon landing to the amazement of my parents, so this Tom book was nothing new to me nor the first book I had ever read. It was far too simple, and my reading skills were placed accordingly.
My first “best friend” was Johnny Metcalf(e). Here is my 1970 class photo and I am glad that I identified most of my classmates at the time:
I am in the top row second from the left and Johnny is seated third from the left.
I have often wondered about my first best friend Johnny and where he is now. I am surprised that I could not recall all the names of my classmates. The girl on the left in the middle row probably spelled her name Marguerite and the girl seated on the far right likely did not spell her name, Darlene, with a hyphen. To make it easier to identify the students, they are (with probable spelling revisions): Top Row L-R: Sheila, Craig, Susan, Brett, Donna, Mrs. Lynas, unknown. Middle Row L-R: Marguerite, Teresa, unknown, Frank. Seated Row L-R: John, Nicky, Johnny Metcalf(e), unknown, Tammy, Darlene
My first school portrait, at four years old
I found the letter from the school addressed to my parents confirming my enrollment as well as the envelope it came in. The stamp must have fallen off: