Hello, Hicksville: The Woodland Avenue Years – Part 4

125 King St., Hicksville, N.Y.

Moving in the middle of kindergarten from Brooklyn to Hicksville filled me with anxiety.

What I remember most about that first day at Woodland Ave. Elementary School were my nylon ankle socks — diaphanous, cuff-less pedi-sheaths, which my parents purchased in bulk from a pushcart on Delancey St.

Standing awkwardly in the front of the room as my teacher introduced me to the class, I felt my sock creeping, inch by inch, down my Achille’s tendon before it disappeared completely into the dark abyss of my clunky Buster Brown shoe. Regrettably, and directly, its mate followed suit.

Remember that sensation? When the bare heel of your foot suddenly, unexpectedly, made contact with the chilled leather innards of your shoe? And how your unstoppable sock would aggresively bunch up near the arch of your foot?

How I longed for a pair of frilly anklets from Macy’s, cottony soft and lace-trimmed, with just the right amount of huggable tension in their fold-over cuffs.

Alas, a wardrobe upgrade was not meant to be. At least, not insofar as my parent’s budget would allow at the time.

Woodland Ave. Elementary School in Hicksville, N.Y.

Fashion concerns notwithstanding, at Woodland Ave. Elementary School, male teachers seemed to outnumber the females. Why that was so, I’m not sure. One thing of which I am sure is that when it came to the highest ratio of oddball teachers, male to female, the males ruled.

One of the worst was my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Sena — a dictatorial behemoth in a gray suit who lived with his mother.

In his desk drawer Mr. Sena kept a wooden paddle about the size of a cricket bat, which he used to punish the boys. If one of them talked when they shouldn’t have (silence reigned supreme in his class), Mr. Sena would make the boy stand in front of the classroom and hold out his hands, palms-up. Then he’d whack them until they turned deep red.

When he was finished, he’d make the boy “thank him.”

One day, when we were supposed to be reading silently in class, he caught me whispering to “my neighbor.” Remember how certain teachers would refer to the kid sitting next to you as “your neighbor”? As if you’d ever petition a ten year-old for an egg or cup of flour.

Slowly and deliberately, Mr. Sena began tapping the pink eraser of his No. 2 pencil against his desk blotter, all the while glaring at me intensely. His bad voodoo pierced right through me. It was terrifying.

This is what Mr. Sena wrote in my autograph book when I graduated sixth grade:

Check out the rigid, lower case “t’s” in his handwriting. They look like they could impale a child or launch a Crusade.

Thankfully, all the male teachers weren’t sadistic. A few of them were downright wonderful. In particular, Mr. Garth E. Somers, who genuinely liked kids and who believed in me and helped me believe in myself when I needed it most. I will never forget him.

His “t-bars” do not invoke fear. Nothing about him invoked fear. He was all about enlightenment and encouragement.

I’m sad to say that I lost track of him after elementary school. But I imagine that, upon retirement, he would have returned to his native state of Maine. It was a place he had loved and spoke about often.

So, wherever you happen to be, Mr. Somers — thank you. P.S. I sure could have used you in Junior High.

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3 Responses to “Hello, Hicksville: The Woodland Avenue Years – Part 4”

  1. Garth E. Somers Says:

    My dear friend, Thank you for your kind comments. Did you realize that your class was the first in the nation to have a “Toastmaster’s Club”?
    Never returned to Maine, left Hicksville in ’72 – now living in Macon, GA.
    Would love to hear from you, hear from Vicki Verona from time to time.
    Wonder about Amy Brill, Lois Fishman and where they are living now. It was one of my favorite years in the teaching profession. I must admit that we did have fun!

  2. Ron Tillman Says:

    I went to Woodland Ave.from K thru 3 then moved to Ft. Laud. in summer of 67 .I walked down King street to get there. Teachers named Claxton and Kabikoff I seem to remember…long time ago..many fond memories of that school and time of my life!

  3. Linda Essex Says:

    After some nostalgic googling, I stumbled on to your blog and was amazed but not surprised by how different children experience life. Mr. Sena was one of my favorite teachers. When I reminisce with my friend, who was a year ahead of me in class, we remember how Mr. Sena influenced our writing, reading and arithmetic. He corrected our sloppy handwriting and poor grammar. I remember debating with Mr. Sena over a problem marked incorrect on my ‘set’ math test. After proving that my logic was correct, Mr. Sena duly handed over the improved grade! 🙂 Field Day… On my way to victory, I was wheeled off the course due to a pulled hamstring. Mr. Sena’s words of wisdom went something like this…A winner always finishes the race. I wasn’t buying that one and neither was the school nurse, but I appreciated the enthusiasm. My friend relates a story about wearing pants to school on a very cold winter day…a pioneer in her class… the dress code had just changed. I would have loved to have been there for that little exchange. We loved him. To us he was a great teacher and wish that you too could have experienced him in this way.
    P.S. I remember Mr. Sena bringing out his ruler for a somewhat unruly boy…one whack…more for show than anything else. The boy laughed…but it probably intimidated the others. As we all know, you can’t do that nowadays. Positive reinforcement in all things!

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