It’s the first day of school here in Canada, at least in Ontario. The Tuesday after Labour Day always brings special feelings with it. All those September feelings. Joy, anticipation, dread, excitement, fear… you know what I’m talking about. I remember so clearly the night before the first day of school, the butterflies in my stomach, the inability to sleep, the school dreams.

As a kid, each year, I feared that none of my friends would be in my class. Like worrying on Christmas Eve that Santa Claus wouldn’t come. And then he always did. I remember standing on the Tuesday after Labour Day in the school yard of Alexander Gibson Memorial School in Marysville as each elementary teacher called out the list of her class. As she did so, students moved to stand in a double line, and then filed into the building after her. As the numbers of kids around us dwindled, I’d glance hopefully at my best friend Debbie. Would we be together this year?

I called Debbie this morning after I started writing this. Together we figured out that we were in the same class almost every year until grade nine when I moved to Keswick. So I guess my fears were groundless. Just like most night-before-the-start-of-school fears were.

Until grade ten, our first year of high school.

Debbie and I sat in the auditorium of the old brick school on Queen Street in Fredericton the first day of school in 1971, as the principal called out the homeroom classes. This was high school, with many more kids than at our small elementary schools. Debbie and I sat side by side as the homeroom groupings were called. One by one, the principal read down the list…. class10-20… class10-15…. class10-3. The number of students grew fewer and fewer. But we were still there, and hopeful. Only two more homerooms to be called. And of course, ironically, I was in one and Deb was in the other. We waved as we moved off with our respective class of strangers. And we never shared a class again.

There would be no more sitting side-by-side getting in trouble for giggling during class. No more sharing homework answers. Or competing for the best performance on tests and assignments, peering over each other’s shoulder to see who made the higher mark. I still remember in grade eight, holding my history test close and not showing her my mark. And her asking our teacher if anyone had made a perfect mark. He replied that no one had. I remember her shouting, “Aha… I beat you,” as she showed me her mark of 39 out of 40. And her crestfallen face as I showed her my 39.5. Victory was sweet that day, folks. Ha.

But that September morning back in 1971, we were fifteen, almost grown-ups. We could handle not sitting beside each other in class. Besides we’d soon have much bigger adventures to concern us. Like learning how to smoke behind the barn at my house. Or tasting Cold Duck for the first time that next winter at hers. Travelling to the dances in Nackawic sitting in the back of a boy’s truck with a bunch of other wild teenagers. I mean, really, why did adults seem to think that living in the country was safer for teenagers?

I wish that I had a photo of myself heading off with mum for my first day of school in grade one. But, you know, even without photographic evidence, I still remember what I was wearing. I can close my eyes and see my new red dress which I loved. Red plaid, with little gold buttons down the ruffled front, worn with white ankle socks, t-strap Maryjane shoes, and a white cardigan.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed as if everyone had a white cardigan in those days. In the summer and early fall we wore them, or folded them neatly over our arm. It seemed to be a thing in the early sixties. Or perhaps it was just an east coast thing. I don’t know. But I do remember years ago at my brother David’s wedding, his bride’s mother and aunt, who were from Newfoundland, walked into church in their nice dresses, handbags hanging from their wrists, and white cardigans folded neatly across their forearms. Funny that I should recall that. Or maybe not so funny when you know how outfit images stick in my mind.

Debbie and I were talking today about our first-day-of-school outfits. Because worrying about one’s first-day-of-school outfit was part of those September feelings. She said she remembers showing her dad her new back-to-school shoes for entering grade eight. “Look Dad,” she said, “Size eight for grade eight.” And he quipped back, “Bet you’re kind of dreading high school then, eh Deb?” She said it took her days to get the joke. I loved Debbie’s dad.

I asked Deb the last time I was home why her father always called me by my first and last name. It was never, “Debbie, Susan is on the phone.” But always, always Susan Burpee. Even when I visited Deb’s parents in Fredericton a while back. I walked in the door, and Sonny chuckled and said, “Well, my goodness it’s Susan Burpee.” That makes me smile. He was the best. You know, growing up I was always jealous of Debbie having such a wonderful dad. That is until Mum married Lloyd. Then we were even.

And by 1971 when we were fifteen, white ankle socks and white cardigans were definitely NOT part of our first-day-of-school outfits. 1971 was the year the school dress code in New Brunswick was turned on its head. Girls were finally allowed to wear pants to school. And then, gasp, jeans. So jeans, and short sweaters, and cool suede jackets were de rigueur.

My favourite outfit in grade ten.

Yep. This morning I was all about those September feelings. Thinking about the first day of grade one. Or the first day of high school. Or even about all those first days of school as a teacher. What would I wear to set the right tone? What would my classes be like? I’d toss and turn and be unable to sleep. Then when I did fall asleep, I inevitably dreamed of first-day-of-school disasters.

