I stared into Mom’s camera, frightened. It was September 1969, just over 52 years ago. Mom dressed me in a new blue shirt, blue pants, and brown hush puppies. My head barely reached above our living room doorknob. My hands rested clenched at my sides, fretting about the approaching bus and new adventure away from the confines of home and Mom.
Kindergarten for me lasted only a half-day, beginning at Noon. I remember Mom taking the picture, herself appearing nervous. I recall when the large bus pulled up our driveway, I walked alone with Mom watching with tears in her eyes to the massive vehicle. The doors swung open with Mr. Nelson, the driver, staring at me. I could barely make my way up the large steps and quickly found a seat by myself. I don’t even remember how many other kids were on the bus since it was just afternoon kindergartners being transported to school.
I remember the first kid I met at school. His name was Charley. I recall us sitting beside each other in chairs without desks. Charley started staring at me and then lowering his head down, looking at me upside down. I did the same thing, and we smiled at each other. I recall on another day soon after Charley got sent to the nurse for jamming playdoh up his nostrils.
I remember our kindergarten teacher Mrs. Trimble and her assistant, Mrs. McAllister. I remember they were both very nice to us. I can still smell the plastic mats they brought out for afternoon nap. The plastic was hard and cool, but more comfortable than the cold tiled floor.
I remember Tammy Bell. All the boys in kindergarten had a crush on her and chased after her at recess. I never chased Tammy. I was too shy.
I remember the monkey bars and the kids who fearlessly climbed on top of them. I was too weak to pull myself up on top, and too scared. I stayed on the gravel and watched them.
I remember pushing my friend Tommy Robinson on the swing one day. The swings back then were very hard in the seats. One day right after pushing Tommy someone yelled my name. I turned to look, and Tommy swung back and hit me in the head. I remember hearing someone screaming. Turns out it was me. I woke up with the sweet school nurse Mrs. Corbin looking over me. I had a couple of pieces of gravel stuck in my right eyebrow. She had removed them and put a nice band-aid over the wound. I can still smell the chemicals in her office and her kind but shaky voice.
I remember my first day trying to find my bus for the trip home. My sister Cindy came out and grabbed me and helped me back on the bus. The ride home was much more interesting, with kids from my age all the way up through high school on the bus. We had some rough kids on the bus, cussing and fighting and yelling all the way home. It scared me but excited me. I had my two older brothers and my sister on the bus to protect me.
Kindergarten proved to be a huge marker in my life. For the first time I left the warm cocoon of Mom’s presence and protection. I entered a new world, growing up in the country, where I was with kids my own age. I learned about relationships, sharing, and listening to another adult besides my parents. I got to watch astronauts on TV with fellow kindergartners, though I really didn’t understand. I got to know pretty girls my age like Tammy, Cindy, and Melissa. The only girl I spent time with before that was my sister Cindy, nine years older than me. It became a year of new adventures, new growth, and learning. I loved it.
Kindergarten became but the first of many markers in my life. Jr. High became another big marker, then high school, dating, my driver’s license, first job, playing sports, death of my grandfather, graduation, college, moving out on my own, college graduation, volunteering with Young Life, meeting my wife, having our two sons, losing two children, buying our first house, moving away from Branson to a new community in Joplin, moving back home to take care of my parents, being there with both of my parents when they grew sick and died, watching my boys grow into young men with all the pitfalls, mistakes, joys and heartache that comes with it.
Recently my wife and I have entered the marker of being empty nesters and of we ourselves growing older. My body doesn’t respond like it used to. I get AARP magazine now and think about retirement often. I struggle with asthma and aching joints. Some of my future markers excite me (sons getting married, grandkids and future vacations with my bride). Other markers frankly scare me (loss of independence, declining health, loss of other relatives).
Through it all, God has used markers in my life to grow me up and show me my desperate need for Him to make sense of the markers and how they all connect. Looking back, I see God’s loving hand running through all of life’s transitions. In moments of great joy, He was there. In moments of intense pain and sadness, fear, and desperation, He was there. In my many years of memories and markers, I see the handprint of God through it all, guiding me and directing me lovingly and patiently in this often confusing, broken and at times painful world.
Even on my first day of kindergarten.