School started yesterday where our two youngest grandchildren live, also here in our community. It seems too early to me because I went to school in the days when we always started the day after Labor Day in September.
I looked forward to that first day of school every year. Being among the fortunate who liked school, I longed for the happy days in the classroom, learning more each year. I remember thinking I would learn how to read on the very first day of first grade. My mother had promised it would happen. She spoke figuratively and I took it literally. First day, first grade, I'd be a reader. Needless to say, it took a bit longer but with the help of Dick and Jane and Baby Sally, their pets Spot and Puff, I acquired the ability to put letters together to make words and then put words together to read stories in our first readers. Bliss!
In the few weeks prior to that first day of school, my mother took us shopping for school supplies. The list then was far shorter than the ones kids today have. We needed only the very basic things, never anything fancy. The school supplied a lot. A giant jar of school paste lived in a supply closet located in our primary classrooms section of the school. Stacks of paper to write on and reams of colored construction paper inhabited that closet, too. I still remember the smell of the paste when the teacher twisted the lid and lifted it off the jar. A sweet but clean aroma permeated the area as she refilled our classroom jar. No Elmer's Glue for us.
My brothers and I always had new shoes to begin the school year. No sneakers for everyday wear, those we put on for gym class or to play after school. We girls wore loafers or saddle shoes or mary janes. The boys had oxfords or loafers. Girls wore skirts or dresses. My mother usually made my clothes but I had a say in the fabrics and patterns she used. Our faces were scrubbed clean and hair fixed just so on that first day. We learned that we were to make a good impression on the teacher who stationed herself at the classroom door to greet us on that special morning.
For me, one of the best parts of the first day of school was getting books I'd never seen before. Readers, math books, science books, social studies books, and in the higher grades English books filled with grammar lessons. Getting a new book still gives me a surge of joy.
We walked to school in the morning, walked home for lunch, then back to school and a final walk home in the mid-afternoon. I lived the farthest from the school but those several city blocks never seemed long, even on the coldest days of winter or when it rained. There was only one busy street on my route and a retired policeman never failed to be there to see us across. Mr. Rawl made sure I made it safely to the other side of the street from kindergarten through eighth grade. He wore his police uniform, had silver white hair, merry blue eyes and always a smile for every kid who came along. I knew I was special to him, but so did every other child who walked that route. It was exciting to see him on that first day every September.
Even the few years that I was a teacher, I loved the first day of school. I knew that I'd be able to stand in front of the class, look down the rows of desks and see brand new shoes, neatly combed hair and faces shining clean. Later in the year, the shoes were scuffed and faces sometimes clean, other times not.
I stopped teaching after five years when I became a mother. I remember that first Tuesday morning, the day after Labor Day when I gazed out my living room window at the children walking to school. It was the first time in 22 years that I wouldn't be starting school. And it hurt! But only for a little while. I knew it would only be a few years until our first child would march off to school, new shoes, clean face and hair combed just so. And today, it was two of my grandchildren who carried on the tradition. Didn't matter that it was the middle of August, it was still that special first day of the school year.
What kind of first day of school memories do you have? Are they in your memory book or do you still need to write about it? Now's the perfect time.