In my dreams I’d wander the halls not able to remember where I was supposed to be, eventually finding a class overflowing with unruly students who wouldn’t listen, and who I’d try to keep quiet before the principal came along and fired me. Ha. So much turmoil. Then when the first day dawned I was as excited as the kids. Happy to see my colleagues and my new classes. Happy to be starting a bright and shiny new year.

That’s kind of how I felt this morning. Happy and excited for a bright and shiny new year. Thinking of new blog topics, planning fall outfits, listing books to read, organizing lunches and dinners with friends while Hubby is away. Feeling all those September feelings. Minus the bad dreams and the fear of finding myself alone in a class of strangers.

And then I wondered about all the parents, some of whom are friends of mine, who suffered through all those lock-downs since the beginning of the pandemic. Juggling working from home while their kids were learning from home. How did they feel this fine September morning as their kids headed back to school? What September feelings were they feeling?

Who exactly was the most excited, I wondered, as they waved their kids off to school in their first-day-of-school outfits?

Your turn, now, my friends? Were you feeling any September feelings this morning? Care to tell us all about them? We’re ready to listen.


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45 thoughts on “September Feelings”

  1. Children here in the village just off to school. One was crying. Parents both attending to see of those going for the first time. It will be nice to hear them all at playtime. In 1971 I went on a school cruise – there were kids from all over the world, including a large Canadian group who were older, probably about 16. Long hair, fringed suede jackets, flared jeans. Wow. We had to wear uniform when ashore. And for some, that included a straw boater….

  2. Lovely photos! Memories in outfits…..
    I’ve changed elementary school in grade 5.,when I’ve met my oldest friend (like your Debbie)-she had navy blue sailor dress,I’ve had sleeveless camel leather dress(faux? Who knows….). She has never believed me that my hair was naturally blond and curly,till we spend a month at sea together……
    September is a new start every year,more than New Year indeed……
    This year I’ve noticed a huge amount of electric kick scooters among school children (and others as well) -I don’t think I like the trend,such a crowd on pavements…

    1. Hey I was just talking about you today, Dottoressa. I went shopping with Liz and as we perused the Max Mara collection at Nordstrom I was telling her all about our Max Mara shopping experience in Zagreb. Then we also saw several scooters on the sidewalks as we drove home. They are a new thing here in Ottawa!

      1. It was nice indeed!
        Hopefully you’ve found some lovely things….I didn’t even checked the complete MM web this autumn
        And I’m thinking about you,cleaning and curating my AW wardrobe,making transition…there is a beautiful indian summer here-it would be better to enjoy the sun myself than “sunbathing” my wardrobe

  3. My grandchildren start school tomorrow. I am going for one last sweet summer visit with them (the half that live close) today, after I go to my first “in the gym, or rather dance studio” exercise class in a long time. It feels a bit like the first day of school for me.
    Also, as a retired teacher/school administrator, the Tuesday after Labour Day gives me all the Fall feels, and I still celebrate with a new paper agenda and outfit each year. Old ways live on.

  4. At least, you were allowed to wear Mary Janes. I had to wear brown lace up high tops. How I hated those shoes.Ugly-My God!(to me any way!We carry over those feeling- I hated our daughter’s first pair of Doc Martens-she was so proud of them-she had worked ad saved for those shoes! I hated them because they reminded me of my brown lace ups! I am laughing at myself because of what I remember- guess I have always had a shoe thin(within reason) because I remember shoes much more that clothes . But yes, I do miss that anticipatory feeling one gets at the start of school. Of course, In Florida, it is still warm(Keeps ones hair straight or frizzy) and there are no pretty leaves floating about! But that sense of new beginnings is still there , if not for us, then for our children I am sure you have noticed how our lives are dictated by the school calendar. Best wishes for the fall,etc. from sunny,humid Florida!

    1. My mum who had verry long narrow feet as a child used to tell me about the shoes she had to wear when she was a young teenager. Her foot was so hard to fit her shoes had to be ordered from a shoe store in another city. When they arrived they were big and brown, with laces, not to mention ugly and embarrassing for a shy fifteen year old.

  5. hahahaha – love that advert! And the topic. It’s a really interesting one. I attended boarding school for my first 4 years of senior school, so back-to-school was a little different – we arrived a day or two before the actual teaching started! I’ve still got the blanket that we bought with Green Shield Stamps to go on my bed… that’s a throwback! And it’s still got my name sewn onto it. Some happy times, and some not so happy times. But mostly nostalgic…

  6. 1st day of school memories, we all have them. Would have been so jealous of your suede jacket back in the 70’s. I did have bell bottom jeans though. High school was the transformation for us also to be able to wear pants. Freshman year, when we were still in skirts, if a teacher thought your skirt was too short, we were sent to the Dean of girls for it to be measured. Years later when our old school was put on the historic register my Mother and I attended the ceremony. The Dean of girls was there and I shared that memory of the skirt measurements. My Mother got a little nervous when Mrs Culbertson asked if I had ever been sent to her. Mom calmed down when I answered “With my Mom and Grandmother, never, they wouldn’t have let me out of the house!”

