Derek Gentile: Hard for mom let go for first walks to school


GREAT BARRINGTON — One of my sisters, or maybe my cousin Claire, has a DVD of all those "first day of school" videos shot of my siblings and I many years ago.

Interestingly, I remember that first day of kindergarten fairly well. Plus I've seen the footage my father shot that day: The image is of a goofy-looking kid with a razor cut haircut and an impossibly bulbous head.

I recall I wore a light blue shirt, dark slacks and loafers. It was a pretty sunny day.

My mother was nowhere to be found. This was not due to indifference. She was violently ill that day. The thought of my ascension to academia was bad enough; but she was also terrified of allowing me to walk to the elementary school in that part of town: Commercial Street School.

I lived on Glenn Street in Adams at the time. It was about four blocks to Commercial Street School from there. But the caveat was that I had to cross two streets: Glenn Street and Route 8, a state highway that can be pretty busy then and now.

But mom, like any young mother in the 60s, read the books of Dr. Benjamin Spock, well-known child-rearing expert.

Dr. Spock recommended that children be allowed to have as much independence as possible in their formative years. This, he opined, fostered a more inquisitive, well-rounded child.

That's probably true. And I have to point out: The school district provided a crossing guard for the Route 8 crossing, so it wasn't a complete crapshoot.

But it's clear that allowing her little Derek to trundle off to school alone, potential prey for all the evils of the world, really crushed my mother.

Years later, in fact, she told me she was so upset watching me go off to school that first year, that for about the first two months, she would hug me, kiss my forehead, send me out the door and immediately retire to the bathroom to throw up.

My father told me years later he was a little saddened as well to see me grow up, but he figured it was part of life. Which, of course, it was. He drove me to school that first day, but after that, I walked.

I'd like to write about some wild adventure I had walking to Commercial Street School. It was always pretty uneventful. My principal activity while I was walking to school was scuffing up my new loafers to look cooler. It didn't work.

When I would get home from my half-day of school, I would doff my school clothes and put on jeans and a T-shirt. By that time, mom would have my favorite lunch laid out: A chicken sandwich on white with mayonnaise and lettuce with a glass of milk.

Heck, I still eat that sandwich, although I use wheat bread now. But it was all pretty much by the numbers.

The next year, by the way, things changed. Mom drove my sister Mary Beth, and later, my sister Melanie to school every day.

I suspect that after a year of agonizing as her little boy walked to school, she decided that famed child-rearing expert Dr. Spock was full of, ah baloney.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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