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The First Day
Edward P. Jones
Edward P. Jones attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and studied writing at the . His book Lost in the City (1992), is a collection of stories set in the hometown of his childhood, , a city of working-class black men and women who struggle heroically in their daily lives. The book was nominated for the National Book Award and lauded by critics both for addressing racial issues and for transcending them. His first novel, The Known World, published in
2003, was chosen as one of the year’s nine best books (and four best novels) by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. The Known World also won the fiction prize of the National Book and the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The short’ story that follows is from Lost in the City.
In an otherwise unremarkable September morning, long before I learned to be ashamed of my mother, she takes my hand and we set off down to begin my very first day of school. I am wearing a checkeredlike blue-and-green cotton dress, and scattered about these colors are bits of yellow and white and brown. My mother has uncharacteristically spent nearly an hour on my hair that morning, plaiting and replaiting so that now my scalp tingles. Whenever I turn my head quickly, my nose fills with the faint smell of Dixie Peach hair grease. The smell is somehow a soothing one now and I will reach for it time- and time again before the morning ends. All the plaits, each with a blue barrette near the tip and each twisted into an uncommon sturdiness, will last until I go to bed that night, something
that has never happened before. My stomach is full of milk and oatmeal sweetened with brown sugar. Like everything else I have on, my pale green slip and underwear are new, the underwear having come three to a plastic package with a little girl on the front who appears to be dancing. Behind my ears, my mother, to stop my whining, has dabbed the stingiest bit of her gardenia perfume, the last present my father gave her before he disappeared into memory. Because I cannot smell it, I have only her word that the perfume is there. I am also wearing yellow socks trimmed with thin lines of black and white around the tops. My shoes are my greatest joy, black patent-leather miracles, and when one is nicked at the toe later that morning in class, my heart will break.
I am carrying a pencil, a pencil sharpener, and a small ten-cent tablet with a black-and-white speckled cover. My mother does not believe that a girl in kindergarten needs such things, so I am taking them only because of my insistent whining aVid because they are presents from our neighbors, Mary Keith and Blondelle Harris. Miss Mary and Miss Blondelle are watching my two younger sisters until my mother returns. The women are as precious to me as my mother and sisters. Out playing one day, I have overheard an older child, speaking to another child, call Miss Mary and Miss Blondelle a word that is brand new to me. This is my mother: When I say the word in fun to one of my sisters, my mother slaps me across the mouth and the word is lost for years and years.
All the way down , the sidewalks are teeming with children. In my neighborhood, I have many friends, but I see none of them as my mother and I walk. We cross , we cross , and we cross L and K, and still I see no one who knows my name. At I Street, between , we enter , a timeworn, sadfaced building across the street from my mother’s church, Mt. Carmel Baptist.
Just inside the front door, women out of the advertisements in Ebony are greeting other parents and children. The woman who greets us has pearls thick as jumbo marbles that come down almost to her navel, and she acts as if she had known me all my life, touching my shoulder, cupping her hand under my chin. She is enveloped in a perfume that I only know is not gardenia. When, in answer to her question, my mother tells her that we live at , the woman first seems to be picturing in her head where we live. Then she shakes her head and says that we are at the wrong school, that we should be at Walker-Jones.
My mother shakes her head vigorously. ”I want her to go here,” 5 my mother says. ”If I’da wanted her someplace else, I’da took her there.” The woman continues to act as if she has known me all my life, but she tells my mother that we live beyond the area that Seaton
serves. My mother is not convinced and for several more minutes she questions the woman about why I cannot attend Seaton. For as many Sundays as I can remember, perhaps even Sundays when I was in her womb, my mother has pointed across I Street to Seaton as we come and go to . ”You gonna go there and learn about the whole world.” But one of the guardians of that place is saying no, and no again. I am learning this about my mother: The higher up on the scale of respectability a person is—and teachers are rather high up in her eyes—the less she is liable to let them push her around. But finally, I see in her eyes the closing gate, and she takes my hand and we leave the building. On the steps, she stops as people move past us on either side.
”Mama, I can’t go to school?”
She says nothing at first, then takes my hand again and we are down the steps quickly and nearing before I can blink. This is my mother: She says, ”One monkey don’t stop no show.”
Walker-Jones is a larger, newer school and I immediately like it because of that. But it is not across the street from my mother’s church, her rock, one of her connections to God, and I sense her doubts as she absently rubs her thumb over the back of her hand. We find our way to the crowded auditorium where gray metal chairs are set up in the middle of the room. Along the wall to the left are tables and other chairs. Every chair seems occupied by a child or adult. Somewhere in the room a child is crying, a cry that rises above the buzz-talk of so many people. Strewn about the floor are dozens and dozens of pieces of white paper, and people are walking over them without any thought of picking them up. And seeing this lack of concern, I am all of a sudden afraid.
”Is this where they register for school?” my mother asks a woman at one of the tables.