  7. I love that outfit! And what I would have given for your hair!

    We always took one trip to “the city” (usually Duluth MN) to buy school clothes and it was the highlight of my summer. I worked hard at babysitting, window washing, etc., to have a stash to spend at one of the first Target stores. It was SO exciting.

    Maybe the two name greeting was generational? My dad always called me and my kids by two names. One of my friends asked me a few months back why I always refer to my kids by both names when I’m telling her a story. I had to think about it for a while, but I think I got in the habit after listening to my dad. I don’t do it when I’m speaking to them directly, but I find myself calling them that off and on when I discuss what they’re doing or going.

    1. OH, and The Glass Block. It was such a lovely department store in Duluth. My mom once looked up while combing a table of sale shoes and directly into the eyes of Jessica Lange. They both kept going, because…Minnesota. LOL.

  8. Very off topic but I love the 2021 picture of you and Debbie. What fun you must have recounting your many adventures over the years. You look about 22 in that photo.

    I’m glad you had a good visit with your Mom and family. I enjoyed my armchair auto travel with you and the scenery.

  9. As someone who attended seven elementary schools (no Kindergarten), two junior highs and one high school across three different countries, back to school days are a hodge-podge of memories. Only one year did I have to wear a school uniform (my second–first grade class (as we moved mid-year). It was a parochial school where one had to attend mass before school. We were required to wear a half-cap that was basically an oval piece of fabric with a sewn-in headband. It provided a memorable occasion on my first (terrified of nuns) day at the new school and during the mass, no less. The headband in the cap was simply too tight. As I was kneeling with my hands folded delicately in prayer, I could feel the cap starting to ease up my head. And ease up it did, in dramatic fashion, as it popped off the top of my head and landed in the pew behind me. Needless to say, the nuns were not amused. Was a tough year. Happy to say, we ended up moving again by the end of the year, so I had yet another fresh start elsewhere.

    1. That is a great story, Mary. I can see that happening to me too. Mostly because my head was so big they’d probably not have one large enough to fit me. I guess that particular year, moving around a lot served you well?

  10. Wow – lots of memories resurfaced while reading another of your well written blogs , Sue. Always a treat – thank you.
    Grade 1-5 was a one room school and I was so glad when we all got moved to the “big” combined school in Grade 6 – new friends and the bullying disappeared. High School was a new grade each of my 5 years – we would just get settled into our class, seats all assigned and the announcement on the loud speaker would request myself and 2 others move to a different class for a ” rebalancing of the numbers”, in the each of the 5 classes. Looking back on this now, I realise it prepared me for always finding and making new friends with all of my husbands postings to new places. We have moved 9 times. Difficult to move away from friends but I try to look at as ” look at all the new and interesting people I get to meet”. I am lucky enough to have a dear friend for 40 yrs now – even more treasured because I know how scarce this can be!

    I am a couple of years older than you and was part of the movement/fight to allow girls to wear jeans & slacks to High School. It was much warmer in the winter than our super short mini skirts ! 😊

    1. Small is not always better, eh? I found as a teacher small classes were harder to teach, to get momentum going in discussions, or to break up groups of kids who might prove a problem for others. I once (and only once) taught a class of twelve. I couldn’t wait for the semester to be over. Three kids with attitude in a class of twelve spoils the whole year for the rest.

  11. Grade 10 we had just moved from a small town in AZ to a tiny hamlet of 300 in northern CA, where the the kids were bussed 30 miles into town to a high school twice as big as my last. Determined to “reinvent” myself into someone glamorous, I wore false eyelashes the first day. Badly, I might add. Due to some administrative screw up my name was not on the roster in any of my classes, bringing more unwanted attention to my status as new girl, but I got through the day. It was still hot as blazes in September, and on the long bus ride home the kids lowered all the windows. It was like driving into a wind tunnel. I could feel those false eyelashes curling up at the ends, tiny wings lifted in flight. All I could do was put my head down on the seat in front of me to keep them from blowing away. “Aw, sweetheart,” an older boy, a jokester named Burt, said to me. “There’s no reason to cry. It wasn’t THAT bad, was it?” Well, Burt, it kinda was, but thankfully it got better.😉❤

  12. I wore a uniform until I switched to public school for my last two years of high school (the “girls’ academy I’d attended until then closed). You’d think I’d remember what I wore for my first day at the HUGE high-school (2700 students! And co-ed, so that I was going to school with boys again after three years of girls only. . . And those boys had weirdly become facsimiles of men! ). . . I do remember the anxiety, trepidation, plus excitement, and I know I must have been wearing a skirt or dress (It was either later that school year, or perhaps the year later, 1969, that we were allowed to wear pants, then jeans). . .
    And today my granddaughter starts high school, and her school is also huge in comparison to her elementary school — and she has to ride the (regular city) bus to get there.
    Meanwhile, in Italy, another granddaughter is taking a (private school) bus to her (private, international) school, after weeks of telling her parents she didn’t want to do that, wanted Papa to keep driving her (25 minutes each way, into Italian city traffic). On FaceTime yesterday she told me that she loves taking the bus. Why? Because “you don’t have to talk about what you did in school that day!” I was very careful what I asked her after that. . . .

