Kindergarten: A Lasting Love Affair with School and all things Paper-Related

My love affair with school started early on.  In fact, the infatuation was already firmly established by the time I enrolled in kindergarten and may well have begun when I was merely a toddler attending Sunday school.  I simply adored any gathering that called for the manipulation of paper products and had a teacher in charge.

(I still do, for that matter.)

In this regard, kindergarten was a Kathy-dream-come-true—a paper paradise where notebooks and newsprint played ring-around-the-rosy with cardstock and construction paper.  It paved the way, even, for a love affair with vellum in later years.

(I was decidedly a crafter in the making.)

But kindergarten had other kids to keep me company, other kids with whom I painted and played—a perfect storm, when it came to establishing my school-ish ways.

My best friends in kindergarten were identical triplets Jim, Joe, and John.  With them I loved to draw, to make dark marks on clean sheets of manilla paper, imitating the way they colored houses, smoke spiraling from the chimneys.

What struck me most about these boys, however, was not that they looked identical, but the fact that they rode the school bus—seemingly the only kids in the class that did.  I remember Mrs. Steele escorting the boys to the bus in the afternoons, coming to our room at the end of the day, consulting an important-looking paper, asking if the “triplets” were ready.  For the longest time I thought “triplets” were what you were called if you rode the bus. I focused on the only part of that word I recognized—“trip.”  These boys were definitely going places, and, it seemed to me, that Mrs. Steele’s piece of paper indicated as much.

But what was most firmly established in kindergarten, even more so than my vocabulary challenges or fascination with paper products, was my undying allegiance to the underdog—a willingness, a compulsion even, to stand alone in support of the one kid in class the others mocked and made fun of—ridiculed and scorned.  This behavior, I simply would not tolerate—it, I absolutely abhorred, even from the age of five, especially when a kid couldn’t defend himself.

In the case of Joe Hsu, my loyalty was fierce.

I know now, given it was the late 1960s, that Joe was likely Vietnamese—a refugee who was only just beginning to learn the language—as other children not only made fun of the way he looked but the way he talked, as well.  Having recently spent a year living in Vietnam and reading a number of memoirs written by those who fled the war, I know now that new arrivals often adopted common American names in an effort to assimilate more easily.  Thus, my friend identified himself as “Joseph” Hsu.

I remember being so appalled by the other kids’ mistreatment of Joe, that I persuaded my mother to help me make cookies for him.  I wanted him to feel welcome and less alone.  I remember that we made a tray of blonde brownies and drove to his home, a row house, on the right side of East Street.  I remember that he had several older sisters who were taking care of him that Saturday, that when we arrived he was dressed only in his underwear.

I remember that Joe was happy to have the cookies, that he even wrote me a thank you note saying so.

And to the degree that kindergarten was about my love affair with paper, it’s significant to note that the only item I still retain from 1968 is a piece of paper from Joe Hsu expressing his appreciation:

It’s this important paper I cherish now the most.

(Note:  If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family.  This post is part of that story.  To read “Kids Make the Best Bookies,” click here.  If you are interested in reading any of my protected posts, please email me at  or let me know in the comments below, and I will gladly share the password with you.)

41 thoughts on “Kindergarten: A Lasting Love Affair with School and all things Paper-Related

  1. I love that you looked after the ‘underdogs’. My Bean turned out that way too and I was so proud of the way she behaved at school often to her own detriment. Were you bullied too when you stood up for him?


  2. Wow. I knew triples in college, one whose name was Joel. I was friends with their older brother whose name I cannot remember. This was in eastern KY. Only triplets I ever met.

    Your love of paper reminds me so much of my granddaughter who loves paper and glue. She’s two years old and we communicate through facetime. Genevieve will be gluing the world together while I watch and talk with her and her parents. For gift giving, the perfect gifts for her are paper, glue, paper, crayons, paper, etc.

    And your compassion and loyalty for your friends was evident even as a small child. I am not surprised. Thank you for sharing this post. It touched me on many different levels.



    • Thanks for this comment, C.

      How interesting that your granddaughter is a paper-lover at such a young age. Those are still the best gifts for me. I even love old magazines for collaging–found objects (Trash) for assemblage. I’m a cheap date–relatively speaking.

      I’m so pleased this post touched you. Have a great week at school, my friend.



  3. I’m impressed by several things here: 1) What a nice kindergartener you were; 2) The fact that you remember anything at all from kindergarten, as I do not; and 3) How well Joe Hsu could write when he was only in kindergarten, and new to the country to boot!


    • Sara said the same thing about Joe’s penmanship. And I have to agree. Even I’m surprised by how much I remember from kindergarten, as actually there’s several more things I recall that I did not include. What’s really weird it that I remember way less about first grade. Clearly kindergarten had a huge impact on me.


  4. Kathy, you have probably had a profound impact on this little man! Imagine how special he must have felt. You were born with a kind heart, Kathy, and I am sure Joe still remembers you……..I must say, from my teaching days, your poor teacher had one hell of a huge class of 5 year olds. The woman needs to be sainted! I had 28 first graders and went home most days with my brain leaking out of my ears………Incidentally, I wonder if it’s because we’re writers that we love paper so. I share the same love of paper. Nothing is better than a fresh new notepad just waiting to be written on. I have a post in the works about my love of school (how weird, huh?). Is it okay if I link back to yours? I just love this post.


    • I thought the same thing about my teacher. She looks like a baby to me now. I also counted the number of kids in my class. I think close to 35. That’s a crazy huge number.

