Waiting at the corner for the yellow school bus, Pasadena Moms stood holding their children’s hands. Cars lined up in single file for their turn to deposit children at the school door. Seeing a little girl with pink glasses in pink shorts and shirt whisked me back in time to my first day of school.
Mother dragged me to catch the school bus. She had packed my new red eyeglasses into the outside pocket of my red canvas Hopalong Cassidy book bag, fastening the two buckles on the flap so they would not fall out. I wanted to hide them in my tin lunchbox with my ketchup sandwich wrapped in wax paper.
My classroom was the second room on the left of the long hallway which led into the brick school building. I entered by pushing open a heavy wood door with a glass window in its middle. The cloakroom with two doorways occupied the rear of the classroom. It was a punishable crime to enter the cloakroom through the exit. If you were bad in class, you sat in that cloakroom. Hanging my jacket on a peg that lined the back wall, I ambled to my wooden desk with the attached chair and inkwell hole. Miss Stark, dressed in a wool gray pleated skirt and white blouse, sat at her desk in front of the classroom.
We stood for the pledge and sang “My Country T’is of Thee” followed by the Lord’s Prayer and Bible readings. I placed my eyeglass case inside the desk. No one saw. When Miss Stark turned to write on the blackboard, I put my hands inside the desk, fidgeting with the case in order to remove the glasses. Knots twisted in my stomach as I lowered my head to put them on. Miss Stark turned around and exclaimed, “Class look! Jane has glasses. You don’t need to sneak them on.”
My face blazed three shades of red. I was Plain Jane with glasses. Boys don’t make passes at girls that wear glasses. Everyone stared. I wanted to hide under the desk, but I was saved by sirens blasting.
“Class. Line up. This is an air raid drill.”
Silently we filed down the hall corridor to the back stairs to the dark dusty basement. Having trouble adjusting to my glasses, I clutched the rail. Light bulbs swinging on chains made long shadows of my classmates on the cement floor. We sat next to the concrete wall with our backs tight against it. Raising our knees, we covered our heads with our arms and tucked our heads between them. In the dark we could not see the spiders or other critters lurking in the corners, only imagine them. We sat for a long time without talking, waiting for the all clear announcement. Dank dustiness penetrated our nostrils and soiled our cotton dresses and saddle shoes, but at last my glasses were hidden.
excerpt from The Plaid Robe