First Day of School

Remember when school started the Monday after Labor Day? These days it can start anytime toward the end of August. Whenever it does kids and Moms are ready. Summer has run its course.

My daughter told me that her sons are glad to be back in their schools- because its more convenient to see their friends when they are in class, on playgrounds or in the halls. I hope they are also glad to be back in school.

The first day of school was always so exciting for me - the beginning of a new year. Getting new books, school supplies, not knowing exactly what was ahead, maybe something wonderful. The idea of learning new stuff was an intriguing promise. Learning and school supplies.

I have never lost my urge to buy school supplies in September. Fresh pencils and paper, notebooks, crayons, markers, book covers - -you name it, if you buy it in a school supply section, I love it. Remember when you bought your first protractor. What a mysterious implement. I had no idea what it was for - but it meant something new was coming. Circles. Have you noticed that protractors today are the same as the ones I bought in Charlotte.

What about scissors - boy they have changed. My first school scissors were metal blunt tip kid scissors that really cut. Today they have made the scissors safe, brightly colored, plastic, and dull. OK, OK safety is more important , I know that - but have you tried to help a child cut something with those purple and pink plastic poor excuse for scissors? Better to tear.

Glue sticks are a major step beyond muscilage - except they don't have that purposeful gluey smell.

One of the best school year starts I ever had was in the fourth grade. Daddy was back from the war - WWII - and he was working with Uncle Carl in his print shop. Like most veterans Daddy was trying new trades and jobs as he wove himself back into civilian life. Well, there was some odd lot stock paper left overs in the shop. Daddy decided to use it for a practice type-seting job. He printed three-hole punched paper folders for me and my sister Lynda with our names printed on them. Its a wonder I did not die of happiness when he brought them home and gave them to us.

The year I was in the sixth grade at O'Donoghue School, Sister Mary Cecilia sent us out to buy our first ink pens and a bottle of Script ink. A whole new world of drips and spills and stained fingers opened up - along with new love for seeing the written word on the paper - dark black, especially with a fat tip pen.
My grandfather had a fat, orange Waterman pen with a broad tip that made smooth wide lines as it slid across the paper. Even a beginners handwriting looked important when you wrote with that pen. You filled it by dipping the point in the ink well inside of the ink bottle and pulling down a lever on the side of the pen. Swoosh - the lever was a pump and sucked up the ink into a bladder inside the pen - making it ready to write.

To this day I love writing with a real ink pen.

When we were in Munich in the 1980s and the dollar was riding high I splurged on a Mont Blanc pen. Its kept safe in my desk. I never take it out of the house for fear I will lose it. Several summers ago I stepped into Fahrney's, pen store for the famous, on F Street downtown in Washington. I was drawn to a sale table - and there it was, a fat, mottled red and black Waterman Pen with a broad tip - - a memory of Dad Jack's pen. Ofcourse - I bought it. When I have it in my hand my writing slides smoothly across the paper leaving wide dark marks on the page and it makes me feel close to another time.

When our kids were growing up I always took a picture of them on the first day of school. As they got older they were annoyed by it. "Mom, that's kid stuff. We don't hve time for that." But I insisted - parent's privilege, right. TFor me the first day of school was a marker - a start - the chance for a new beginning.

I remember the year I was going back to Piedmont Junior High School in the eight grade. Thirteen years old. You know how you can feel desperate for a new start when you are thirteen. So, when I started school I changed my name.

The first day of class when my home room teacher asked my name I told her it was "Hester" - go figure - this was my new start? I don't know where that came from. Since I wanted a life-change why didn't I pick something glamourous like Rita or sweet and cute like Judy. Hester calls up images of Nathanial Hawthorne - like harsh, freezing winters and tall, gaunt, and austere women. Its time for the truth - my choices have always been a little off.

Now, I was not changing schools. I was returning to the same school - under a new name. Everyone except the new teachers knew my name was Ellouise. I was Hester to two teachers and Ellouise to everybody else.

The game was blown for good on parents night when Mama explained to the those two teachers that she did NOT have a daughter whose name was Hester.

So much for my new start.

Or maybe, I should be thanking my mother for saving me from myself.


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