Crying Mama Day fell on a Thursday this year in Glynn County.
That’s when school opened and that little boy or girl who had been underfoot and fought afternoon naps for four years went to kindergarten on the first day. Some cried along with their mothers and clung to them around the knees, while others took it better. That, too, can be a problem.
A friend told me of a woman who was crying Thursday after dropping off her son. She reassured the mother that her child would get used to it, that in just a few days her son would grow to love it.
“That’s not the problem,’’ the weeping mom said. “He said, ‘Bye,’ walked into his classroom and didn’t look back.’”
I know that feeling.
Our daughter Jessica never shrank from anything. She was always ready to go spend the night with a friend, camp out with the Girl Scouts and, when she put on her little pink backpack for the first day of kindergarten, she showed no sign of fear. Her mother taught at Brunswick High, so I took her to school, and I was only mildly miserable probably because she didn’t appreciate my hug at the classroom door in front of the other kids.
You figure by now opening day would have a nationwide sponsor — perhaps Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex.
I have my own foggy memories of my first day at two-room Williford Elementary School on a hill with woods at the back and cotton fields covering the rolling farmland in front. It had boys and girls outdoor privies and two coal stoves. The school bell was an actual bell, not a digital tone, that the principal, Mrs. Nell Jones, rang four times a day, to open school, before and after the combined lunch/recess and to signal the end of the day.
Miss Nell taught fourth through sixth graders on her side of the building, and Miss Lorena Kay Little taught the first through third grades in the other half. They were the whole staff. The sixth grade boys were the janitors and, some days in the cold winter, Mrs. Jones would say the wood box was empty and send us into the woods to pick up limbs to start the fires.
At recess one day, after the leaves had fallen, Ronnie Busby, Freddie McCown and I went well past the edge of the woods and got farther and farther away. We went over the hill and partway down the other side where we discovered a little pond. That’s when we heard the bell ringing nonstop, which was strange. We headed back and met Mrs. Jones halfway back walking toward us in her lace-up black leather shoes clanging that big bell. We were not punished, and I still don’t know why.
The first day of school hasn’t always been the same for country folk as for others. In South Georgia, a lot of kids missed the first few days to finish picking the tobacco, and up where cotton grew in red clay students came to class a month or so and then left for a few weeks to pick cotton.
That doesn’t happen anymore mainly because of mechanized farming and partly because school opens before the tobacco fields start to yellow and the cotton fields get white.
My heart went out Friday morning to Fred and Joy McKinnon. Her name may be Joy, but she wasn’t showing it in Sweet Mama’s with a red nose and her usually sparkling eyes filled with tears.
Years ago, the McKinnons started a Friday morning tradition of breakfast as a family at Sweet Mama’s on school days.
They started with oldest son Jon Michael, and they now have three other children, Will, Rebakah and Andrew.
The source of Joy’s tears was Jon Michael, valedictorian of Glynn Academy class of 2019. That valedictorian part meant he could go to about any school he wants, and he chose Georgia.
That was why Joy was weeping. It was his last Sweet Mama’s breakfast with the family until at least, one imagines, the Friday before the University of Georgia Bulldogs go the Jacksonville to get beaten by Florida for the first time in a few years. (That’s your columnist’s prediction based on the quality of the head coaches. OK. Maybe not this year, but at least next year.)
Anyway, Friday was the first of several buckets of tears for the McKinnon family. Jon Michael has to be in Athens before classes start Wednesday, and dropping a child off at college will take the starch out of anybody. This is no one-and-done event, given Jon Michael has those three younger siblings.
Happily, I know how they feel.
I fell apart at several of Jessica’s milestones, including her high school graduation and, worst of all, when we dropped her off at Berry College. Keep in mind that Berry is more than 360 miles and seven hours from St. Simons as the crow flies. It seems about half the route is through downtown Atlanta, which is like Talladega Speedway except pit road has The Varsity and Kurt Busch and Jimmy Johnson are afraid to drive there.
I’ll never forget moving her into one of those old stone Ford buildings.
It’s a beautiful campus, but I had to make some alterations to her closet to hold all her clothes. In the old days, kids showed up for college with a suitcase and a study lamp, but things are different now.
On the day Vonette and I headed home, Jessica had to go to a meeting. When I asked if she was coming back to the dorm before we left, she said she wasn’t sure, which I took as a “No.”
I hugged her, barely got out a “Bye, Babe,’’ and Vonette, our dog Hershey and I headed south.
I just thought driving through Atlanta was hard on the way up. On the way back, I did it with a concrete truck parked on my chest and tears in my eyes.
But parents, take heart. It gets easier. But sometimes …