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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Twenty

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                                         "SchoolDays"

 

With great eagerness I looked forward to my first day of school. When it finally arrived I was happy and excited as
I walked hand in hand with my mother towards Public School 53, located between Central and Wilson Avenues in
the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

My mother seemed anxious and fearful as she let go of my hand, hugged me and watched me enter the
kindergarten classroom. I, on the other hand felt like a butterfly, ready to spread my wings as the teacher showed
me to my seat. She then went to reassure my mother who was still lingering at the open door, and said, “Signora Consoli,
your little Rosa will be just fine on her first day of school.” My mother did not understand the words, but she smiled
and nodded her head as she walked away.  She had understood the sound of kindness in the teacher’s voice.

As it turned out I was not fine on my first day of school, nor on many other days of school. My butterfly wings flapped
down when I realized that I didn’t understand anything that anyone was saying. I didn’t speak or understand
English. My parents and relatives and even my aunts, Lena and Margaret who were learning English at school always
spoke to me in Italian. School became a struggle for me. Not only did the language barrier embarrass me but also my
poor health caused me to be absent from school weeks at a time. Fits of coughing in the classroom often made it necessary
for me to be sent to the school nurse’s office. At other times my mother was sent for to take me home.

In spite of having missed many school days I achieved my first promotion—from kindergarten to first grade and then
miraculously to second and third grade. I was still prone to catching colds, and as the absences from school continued, I
became discouraged and withdrawn. My father was a great help to me with my arithmetic homework, but my parents
knew very little English and were unable to help me with spelling and reading.

I had just returned to school after an absence of a few weeks and prayed that my teacher would not call on me, to read
from my “Reader.” The next instant I heard my name called, “Rose Consoli, please stand up and read the next page to the
class.” I stood up and fumbled through the pages. I didn’t know which page we were on. A classmate seated next to me
whispered the page number. I turned to the page and stumbled over every word in every sentence. I sat down and
put my hands over my face to cover my tears of frustration. Since it was out of the question for me to become a
“dropout” from third grade I continued to be tormented by my struggle to keep pace with my classmates.

Slowly my prayers were being answered. My health improved, my absences became fewer and with the help of my
compassionate teachers I learned the sounds of the alphabet. I could read! I found it magical and amazing that just
twenty six letters of the alphabet, arranged and rearranged in a different order could fill a dictionary with hundreds of
words and fill a library with thousands of books, on thousands of subjects. My mother and I were delighted when
we discovered that our neighborhood library was within walking distance. Now I was able to go home with an armful of
books—and for free!

In one of my elementary school classes our teacher gave the students an assignment; to write a composition
titled “My Unforgettable Experience.” A few days after our teacher, Miss Lewis, had collected the papers she called out
my name. “Rose Consoli, please stand at my desk and read your story to the class.”  I was surprised and nervous as I
walked up to her desk. She smiled at me approvingly and handed me my composition. Feeling shy and jittery I
began to read,“The most unforgettable and exciting experience in my life occurred while I was traveling with my
parents through Africa. I wandered away by myself into a jungle. Suddenly I heard the distant beating of drums and
yelling of wild natives. I stood petrified on the spot and listened to the terrifying sounds come closer and closer.
When I finally picked up enough courage to turn around I saw a tribe of primitive men with painted faces and
bodies adorned with feathers and strings of beads, running toward me. I became frightened and ran straight into a
river filled with alligators. I knew I was in double trouble when I saw natives carrying spears follow me into the river.
While I tried to decide in which direction I should swim I was suddenly faced by an alligator approaching me with
its mouth wide open.
  On my other side the wild men were about to pounce on me. Just in the nick of time I stuck
my head under the water and found myself sitting on the floor beside my bed.

I hope you’re not disappointed that this experience was just a dream, because if it had not been, where would I be?”

My classmates clapped their hands and Miss Lewis had me read my composition to two other classes.

That evening I enjoyed an even more important “Unforgettable Moment.”  It was the proud look on my parents’
smiling faces when they saw the big A+ I had earned for my composition.