Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sail On, Silver Girl ...

So ...
Flashing back 39 years...

I was five years old and it was the first day of school--kindergarten. Now, I had been pretty excited about starting school but the excitement was based more on the idea of school than it was on the reality of it. Somewhere around the time that the parents were leaving for the day I realized that this was definitely not what I had imagined. They were leaving me there! I didn't know this place ... I didn't know these people. I started crying and boy did I cry ... soaked my shirt, got my tie all snotty and had all the other kids wondering what my deal was (You see, they had all been through a year of kindergarten ... in Boston there was K-1 and K-2. This was the first day of the second year for all of them but it was my first first day). Okay, that's just an excuse, but you understand ... I was five and mommy and daddy had left me in a strange place with strange people.

As the day progressed I calmed down a little but I was still quite inconsolable. Wouldn't respond to any of the sincere attempts my teacher and a few of my fellow kindergarteners made to ease my anxiety. At nap time, it got bad again. I figured that if I laid down on one of those mats and fell asleep then I would just die from shear heartache. So I just laid there, sobbing, eye's wide open, tears running down the sides of my head and pooling in my ears.

"Van Owens," I heard my teacher whisper, "come with me." She led me into her office -- a tiny room adjacent to the classroom. Well, I thought, now I've gone and done it. Who knew what manner of unspeakable punishment lay beyond that previously concealed door?

"Now," she said, "normally snack time doesn't happen until after nap time, but since you're having such a hard time going to sleep ..." She poured me a cup of milk and gave me three oreo cookies. By the time I finished the first cookie, I had stopped crying for the first time that day. We talked, or rather, she did -- comforting, calming words. After she taught me how to hold the cookie in the milk till it got soft she pulled out an album with two geekie-looking white guys on the cover. "Do you like music," she said. "I just bought this new record. Maybe we can listen to it together." She pulled the vinyl LP from it's sleeve and placed it on the record player ... it was one of those ancient turntables, looked like an over-sized shoe box with speakers in the side and a rubber frisbee on top. The first song she played was "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Follow this link to hear the song:

You can imagine how comforting these lyrics were to me at that time:

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all;I’m on your side.
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

I don't know if she played me that song intentionally or if it just happened to be the first one on the album but either way, it did the trick. I was good for the rest of that day ... for the rest of that school year as a matter of fact. And Miss Guilfoyle, my first teacher -- because of that simple gesture -- became and remains my favorite teacher.

Like so many songs, this one has that one inscrutable lyric:

Sail on, silver girl,
Sail on by,
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.

Don't know what it means ... heard someone say once that it was symbolic of drug use, the "silver girl" being a hypodermic needle full of heroin. I don't know about that -- I doubt it. To me, the "silver girl" will always be Miss Guilfoyle. As for the "dreams on their way," well, maybe those were her students into whom she poured so much of herself. I'm sure that's not what Simon and Garfunkel meant but that's what the song means to me.


Suesjoy said...

Oh wow...
Teachers really DO make a difference.
So THAT'S how you became an avid Simon and Garfunkel fan!

So so sweet.

I made my mom stay with me the first day of kindergarten!


~VanO~ said...

That is EXACTLY how I became a fan. The song can make me feel better "when I'm down and out" even to this day!