      And, of course, I’d be honored for you to refer/link/whatever back to my post. How fun that you were planning something about loving school, as well. What can I say, “sista?” Great minds! LOL


  5. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for someone being bullied, especially at the age of 5. You run the risk of being ostracized yourself. I hard thing to face for any kid. You’re a good person!

    In your school photo, I’m struck by how young your teacher looked. I’ll bet to a Kindergartener, she was “ancient.” 🙂


    • Yes, like I said to Miranda. Miss Barcack (sp?) looks like a baby to me now. And actually I have no recollection of there being any problems for me, as a result of supporting Joe. I just can’t stand cruelty.


  6. I can’t say I ever loved school…and I certainly was not a fan of riding the bus (though I do love referring to bus riders as “triplets”)…but I think it’s awesome that you befriended Joseph Hsu when others picked on him, and have kept that card all these years. I always stuck up for the underdog myself, and earned the bruises to prove it. That’s a separate blog post, however.


    • Too funny. It’s it hysterical that I thought that’s what it meant? Sometimes kids think so literally–though I guess when you’re five that’s the only way you can think. Sorry to hear you got bullied for sticking up for the underdog. I seem to have gotten away with it.


  7. I still love bits of paper. My biggest disappointment is that I can’t draw well. I would love to be able to draw or paint. Then again, I would love to be able to sing and dance as well, and that is never going to happen.


      • You can’t draw? But did I not see something entitled Kathy’s drawings in one of the posts? And did I not see a picture of your hand painting that bar?
        Or do you mean something else by drawing than I do (I would subsume anything under drawing: sketching, painting, drawing etc.)


      • Great question. By drawing, I mean the ability to reproduce something I see–or what in art is called “representational drawing.” I can use a compass and ruler and make a design–like a flower that is merely a matter of geometry. However,if you were to ask me to draw a flower outside and expect is to look like it actually looks–I’d be at a complete loss. Hope that makes sense. My drawings above the bed are abstract. I can do abstract but nothing that looks like anything in real life. What you saw my hand painting in the photo is something I carefully laid out with pencil and compass ahead of time. I’m kind of filling in the lines.


  8. I too fell in love with school when I went to Kindergarten. The Vietnamese kids came to our school in droves when I was in the second grade (maybe 1973?) I think those kids had a very different experience than your friend, Joe’s. We all wanted to be friends with them. We were fascinated with their language. In third grade, Bach Yen Chau chose me as her best friend. Even though we couldn’t understand much of what the other said, we became close that year. I still have the paper Vietnamese money she gave me as a token of our friendship.

    Good memories…


    • How fun that you too had Vietnamese friends. Sounds like the kids in your class were a whole lot nicer.

      Actually, I’m only assuming Joe was Vietnamese. I really don’t know for sure. He might have been Cambodian, as well, I suppose. I was too young to understand geography or war.


    • I actually have to give my mom credit for keeping the card. I’m sure she held onto it for years, as I wouldn’t really have known how special it was. I’m so thankful to have it now that I’m an adult.


  9. That is a very poetic remembrance of your early youth as well as quite an admirable display of integrity to stand up for the underdog. The main memory that I got out of kindergarten was a stale graham cracker and a half pint of room temperature milk in a carton where bits of wax were always floating. First grade could not come fast enough!


  10. Best interpretation of the word “triplets” EVER! I’ll have to start calling myself a triplet the next time I end up on the miserable Greyhound bus. 🙂

    It makes my heart happy to hear how compassionate you were from a very young age. I’ve always had an open heart but my shyness when I was young probably would have prevented me from acting the way you did towards Joseph. (I would have been more of the “encouraging smile” type.) It’d be really interesting if you could reconnect with him now and see where his life has taken him!


    • I don’t think I was very shy at that age, but I definitely am now. Wonder when that set in?

      And, yes, anyone who rides any kind of bus is a triplet–especially one who takes short trips–tiny trips–little trips.


  11. Kathy, how wonderful that at such a young age–kindergarten!–you cared so fiercely for the underdog. It would take me many many years to grow courageous enough to even speak confidently to strangers when addressed. I can remember cringing in kindergarten because a 2nd grader asked if I was to ride the bus home.

    Also love your interpretation of “trip” lets. How funny!


  12. I missed this somehow but am so glad I found it! I often get depressed about kids who are jerks. I have to believe another child pointing out the error of their ways so young could be one of the best shots at discouraging bullying and isms. I imagine you were just a woman of action and didn’t have to muster up guts to do what you did, but it took guts all the same, and I’m so glad you had them to give!

    Here’s to all the Joe Hsus out there.


  13. Arg. Lost my comment.

    Paper and solidarity, who would have thought?

    I missed this post somehow but am so glad I found it again. We all saw kids treating other kids badly, but doing something about it is something else entirely. I imagine you didn’t have to muster the courage, that you acted as if compelled, and didn’t realize the courage your actions took. I could be wrong of course, but that’s how I imagine it. I’m really disheartened by kids being jerks to other kids. I feel like one kid challenging another when they’re very young can be so much more powerful than wagging a finger later.

    Here’s to all the Joe Hsus out there, both those with vocal or with silent supporters.


    • You are so right, Rose. I never considered any other behavior. I was too young, I suppose. This was a given for me—and I was at loss as to why kids would act otherwise. In some ways, I wish I could go back and experience now how I felt and what I thought–but that’s it, as best as I can recall.

      Amen–here’s to all the Joe Hsus out there!


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