Remembering My 1st Teacher
by Karl Schweitzer, Class of 1981
I walked into CVS the other day to pick up some prescriptions. We all know those golden days aren’t so golden. Anyway, this is not about aging or prescription drugs. It’s about looking back 55 years ago.
As I walked past a woman to get on the long line at the pharmacy, something struck me about her. She looked awfully familiar. It didn’t take long to realize why. I turned to my wife and said, “That’s my kindergarten teacher, Miss McCormack.”
Memories of Miss McCormack
Immediately, I was flooded with emotions and memories conjured up from a time in my life that was so innocent. It was 1968 and Miss McCormack would be my kindergarten teacher. I instantly remembered her caring, supportive, and encouraging demeanor. I can remember many of my teachers throughout the years: Ms. Palermo, Ms. Oliveri, Ms. Booth, Mrs. Jurgenson, Mr. Evers, and Mr. Ericson, to name a few. But, it was Miss McCormack who left the greatest impression on me. Was it the chocolate chip cookies and milk breaks or the quick naps? No, it was that she noticed a young boy who had no clue what life would bring.
After moving up from kindergarten to 1st Grade at Burns Avenue Elementary School, I was surprised to see her as my teacher. She was moved up and I was lucky enough to have her for a second time. Miss McCormack, who would later become Mrs. Grumo, was still the same caring, supportive, and encouraging teacher that she was just a few months before summer vacation.
I was all grown up and ready for first grade. I remember the cubbies in the back of the classroom to hang my coat and school bag. We started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance and introductions. We still had snack time and lunch in the classroom with my NFL Thermos lunch box. Once again, Mrs. Grumo was warm and cheerful. I remember sitting alone and in groups as Mrs. Grumo taught us the alphabet, cursive writing, and simple math. I remember raising my hand as if I thought I knew the answer, and like every other kid in the class, when Mrs. Grumo called on us, we shouted out the wrong answer. She had that caring and nurturing style. She didn’t hop on me for the wrong answer or tell me not to raise my hand unless I had the right one. She gently and caringly helped us all learn the correct answer.
Life after Mrs. Grumo
I remember moving onto 3rd, then 4th grade and so on, yearning to have a teacher like Mrs. Grumo again. It was Junior High School, and the years following that set me deeper into being an introvert. Finally, it was in high school that my love for art and history would serve as an avenue to learn more and be more outgoing.
Fresh out of high school and into the working world, joining the volunteer fire department would force me out of being an introvert. I was meeting new friends and had more interests. I’d get married and have children.
One constant memory of my school days would be Mrs. Grumo and the caring person she was and the influence she had on me. It was time for my daughter to attend Burns Avenue School; luck would have it, her first-grade teacher was Mrs. Grumo. My daughter and I share the same sentiment for our first-grade teacher.
It all came full circle as I sat in the CVS Pharmacy 55 years later. As we chatted about our past and where we were now in life, she told me she had followed my career over the years. She told a story that around the time the movie “Titanic” was released, she was traveling with her niece in Hicksville, and a Fire Chief passed by her car with its lights and sirens. She turned to her niece and said, “I had that fire chief as a student.” They joked about age, but truth be told, Mrs. Grumo was just starting her career as an educator, and I was just starting life. She may remember her students, but I like to think she knew the difference she made in my life.
Of all the people I have crossed paths with over the years, Mrs. Grumo was the one educator that I remember and meant the most to me.