January has nothing on SeptemberPublished 1:49pm Saturday, September 3, 2011
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
Happy new year!
No matter how many years removed I am from being a teacher or a student, I will always think of September as the beginning of the year. I still measure increments of time in semesters, and if my husband, Graham, and I are making midweek plans I never fail to remind him that a Wednesday is not just a Wednesday. It’s a school night.
I pretend to mind when, in August, aisles at the store devoted to insect repellent and sunscreen suddenly switch to spiral notebooks and yellow brick roads of No. 2 pencils, but I don’t mind. I love it. Not only do new school supplies fill me with nostalgia, they smell fantastic.
From kindergarten to college, the first day of school was always a combination of welcome predictability and the fear of the unknown.
Born worried and skeptical, I did not greet this world like a typical screaming infant. Instead I furrowed my brow and fretted over who would water the plants and take in the mail back at the womb, so when my parents floated the idea by me that it might be time for me to start school, I seriously questioned the wisdom behind their proposal.
I was doing fine at home. My sister Susie taught me my numbers and letters on our green Mickey Mouse chalkboard, and my sister Barb taught me the lyrics to the songs “Champagne Don’t Hurt Me Baby” and “Cheeseburger In Paradise.” I could even write half my name. Surely there was little else a 5-year-old needed to know.
My mother, aware of my weak spot, presented me with a dress so ornate it looked like a castoff of Miss Kitty’s from Gunsmoke. She said the only place I could wear it was school. That sealed it. I went to kindergarten.
The first day of seventh grade was also my first day in a public school. I had heard things about public school kids. They drank the blood of parochial school children at lunch and worse, they remembered their locker combinations. We didn’t have lockers at my old school. I knew I’d never be able to store those numbers in my head, not with my phone number already taking up so much space.
On the first day of high school, the place where I wanted desperately to fit in, I wore a long green shaker sweater over red leggings. Whenever we changed classes upperclassmen yelled, “Merry Christmas!” at me in the halls. The first day of college I worried I wouldn’t find a parking space, and when I did I knew I wouldn’t remember where it was after class. Sure enough, I spent most of my first day of higher education wandering the parking lots searching for a blue Dodge K-car.
I was so nervous on my first day of substitute teaching I threw up in the girls’ restroom in front of about 12 shocked sophomores. When I entered my classroom a group of boys were sitting in the corner loudly discussing the latest Quentin Tarantino movie they hadn’t seen.
“I have,” I said meekly. They ignored me. I was the teacher. I had to do better than that.
“Yo! No! Not, yo. Yo is definitely not what I meant to say. I’d like a mulligan on the yo, please. What I meant to say is, ‘Why, yes students. I have seen that film you speak of, ‘Jackie Brown’’”
“You have?” they asked turning toward me. I’d never had the attention of that many high school boys at one time in my life.
“You know it, brother.” With that, the ice broke. Thank heavens I liked the same foul-mouthed movies they did.
Yes, the fresh starts of first days could be scary, but I looked forward to them every year. They gave us a chance to wipe the Mickey Mouse chalkboard clean and start over. That’s why each September I get a little wistful when the air turns crisp and the days get shorter. Yellow buses dot the streets in the morning swooping up summer vacation refugees and in the afternoon they return bearing newly-minted students full of promise and expectation. They don’t know it, but they’re the luckiest people in the world.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at email@example.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.