First Friend in First Grade

I am looking around the space of my empty brain, scanning my memories of the first day of school of first grade. We didn’t have kindergarten, so this was truly my first day of institutionalization that lasted the next 16 years.

As the youngest of eight, this had to be a momentous episode for my mother—Free at last, Free at last! But perhaps (hopefully), bittersweet at the same time.

There was no bittersweet for me. I couldn’t wait for the adventure to begin.

The elementary school still stands in my hometown. My mom took me that first day. She and I walked into that huge brick building with the big windows and doors. We went up the stairs, walked the glistening, freshly polished hallway, turned left and two doors down entered my first-grade class. A formidable lady with gray hair and print dress introduced herself as, “Mrs. Fisher.” She had glasses. She looked enormous.

There were several mothers sitting in chairs along the side of the classroom. The main area had little desks with flip tops and ink well holes. There were kids already sitting at some of the desks, but I followed my mom to the side of the classroom where the other moms were sitting. She saw a lady she knew—it was Mrs. Imer, the young wife of the relatively new football, wrestling and biology teacher who taught my oldest brother in high school. Mrs. Imer and Mom started chatting, and the next thing I knew they introduced me to Sheri.

Sheri and I looked at each other—she was a waif of a girl with big eyes. Or maybe we were both so scared that our eyes were wide with fright. I’ll never know, because the next thing I remember is going outside with Sheri and playing in the front of the school by the white wooden fence that framed the entrance.

Sheri was my first friend in first grade. I don’t remember what else happened that first day—she remembers it better than I. We must have gone back in, found our seats that were arranged in alphabetical order. There were three Kirschenmann boys—all cousins—Johnny, Paul and Ron. Billy Hibness sat across from me on my left. Delores Hernandez sat in front of Billy, and she later became a best friend. The Kerrick cousins (Margie and Susan) sat in front of the Kirschenmanns, and Mark Koebbe sat behind me. Margie was amazing—she already knew how to tell time on a clock that had hands.  Billy and I got in a fight towards the end of the schoolyear when he accused me of stealing his pencil sharpener. We later dated in high school. I can remember many in my first-grade class because most of us stayed together from first grade until we graduated.

But back to my first friend. Sheri and I remained friends from that day in first grade until today. We have shared life’s ups and downs, good times and bad. In college I made her carsick on Highway 1 from Morro Bay to San Francisco Bay. We double dated in high school. She was part of the track team—she ran, I was the shot and discus girl. And I went on the first date she had with her future husband—I sat between them at the movie theater where we three watched Jaws.

Her family has become my family, and vice versa. I’ve stayed with her aunt and adult cousins when I skied in Colorado. I’ve written about her gramma’s funeral. Her dad taught or coached everyone in my family and was my high school field events coach. Mrs. Imer (who could instill fear in the most stoic of souls) drank Naked with my mom and me (Naked Wine, that is…)

That fortuitous meeting sixty years (!) ago resulted in a lifelong union that I am lucky enough to be a part—not only of our friendship, but little Sheri Imer ended up marrying my brother.

Who would have predicted that back in first grade?


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