School started this week in Ascension Parish. Seeing so many little ones crossing the street hand-in-hand with their parents, ably assisted by the crossing guard, I'm reminded of the excitement I used to feel in my own childhood at the beginning of each school year.
I loved school more than anything in the early grades, and the start of a new school year was the best part. I especially loved school supplies.
There was someting about fresh tablets and sharpened No. 2 pencils that signified new beginnings. I might make mistakes later on, but no blemishes would go with me into my new classroom.
On the way to school that first day I'd stick my face into the bagful of school supplies and inhale the magnificent aroma of crayons. The only thing in there that smelled almost as wonderful as the crayons was the oil cloth. I shopped carefully each year to find the most beautifully patterned square of waterproof cloth available, even though it was destined to remain rolled up, rubberbanded, and stashed in my desk to await the occasional messy art project.
Scent wasn't the only attraction. Somewhere along the way I'd picked up the bad habit of biting my pencils. Each new yellow pencil soon became ugly, but there was something indescribably satisfying about the sound and feel of my eyeteeth crunching into wood. I'd also discovered that the elongated pink erasers were pleasingly chewy, but the big square art-gum erasers crumbled too easily. Then, of course, there was creamy white paste. I didn't eat it by the jarful the way a couple of my classmates did, but I tasted it often enough to understand why they did it.
Along with the excitement, the first day of school always brought a little uneasiness. Would my classroom be upstairs or down, and what if I couldn't find it? Which teacher would I get? Would she be nice or mean? Would there be some kids I already knew in my class? What if one of the books that was issued to me had been written in by the kid who'd had it the year before and the teacher thought I did it? Somehow, all those worrisome issues resolved themselves without trauma.
When my sister and I traveled back to our hometown a few years ago, we visited all of our old schools. It was summertime, so the schools were closed, but we stopped the car long enough at each place to see what we could see.
Our longest stop was at Phelps, the elementary school we'd both attended. I think it felt natural to both of us to be back there. We pointed things out to each other, noting, for example, the recessed area on the back of the building where we'd played the dreaded dodge ball games. We stood on the same stairs we'd climbed over and over as our legs grew from first-grade length to several inches longer. We smelled the schoolyard dust of hundreds of past recesses and imagined long lines of children, arms entwined, shouting out the commands of Red Rover.
Most of all, through our peaceful moments of reverie, we paid silent homage to old classmates and old teachers. They signed our autograph books way back in the 1950s, and they also wrote their names in our memories and our hearts.