The woman looks up slowly as if she has heard this question once too often. She nods. She is tiny, almost as small as the girl standing beside her. The woman’s hair is set in a mass of curlers and all of those curlers are made of paper money, here a dollar bill, there a five-dollar bill. The girl’s hair is arrayed in curls, but some of them are beginning to droop and this makes me happy. On the table beside the woman’s pocketbook is a large notebook, worthy of someone in high school, and looking at me looking at the notebook, the girl places her hand possessively on it. In her other hand she holds several pencils with thick crowns of additional erasers.
”These the forms you gotta use?” my mother asks the woman, picking up a few pieces of the paper from the table. ”Is this what you have to fill out?”
The woman tells her yes, but that she need fill out only one.
”I see,” my mother says, looking about the room. Then: ”Would ifou help me with this form? That is, if you don’t mind.” I The woman asks my mother what she means. | ”This form. Would you mind help in me fill it out?” \ The woman still seems not to understand.
i ”1 can’t read it. I don’t know how to read or write, and I’m askin you to help me.” My mother looks at me, then looks away. I know almost all of her looks, but this one is brand new to me. ”Would you help me, then?”
The woman says Why sure, and suddenly she appears happier, so much more satisfied with everything. She finishes the form for her daughter and my mother and I step aside to wait for her. We find two chairs nearby and sit. My mother is now diseased, according to the girl’s eyes, and until the moment her mother takes her and the form to the front of the auditorium, the girl never stops looking at my mother. I stare back at her. ”Don’t stare,” my mother says to me. ”You know better than that.”
Another woman out of the Ebony ads takes the woman’s child away. Now, the woman says upon returning, let’s see what we can do for you two.
My mother answers the questions the woman reads off the form. They start with my last name, and then on to the first and middle names. This is school, 1 think. This is going to school. My mother slowly enunciates each word of my name. This is my mother: As the questions go on, she takes from her pocketbook document after document, as if they will support my right to attend school, as if she has been saving them up for just this moment. Indeed, she takes out more papers than I have ever seen her do in other places: my birth certificate, my baptismal record, a doctor’s letter concerning my bout with chicken pox, rent receipts, records of immunization, a letter about our public assistance payments, even her marriage license—every single paper that has anything even remotely to do with my five-year-old life. Few of the papers are needed here, but it does not matter and my mother continues to pull out the documents with the purposefulness of a magician pulling out a long string of scarves. She has learned that money is the beginning and end of everything in this world, and when the woman finishes, my mother offers her fifty cents, and the woman accepts it without hesitation. My mother and I are just about the last parent and child in the room.
My mother presents the form to a woman sitting in front of the stage, and the woman looks at it and writes something on a white card, which she gives to my mother. Before long, the woman who has taken the girl with the drooping curls appears from behind us, speaks to the sitting woman, and introduces herself to my mother and me. She’s to be my teacher, she tells my mother. My mother stares.
We go into the hall, where my mother kneels down to me. Her lips are quivering. ”I’ll be back to pick you up at twelve o’clock. I don’t want you to go nowhere. You just wait right here. And listen to every word she say.” I touch her lips and press them together. It is an old, old game between us. She puts my hand down at my side, which is not part of the game. She stands and looks a second at the teacher, then she turns and walks away. I see where she has darned one of her socks the night before. Her shoes make loud sounds in the hall. She passes through the doors and I can still hear the loud sounds of her shoes. And even when the teacher turns me toward the classrooms and I hear what must be the singing and talking of all the children in the world, I can still hear my mother’s footsteps above it all.
Answer the questions:
Do you think that this story is primarily about the mother or her daughter? How do you explain the mother’s reaction as she leaves her daughter?
Why does the daughter still remember this reaction years later as she is telling this story? Why do you think the story ends with the mother’s footsteps?
But, I'm not sure if I am reading this story right or not........please help!
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GiRl AND HER MOTHER;;
iAlSO liKE HOW THE lil GiRl MOTHER CARED fOR HER CHilD SO MUCH THAT
SHE TOOK SHAME AND TOlD THE WOMAN SHE COUlDNT READ OR WRiTE JUS
SO SHE CAN GET HER CHilD iNTO SCHOOl;;
[MEMORiAL HiGH SCHOOl]
PORT ARTHUR TX,
2)The mother's reaction when leaving her daughter, was a sign to her daughter that this was a serious situation, and a sign of the mother taking a stand, to break the cycle of ignorance that day. By any means necessary even if it ment humbling her self, lowering her standards of schools, pepared to endure whatever she would have to for her daughter to get the education she needs to get ahead.
3)The daughter tells of the game they use to play, and by her mom cutting it short, made her understand that this was a significant situation,and even though she didn't quite understand, things were already starting to change at that moment.
4) The footsteps signified strength, deligence, and determination the mother was willing to her daughter for endurance.
Terrie Cin Alexis
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