We had moved from our apartment on Jamaica Avenue into a house in South Ozone Park six months earlier. For the first time in my life, I had a backyard. But what good is a backyard if none of your friends are around to enjoy it with you?
Being that I was halfway through sixth grade, the school kindly let me continue at P.S. 60 until graduation, which turned out to be a disaster (for me). The school mailed home instructions on what to wear at graduation, but they never made it to our new house.
Somehow, probably because I wasn’t paying attention, I got the impression that I could wear a blue shirt and whatever tie I wanted. I walked into graduation proudly wearing by red bowtie, but every other boy was wearing white shirts and black ties.
Mom was not amused. Decades later, all you needed to do to set her off was ask about my graduation from P.S. 60.
It was a nice ceremony, and afterward as we were leaving P.S. 60, I felt a little sad that I wouldn’t see any of these friends again, and I’d likely never again see the inside of my school.
Well, our stay in South Ozone Park was brief. By the time I was halfway through seventh grade, we had moved back to Woodhaven, this time just a block off the avenue, still close enough to hear the J train.
And then the next 41 years passed. I’ve been happily in touch with my old classmates through Facebook, but I hadn't stepped foot back inside that building. Until a few weeks ago, that is.
I had an appointment with Mr. Frank DeSario, the principal of P.S. 60, and walking inside that building was like stepping back into 1976, especially when I hit the auditorium.
It was here that I played a plastic knife thrower in the 2nd Grade Circus. It was here that they pulled out the projector and showed us films like “Here Come the Double Deckers” and “The Red Balloon.”
It was on that stage that I forgot my lines in the French Fair and tried to bluff my way through by speaking in English with a French accent. My teacher, Mrs. Roth, and my parents were all mad at me. That evening my dad made sure I learned my lines. Or else.
It was on that stage that I and about a dozen classmates disco danced to “Fly, Robin, Fly.” If I close my eyes, I can still do the steps, but pride and dignity prevent me from acting them out for real.
Standing at the front of that auditorium, I was able to look back across those 41 years, back to that day in June 1976 when our entire lives were still ahead of us. I could see my classmates, all of them still 11 and 12 years old, with everything that has happened still yet to come.
I could see a few of our classmates, those whose lives were cut short, and wish we could go back to that day, when we were all still together and our futures were still blank pages in an open book.
And so, my advice to all the young kids starting up school this year is the same advice I’d give myself if I could walk back to 1976.
Slow down. Enjoy this time of your life, especially school. Savor every single day, don’t be in such a rush to grow up. Believe me, it’ll happen fast enough without you rushing it.
And for God’s sake, put down the phones and the games once in a while. You don’t want to grow up and only have memories of a touch screen to look back on. It’s your friends and family you’ll look back on with fondness in years to come. Spend extra time with them and make extra good memories to remember.
My very best wishes go out to all of our students here in Woodhaven. May you be blessed with an outstanding new school year.