Work. Play. And Remembering That Very First Day.

Dick. Jane. Wow.

It’s been a long, long time.

This card and about half a dozen more were hiding at the bottom of a box in our basement for who knows how long. I’m guessing they languished there or in a different one in my mother-in-law’s storage space for years. She taught school for more than 30 years, so that’s probably where they came from.

Images and sensations of the two-room schoolhouse in Medora, N.D., where I completed 1st through 4th grades under the guidance of, first, Mrs. McCusky, then Ms. Anderson, swept through my head when I found the cards. They were the two teachers I had over those four years.

I have no idea why I would think about my first four years of school when I saw the cards; my Dick and Jane days were long past by the time I started 1st grade. I already knew how to read, at age 5, and I distinctly remember begging my parents to let me start school early. Since there was no kindergarten offered in Medora, my parents decided to get me going.

I was a year younger than my classmates for the rest of my academic career, through college graduation. I’m still not convinced it was the best idea. I was ready for the work, but oftentimes not ready for the play.

Which, by the way, were two of the words I learned with Dick and Jane and Mom, who was a former teacher by that time, too:  “work” and “play.”

Work. Play. Jump. Run. Walk. Milk. Little. Big. Ball. Throw. Catch…. I was up on all of them before my very first day on a public school playground.

What a Day It Was

Not only was I there a year early, but I was little for my age. Fearless, though, like so many kids going on 6. Before school, when the big boys got to wrestling out on the playground and everyone piled on, I went in head-first. It ended for me when one of the biggest boys, a 7th or 8th grader, put my head into a scissor hold and squeezed.

No shame in crying uncle at that age.

I don’t recall the first couple of hours of 1st grade, but I do remember clearly what happened at the first bell.

Mrs. McCusky dismissed all of us at the ring. The teacher across the hall, in the second room, released the 5th through 8th graders at the same time.

Thank goodness! I was STARVING.

Our house was only a block from the school and I ran the entire way, across the street, down an alley, quick right into another alley and through the back door of the house.

“Maa-ommm, I’m home,” I hollered.

She came to the kitchen from the living room with what I’d learn later in life was an incredulous look on her face. “Marty! What are you doing here?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked, confused and more than a little hurt. Wasn’t she happy to see her only son? Hadn’t she missed me on my first full morning away? Was she not my mother?!

“I’m home for lunch!”

She started laughing. Why, I had no idea.

She quickly explained.

“It’s only a little after 10:15,” she said, smiling. “It’s only recess, not lunchtime.”

She let this sink in for a few seconds.

“But,” I finally stammered, “…but, Mom, I’m STARVING! It HAS TO BE time for lunch!”

She assured me it was not, gave me a box of raisins and guided me back to the back door. “Hurry up,” she called after me as I ran away (and I could hear the smile in her voice), “recess is only 15 minutes. You don’t want to be late on your first day!”

All was well. I had a healthy snack and made it back by the 10:30 bell.

I don’t recall how the rest of the day went, but I do remember Mom sending a snack with me every day after. I never ran home at the 10:15 bell again.

Dick and Jane - Whitman pre-primer card #28 back

Walk! Jump!

Mom told that story a gazillion times over the years. I’m not sure why, but I always loved it when she did. Maybe it’s for the same reason that I’m smiling right now, as I write this post.

It reminds me of a much, much simpler time in my life, when all I had to worry about were Dick and Jane, and my Mom was still around to give me raisins and a kiss on the cheek before sending me back to school. And of times years later, when Mom was still around to tell the story, her distinctive laugh filling someone else’s kitchen.

What a day – and a life – it was.

I miss her every day.

Dick. Jane. Spot. Mom.

I think I’ll go for a walk. Maybe a jump or two, too.


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Martin C. Fredricks IV

Martin C. “Red” Fredricks IV here. I’m husband to an amazing woman who is also my best friend, dad to three outstanding kids, Fargoan (North Dakota, that is), proud introvert, veteran messaging strategist/copywriter, blogger ( nonprofit founder ( and big-time reader. As they say, if you're gonna write good stuff, you have to read good stuff. A ginger, too - ergo the "Red" - although some of it's going white. Cinnamon-Sugar, I call it. Tattooed to boot; seven so far. At age 54, I'm stilling crankin' AC/DC & Metallica, but now and again I spin some Eric Church and Black Uhuru, too. I love hanging out with my (much) better half, spending time with our kids, writing, hiking, riding my mountain bike and reading.


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