The First Day Of School!

In the Soviet Union, kids started school when they were seven. Although we had a “prep” group in the detskiy sad, it still wasn’t considered “school.” Going to school meant that you were “a big kid,” and everybody counted the days left until their first “September First” (the official start of the school year countrywide). Very soon, the novelty would vanish, and at least half of the kids would start to hate school, but it was not the case on the first day of your first school year.

During summer in Estonia, Grandma Fania gave me lessons. I could read decently by that time, but she also taught me cursive, and we did a lot of writing exercises. I have no idea why she did this – it was by no means required. Possibly, she kept the memories of the Gymnasium in the Czarist Russia she attended – to be admitted, you had to demonstrate the ability to read, write and do basic arithmetic. Or maybe, she just wanted me to be in the top of my class from day one.

In any case, I was ready and excited. I had my new school uniform on with the “holiday” white apron, and I had flowers in my hand – that was also a must for September 1 – the flowers were given to the teachers, and everybody had to have a bouquet.

The school was less than ten minutes walk away, but I was afraid to be late!

I do not have any pictures from the school from this first day. I am not even sure whether she stayed for the opening ceremony. Her work schedule was unforgiving, and no late coming in was allowed.

I remember the first day vividly. At that time, I was one of the tallest girls in the class (I had stopped growing early, at twelve or thirteen, so now I am always the shortest person in a room). Being one of the tallest, I was assigned to one- before-last desk rows.

Even in the first grade, the desks were arranged like in high school, three columns with six desks in each, with two students sitting at one desk. My neighbor was a girl named Sonia Skorpileva. She was taller than me, clumsy, with messy hair and a leaking fountain pen. We all were as cruel as seven-year-olds could be and made fun of her. Unfortunately, the teachers often supported such behavior, publicly shaming the students for even minor mishaps. For example, on the days when we wore white aprons, we were also supposed to have white ribbons in our braids (and black or brown ribbons on regular days). One girl (and I even remember her name, Natasha Ponasenkova) had purple ribbons. Although it was our first First Day of School, our teacher called her out, put her in front of the class, and allowed everybody to laugh at her for these purple ribbons. And then she told her to tell her mom that the ribbons had to be white. She was a very pretty girl, but we never acknowledged that since she was from a “troubled family.”

All of this will come later, and on September 1, 1970, I was happy and excited.


The rest of the pictures in this post were taken later in September 1970. The weather was unusually warm for September, and mom and I took multiple field trips on the weekends.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

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