Bonnie Shell's Life Stories

What is one of your earliest childhood memories?

I have many childhood memories from the time I was about four. I was an only child until I was five years old.

We lived in an apartment, and the landlady who lived on the second floor treated me like a grandchild. We had a nice back porch where I could play when the weather was nice. My mother told me not to go up and bother Mrs. Zielinski, but Mrs. liked my company. She had no grandchildren. Her son was in the Army and was overseas. Her daughter Helen, who lived with her, was a young widow and worked all day.

I would sneak up and would sit and tell her stories, and she would give me cookies. The funniest story was that as a child, I was a picky eater. One day I came down and told my mom that Mrs. Pani (as I called her) fed me the best lunch I ever had. My mother was curious and asked the landlady what she fed me, which I enjoyed so much. She said it was Campbell's Tomato Soup with homemade noodles. I also remember the day she told me to tell my mom that President Roosevelt died.

We lived a block away from a school. I was about four years old and wanted to go to school really badly. So one day, I went out of the yard and followed a bunch of kids to school. My mom caught me just as I was to enter the building. I don't know what I would have done once I had gone in.

At five years old, I finally went to school. The school did not have a kindergarten, so they put me in 1st grade. They said I would stay in first grade another year if I didn't do well. I did well and was always the youngest in my class. My first day of school was terrifying. I went to Catholic School, and in those days, they did not have introduction days. I had never seen a nun up close, and so when my mom took me to the church hall on that first day, a nun greeted me at the door, took me by the hand, and escorted me to the front where all the new first graders were seated. It seemed that nuns never smiled. I was scared.

My mom always walked me to school, which was about ten blocks away. On the way, we would meet up with the little girl I went to school with and her mom. In March of that school year, my sister was born. My mother could not walk all that way for a while, so I had to walk a block alone and meet up with my friend and her mom.

We lived in a very Jewish neighborhood, and the first day I walked by myself, a rabbi was visiting some of his congregation. He had a long white beard and wore a long black coat and a large-brimmed hat. I turned around and ran back home, telling my mom that there was this man and I was not going to school. She told me that he was a nice man and he would not hurt me. I went back, and he was nowhere in sight. I went into the hallway of my friend's house and rang the bell. At that moment, the rabbi was coming up the stairs. I screamed so loud I think I scared him more than he scared me. My friend's dad worked nights and was sleeping. He heard the scream and came running down in his underwear, thinking I was being attacked or kidnapped. It all got straightened out, and I went to school.

As I grew older, I became more outgoing and trusting in people.