From The Book of Firsts

We all remember our firsts.
I remember my family’s first car. It was a white and blue mustang fastback that rumbled when it started. The interior was blue, and though it was fast, the car often ran poorly. I believe the model was a 1970, but my memories are very few. These were the years before car seats and laws on where children should sit in vehicles.
I remember being placed in the front seat. A large blue strap wove through a silvery buckle for the seat belt and clicked into position. I was too small to see out from the passenger-side window.
All I could see was the door’s interior, the handle, and the arm to roll the window down. The button to lock or unlock the door was too high up for me to reach. And to my little body, that button to lock or unlock the door was way above my head and several stories tall.

I was too little to look above the dashboard and see through the front windshield. The dashboard was a series of buttons to me. I was too young to understand the machine I sat in, but I liked it.

Unfortunately,The Old Man sold this car. This is when we moved from Queens into the suburbs of Long Island.
The Old Man bought a different car. Only, this car was much less enthusing. It was a 4-door caprice. The two-tone colors were maroon and silver. This was a family car with no sport or pizazz. There was no rumble when the caprice started. There was no rumble at all.

I remember my first day in first grade. Unlike most others, I was excited for my first day of school. The teacher was a woman named, Mrs. Letterman. She was old, or at least she seemed very old to me. She was grandmotherly in appearance. She dressed as an older woman dressed in the late 70’s and her voice seemed kind.
I decided to be ready and prepare myself for the day. And being prepared, I brought in a little pouch with a few unsharpened pencils, erasers, a 6″ clear plastic ruler, and a small, handheld pencil sharpener.
I unzipped the zipper that ran lengthwise along the top of my little blue pouch. I proudly took out one of the pencils from the bag and the sharpener too. Then I zipped the bag closed and placed it in the opening under the tabletop of my desk. I wanted to be prepared in case the teacher asked us to write something down. Not that I knew how to write anything, but if asked, at least I would be prepared.

I slid the pencil in the yellow sharpener with a silver blade to whittle the pencil into a point. Then I manually turned the pencil to sharpen it. The shavings came off in thin layers of wood and graphite. I wanted this pencil to be perfectly sharp and ready. This way, Mrs. Letterman would be pleased—except Mrs. Letterman was not pleased.

To give you a picture, the classroom was decorated as most first grade classrooms are. There were pictures on the wall and letter of the alphabet. The floor was a maroon colored tile. The windows opened from the lower sash and tilted out ward. There was a globe on the teacher’s desk, a monthly planner, and of course, a series of books. The desks were lined in rows. My desk was near the window and towards the back of the room—but not all the way back. Little boys sat at their desks in the outfits their mothers chose for the first day at school. Little girls dressed in cute little outfits; their hair tied up with ribbons, or styled like a little girl’s hair would be styled for her first day in first grade.

The trouble with youth is the young never think about all aspects. Mrs. Letterman approached my desk, which to the side of it was a pile of pencil shavings from when I sharpened my pencil. At first, I thought she was coming to compliment me on my readiness. But I was wrong.

This was my first day in first grade. This was the first time I met my classmates. It was also the first time I was ever truly yelled at by an adult I had never met before.
Mrs. Letterman scolded me for letting the pencil sharpenings fall on the floor.
She yelled, “You pick that up young man, this instant!”

Mrs. Letterman continued to scold me as I walked up to the front of the classroom and dropped the small fistful of pencil shavings in the garbage pale beside her desk. As she continued to yell, a burst of tears came to my eyes. Mrs. Letterman did not seem kind or grandmotherly anymore. She was mean, and vicious, and she humiliated me in front of the entire class.

When Mrs. Letterman demanded that I return to my seat, instead of following direction, I jumped on her desk and started kicking the books from it, screaming in a tantrum and arguing, “WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME?!”

As a result, this was also the first time I ever received a phone call home from school . . .

Yes, we always remember our firsts.
I remember my first kiss. I remember the first time I saw a girl without her clothes on. Life changed for me  at that moment. I understood beauty. I understood why wars were fought on the behalf of a woman’s love.
I remember the first time I noticed the sweet smell of girl’s perfume and how it changed the way I felt inside. I remember the first time I played each of the bases, from first base, to second, and then from third base to the glory of my first sexual homerun.

I remember a first date that changed my life. I remember the first time I held my daughter and realized this is what life is all about. I remember a weekend in a small A-frame cottage while finishing my first published work. I remember the fireplace at night and the shadowy silhouette of my love as she lay naked and waiting for me.

I remember the book I read while sitting at The Old Man’s bedside. I never cried from reading anything before.
The author was brilliant and so was the title.
I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll be able to do something like that one day.”
“Maybe I’ll be able to write like that and help someone feel.”

The Old Man passed a few days later, and for the first time, I realized the importance of a man’s last words. I realized the value when someone says, “I love you,” and how much it means for a father say, “I’m proud of you,” to his son.

I remember these firsts well.
I remember the first time I drove over the 59th Street Bridge by myself. I remember my first job in a suit and tie. I remember my first girlfriend and how the definition of “First Love,” changed when I truly understood what love really is.

I remember the first time my Mother met my wife. I remember the first time my Mother stayed in my home. I remember the first time she read one of my short stories and then she asked me if I had anymore.
I remember the first time I visited my Mother in Florida. I remember the first time my Mother tried dating after The Old Man passed. She did not laugh about this at first, but she laughed about it later. I vowed, however, never to threaten anyone else that tired to date my Mother.

It’s funny . . .

For the last 43 years, my mother would sing Happy Birthday to me on the morning of my birthday. She never missed a year.  No matter where I was or what condition I was in, whether I was sick, sober, in trouble or well, my mother would be sure to call me early in the morning and sing Happy Birthday

She always waited until 8:00am before calling. After she sang, my Mother would say, “Happy Birthday!” then she would tell me, “I didn’t want to call you too early because I didn’t want to wake you up.”
She would say, “I remember the day you were born,” and then she would tell me all about it.

Today is the first birthday in 43 years that my mother was not around to sing to me.
This is the first birthday without a car from Mom.

It’s 8:00am now

Not sure where you are, Mom.
But call if you can.
I never received a phone call from heaven before . . .
But hey, there’s a first for everything.



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