I remember that late afternoon and evening so well ... My grandmother came over to see the outfits that we would be wearing to school the next day ... mine was a dark purple jumper with a violet blouse to go under it. I was most proud of my new shoes: they were plum patent leather with lighter purple grosgrain ribbon to be used as shoelaces.
Grandma exclaimed and oohed and aahed at all the right times and told us how proud she was of us. She said that she couldn’t wait to hear all about it and would be back tomorrow afternoon to get a full report.
After she left, we ate a hurried dinner of vegetables from our family garden. There were fresh, ripe tomatoes marinating in oil and vinegar ... corn on the cob dripping with butter ... snapped green beans ... and a whole pot of summer squash that had been simmering in onions and green peppers for hours. During the bountiful month of August, we rarely had a piece of meat grace our dinner table due to the richness and abundance found in the soil of our backyard.
After dinner, I set to work sharpening #2 pencils and writing my name in 5 notebooks of different colors. I counted and recounted the spiral bound notebooks that we had purchased at the Big N. I couldn’t stand the thought of starting the first day of 7th grade ill-prepared.
My sister and I talked about who our homeroom teachers would be and what it would be like for me to start junior high school. In those days of the late 1960’s, there were no backpacks but there were book bags in all sizes, shapes and fabrics. My purple and gold paisley book bag, complete with a purple leather handle, felt light with only pencils and notebooks in it. I knew that before long it would be too heavy for me to lift over my shoulder.
Mom and Dad came in my room and prayed for me that night. They prayed that I would make good choices, that I would study hard and develop healthy friendships. They prayed that I would be a blessing to my teachers and to my friends.
As they each gently kissed me and walked out the door of my pink and white bedroom, they left the light in the hallway shining for me. I couldn’t sleep. Where had the summer gone? Why couldn’t I return to the security of the elementary school? I wanted to go back to Mr. Werth’s classroom and sit between Patti and Ellen. I wanted to park at the lunchroom table with my familiar 6th grade class and know how to get to the library without following a map on the wall.
There was a circus of nauseous butterflies ricocheting off the walls of my stomach. I knew that I would never sleep ... or at least not sleep for very long that endless night. I didn’t know whether I was excited ... or needed to throw up.
A shudder went through my body from top to bottom. Tomorrow was the first day of school.
The first day of 7th grade was wonderful ... and so were the days that followed. I grew in ways that would never have happened in the safety of the elementary building.
I read books by Shakespeare, Alcott and Dickens. I learned about teachers who loved their students, teachers who tolerated their students and teachers who should get a job at McDonald’s. For the most part, I had life-changing teachers.
I learned two new languages: French and Latin. Parlez -vous francais? Veni ... Vedi ... Vici!
I learned that life is not always fair and that people are not always kind. I also began to understand that I was the only one who was in charge of my words and my reactions. I couldn’t blame my emotions on anyone but me.
I dissected worms and pigs. Yuck!
I learned about the danger of cliques and the value of life-time friends.
I learned that people didn’t have to act like me or think like me to be my friend.
In the years since that auspicious first day of the seventh grade, I have completed high school, graduated from college, homeschooled for 23 years, sent 5 kids to high school, watched all 5 of my children graduate from high school and then sent them to university 1,000’s of miles away.
What is it about the first day of school?
What is it about the first day of anything?!
What is it about change?
What is it about the years flying by with no way to hold them back?
Often, I still encounter that circus of nauseous butterflies ricocheting off the walls of my stomach.
When change comes and summers end, I often remind myself the lessons that I learned in my plum shoes with #2 pencils in hand.
Change is often the very best thing that can happen in an individual’s life.
There is invariably more to look forward to than there is to remember.
Family always makes everything easier.
The butterflies have no lasting power.
Prayer brings a comfort and a sweetness that nothing else does.
The light in the hallway is always on.