In 1967, starting “big school” meant entering the first grade. It was an exciting time for a 6-year-old as entering the first grade represented experiencing many of life’s firsts: first book satchel, first pair of saddle oxfords, first fat pencils and lined tablets, reading with Dick & Jane, first lunch boxes (mine was “Twiggy”) and, most especially, experiencing first-time puppy love.
I attended Leslie Steele Elementary school in Decatur and I have vivid memories of visiting the school for the very first time. My mother escorted me down the large hallway that, regardless of how recently the floors had been waxed, had the distinct effervescent scent of new crayons, cupcakes and old vomit. Upon entering my classroom, my first grade teacher introduced herself. She was at least six months from retiring and her name was Mrs. Gross. Girl Scouts’ (Thin Mints) honor – her name was “Mrs. Gross.” (Cross my heart…)
I sat in the very first desk of the very middle row of Mrs. Gross’ first grade class. Right behind me sat the cutest boy in the entire, whole first grade. His name was David, and I had the most gushing crush on him.
I was beyond smitten.
He had a golden tan all year long and the Biggest. Brownest. Eyes. He was rather shy and didn’t talk very much, but that was okay — his cuteness spoke volumes and I could talk plenty for the both of us!
It was a Monday and I was still giddy from an all-day Saturday shopping spree with my grandmother at downtown Atlanta’s Rich’s department store. No amount of Bridge Mix and hot cashews from the candy counter or even lunch on the bridge could top my excitement over wearing a brand-new navy wool jumper ensemble to school that day.
The morning work had passed quickly; it was time for lunch followed by a quick run outside for recess. David had not seemed himself all day despite my best efforts to be my entertaining version of precious and chatty in my fabulous new outfit. After returning to the classroom, Mrs. Gross began the afternoon lesson on the chalkboard.
And that’s when IT happened.
I suddenly felt a warm and somewhat heavy sensation on the back of my head, down my neck and across my shoulders. Then, the aroma hit me.
My cherished first grade love — David — had thrown up his lunch all. over. the back of me.
The highly coveted position of front and center was now the focal point of David’s long withheld and unexpressed love in the form of dripping chunks of Monday’s cafeteria special. Needless to say, “Chatty” was ready to leave the building.
Mrs. Gross sent us both to the office — David to the first aid clinic… and me? I was sent to an outlying room of isolation UHway from everyone within gag-reflex distance. Meanwhile, a phone call had been made and my (former Marine) father was on his way to collect me and my condition.
Upon his arrival, his assessment, and the onset of the Eau de’ vomit fragrance wafting over him, I was immediately demoted to the rank of my father’s bird dogs and sentenced to ride home in the back of his truck, thus avoiding all retching possibilities.
Apparently, vomit stamina is not a priority of Semper Fi.
That would be the first and last time I would ever wear that outfit to school. Gushing crushes of love? Who’s to say how many times a person must suffer from love regurgitated before it’s the real thing?
—Harriette Keen Jacobs
Atlanta-born and Georgia-grown, Harriette Keen Jacobs writes everyday slices of life from rural Georgia on farmhood, familyhood, lifehood. Whatever is on her mind (and where it wanders), she’s sure to share it. Join her for “South of the Gnat Line.”