Kindergarten meant crayons, drawings, naps, and that lovely little girl two blocks from his house, the one with the white handmuff that was made of rabbit fur.
To prepare their son for school, his mother and father had bought him a nice white shirt with nice brown slacks, and good leather Salamander shoes from a German shoe salesman. The back pack was a sturdy brown leather, because all German schoolchildren wore leather backpacks to school.
The first day of kindergarten was a traumatic event, when separation anxiety caused children to cry and dresses to be stained with five-year old tears. Lunchboxes and lunchbags were piled into little heaps, and coats were hung on hooks, and walls were festooned with bright colors and cheerful figures, but little could offset the turmoil caused by watching his mother walk out the door and leave him alone with strange children for the first time in his life. "Mamma, bleib doch! Bleib doch mit mir! Mutti! Mutti!"
This was a rust belt city in Amerika, and he spoke not a word of English. The kind teacher sat the children in a circle in their kindergarten sized chairs and had them introduce their names. He got the hang of what they wanted to hear, and pronounced his name mit kleiner Stimme. After that, when they moved, he moved. When they ate lunch, he ate lunch. It was like a deaf-mute following the actions of those around him, with the difference being that he could hear, only nothing made sense. When they got their box of crayons, he got his box of crayons.
His mother had believed in keeping the children occupied before they had gone to school. Tuechtigkeit was next to godliness. Children helped in the garden and with the cleaning, and during unsupervised activities they were to read or to play. But some things had to wait for Schule: drawing, writing, reading. She could not read or write English either. The plan was to learn along with her oldest son.
Crayola made the standard-issue forty-eight crayon box with the built-in sharpener, the ne plus ultra of the crayon set. The first day of class, when children opened their crayon boxes, they betrayed their familiarity with this most basic of kindergarten tools by casually, unthinkingly opening already-opened boxes, but he opened his box for the first time that day, unwrapped it as if it were a precious Weihnachtsgeschenk, unwrapped it in wonder, for it was fresh and new that first day of school. The aroma of Crayola crayons hit him like a bombshell. What sweet fragrance! The waxy smell of greasy color filled the room, the crayons all aligned in perfect rows, with perfect conical shapes and pleasing rounded tips.
He learned colors by reading the Crayola labels: Green, blue, red, white, yellow, silver, and some he didn't know: aquamarine, turquoise, undsoweiter. He bought his book list home, and his mother bought the approved books, and as he sat on her lap they would sound out the words together, child helping mother, mother helping child. He liked the pictures. She enjoyed learning this most important of languages, the language of her new land. And when Father came home they would tell him what they'd learned. Pictures brought home were analyzed and praised. The younger brother would see the gold stars and want to be in school, where they handed out gold stars and learned new words and played interesting games.
The young kindergartner first felt the power of love as he walked to school, alone as usual, the barrier of language separating him from the other students. Two blocks from his house, a little girl stood at the corner and waited for him. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, a vision in white. In this city of smoke-filled skies and no-nonsense people, she wore an all-white jacket, and furry white ear muffs (it was autumn), and an exotic cylinder made of white rabbit fur into which she placed her tiny hands for warmth. She had the kindest eyes. They walked to school, she with him, he with her, for safety. His heart burst with joy to see her every morning. She took little steps. He slowed down his anxious walk to match her stride. They walked the five blocks together almost every day, in wordless silence, separated by a language barrier as high as the sky, die Wand so hoch, die Mauer so dicht.
Years later he remembers all this and so much more, when he smells the crayons, when he first learned the language, when he first met Love.