Recap: Bayla had stitches, and Senator Truman with his daughter Margie drove her back to the Cantors. Mrs. Cantor informs her that she has to go to school to register for the upcoming school year. She doesn’t want to go to school here in America, since her English isn’t that good yet and she doesn’t know many girls here.
The next morning, I woke knowing today was the first day of school. At home, I would be excited to see all my friends, but here I just felt dread.
The first day was the hardest. We were up as usual at four a.m.; we milked the cows and fed the horses, and then we davened. I asked Hashem to help us do well in the new school. Mimi and Sophie would be in eighth grade and I would be in ninth.
Sophie was waiting for us in front of the house. “Mr. Cantor went to get gasoline so he can drive us. I’m so nervous.” She smiled at me. “I’m so grateful I can go without any crutch.”
Just then, Mr. Cantor pulled up. He drove us to the school, which was about two miles away. “Ya’ll be able to walk. It’s pretty much a straight line. I would drive ya’ll, but Missus says we have to be careful with the gasoline. Looks like we may be in for war soon.”
“Thank you for the ride,” we called as we headed up the wide concrete stairs leading to the small brick school building.
We waited for Sophie as she slowly made her way up.
Just as we entered the building, Gloria and Margie came running up to me. “Bayla, I’m so glad you’re here. Which homeroom are you in?” Margie asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, I’ll take you to the office.” Mimi and Sophie trailed behind us. Gloria chatted with them and tried to put them at ease. “You’ll see this is a very friendly school. I’ll see you at lunch and I’ll introduce you to some of the other ninth graders,” Margie said.
The secretary was on the phone and handed us a pile of registration cards. She stopped talking on the phone and said, “You find your names.” Then she went back to the telephone call.
Margie found all of our cards and she showed Mimi and Sophie where the eighth graders were meeting. Then, she led me to our homeroom. “I am so excited we’re in the same homeroom. It was a 50-50 chance. Two homerooms and we lucked out!” It was hard to stay nervous, with Margie’s enthusiasm cocooning me with friendship and hope.
The teachers were nice. The math teacher spoke slowly enough and repeated herself, so I understood the gist of her explanations. The English teacher offered to help me after school to learn more vocabulary.
Margie and Gloria sat near me in all the classes. Margie was a social butterfly, but she never let it go to her head. Gloria I could see was more like me, more reserved. I felt an instant kinship with Gloria. It was her sweet smile and the way I sensed she would be a loyal friend.
Margie was holding a girl’s hand. “This is Annette, my friend from forever. Annette had short dark hair and a pug nose. She smiled at me in a warm way. And this is Raila Jackson.” Raila had freckles and brown hair and big brown eyes and she extended her hand to me. “I am so happy you’re here. Margie told me all about you. And I couldn’t wait to meet you.”
Annette smiled shyly at me.
At lunch break we sat together, and it was clear we would be a group – Margie, Gloria, Raila, Annette, and me.
“Let’s go get lunch,” Margie said. When I didn’t follow, she asked, “Aren’t you hungry? The lunches aren’t too delicious, but I’m so starved I could eat a horse.”
“I brought my lunch.”
“Smart girl. Save our spots.”
They all went to the lunch line. Later, Gloria asked, “Why did you bring a lunch?”
“Well,” I stopped in mid bite. “I’m Jewish and I keep kosher.”
Gloria looked puzzled. “What does that mean? I’m Jewish, too.”
I explained the basic ideas of keeping kosher and that it was in the Torah.
Gloria shrugged. “My family isn’t religious, but we’re very involved in making Palestine a Jewish state. Actually, my grandparents on my father’s side are Orthodox.”
I wondered why Gloria’s family wasn’t, but I didn’t ask out of politeness.
“My brother,” I thought of Shimon Zev with a pang. “He’s planning to move to Eretz Yisrael.”
Margie piped in. ““Gloria’s father and mine are good friends from when they were very young.”
“They fought in the same battalion in World War I.” Gloria bit into a brownie. “They had a store together. It sold hats and belts and all kinds of things, but it didn’t make it.”
Margie finished her sandwich and started on her brownie. “Someone has to teach these cafeteria people how to bake brownies. These are too raw.”
Annette laughed. “Why don’t you tell them.”
“I’m not getting Mrs. Greenfield mad at me again.”
Just then, Mrs Greenfield entered the room. She was a no-nonsense lady with glasses and a she wore her hair in a tight bun.
“That’s the principal,” Annette whispered.
“Attention, students. I want to review the school rules with you before you head back to your classes.”
That night, Mimi, Sophie, and I sat up talking about our first day at school. “We can’t stay up too late and still get up at four,” Mimi said.
The girls were nice,” Sophie said. “I didn’t mind the classes. The French class was a snap.”
“I bet.” I laughed.
“I liked the music class,” Mimi said.
The three of us had talked about how much we missed our Bais Yaakov schools back home. Sadly, there was no Bais Yaakov here. We made up our own learning schedule after school, and there was a shiur once a week at the Rebbetzin’s house.
“Girls, I hear too much noise. It’s late,” Mrs. Cantor stood in the doorway. She was wearing a night robe.
I wished I could write about my first day in my pink notebook. I wanted it back so badly, but it was no use asking her. She never relented once she made a decision. I learned that about her. I just lay in bed on my back, imagining how I would include a scene in my story about a first day of school, and then the characters would get caught in a tornado.
“Did you hear what Mr. Cantor said about war coming?” Mimi whispered. “I’m frightened.”
“Annette told me her relatives wrote her that German boats have been spotted by the coast in Miami. They have men patrolling the beaches.”
“That’s scary. At least we’re in the middle of the country – not on the coast.”
“I miss everyone so much.” Mimi sighed.” I wonder how Benny is doing. He was so attached to me.”
“And Aliza,” I said. “Poor Aliza.”
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines, including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.