  13. Your post brought back many memories, especially of escapades with my high school bestie, Janis.

    Yesterday was the first day for the students in our school division. Teachers have been back at work for a few days preparing and attending professional development sessions. When the bells rang yesterday, hubby and I (both retired teachers) loaded the kayak and spent 3.5 years paddling a quiet river and enjoying the sunshine.

  14. So glad you are back to regular posts. I just love your writing. You in your tenth grade photo – SO cute. Thanks,

  15. Lovely memories! I wore a uniform my entire school life other than the last year of high school when a group of us convinced the headmaster that we were young adults and could be trusted to wear appropriate clothing. Trousers were a big nono!
    Living in NZ the start of the school year is the end on January and the best weather of summer always seemed to be when we had gone back to school. The horror of having to wear lace up leather school shoes when you really wanted to run around barefoot. Memories of yanking off the prickly wool school blazer as soon as you got home in the afternoon.
    The best days of our lives? Possibly.

    1. Did you take phys ed classes in your bare feet? Friends of ours spent a year on an exchange in New Zealand a few years ago, and their young son absolutely loved being barefoot in his outdoor gym class.

  16. Yes, to all the “first day of school” memories and jitters as a student, teacher, and, now, as a grandmother helping provide some “filler” for my homeschool grandchildren. My earth science contribution this year will be field trips, hikes, and geo-caching! Like any teacher worth their salt, I’m studying and reviewing more than the students!
    But the biggest “back to school” challenge is a stack of six, dusty, plastic crates filled with biology and pre-algebra class files currently stacked by the back door. One of the crates is filled with yearbooks and cherished mementos from students and classes. I’m ashamed to admit, it’s been eleven years since retirement. It. Is. About.Time. I’m planning to pull things that are still current that can help my grandkids.
    This will definitely be a trip down memory lane.
    Charlene H

  17. I don’t feel I have very much to contribute to this conversation . The importance of September passes me by . Yes , I did go to school but it was so long ago & I seem to have blotted out the memories . I didn’t enjoy it & always wished I could be wandering around in the countryside or reading my own books . To be fair we didn’t have the best teachers . There was a serious post war shortage for us baby boomer pupils & ex servicemen took it on – whether they wanted to or not . With no children or grandchildren it’s still pretty irrelevant . What surprises me are the numbers of teachers & ex teachers here in the blogosphere . Max took piano lessons in his 30s & in September his teacher would ask if he had enjoyed the summer break . He’d say ‘ what break ? I’ve been working overtime all summer for our accounting budgets ‘ Some of us moved in different circles 😁 We get to enjoy summer more nowadays .

    1. Ah, I hear you. There’s nothing more excruciating for a kid than to be presented with a teacher who doesn’t want to be there. I remember a couple of teachers who when I entered their classroom my heart sank. And the hour class seemed to never end. I never went to summer camp, and spent most of my days trying to dream up something to do in the summer when I was a kid. Mum worked full-time and my older siblings had summer jobs. I couldn’t wait to go back to school and see my friends who did not live near enough to me to visit over the summer. And once we moved to the farm of course there was my own career as a ferry-operator. 🙂

  18. Another wonderful post that brings back such good memories of the first day of school. Thank you for sharing your memories-

  19. I love the smell of crayons in the Fall…once a kindergarten teacher always a kindergarten teacher.! This is a bit off topic, but have you watched The Chair on Netflix? I think you would love it!

  20. My September feels have zero to do with school…standing on the beach this afternoon at low tide staring at the New Brunswick coastline I can feel in the air that it’s near time to pack up and head back to Ottawa after three beautiful weeks at our Island home. September is beautiful on Prince Edward Island and we hate to go but go we must as we have winter renters moving in Oct 1…and grandchild #3 is due to enter the earth’s atmosphere over the coming weeks!
    Hopefully next year we get many weeks here over the shoulder seasons. Like Wendy, I have no great memories of school, although I appreciated and respected many of my teachers there were a miserable few I disliked and did not mourn a whit when I learned of their passing, that’s a sad legacy but goes with the territory I guess. You can’t please everyone. Healthcare was my passion and I did end up as an educator to my patients and young staff. My younger brother is the fourth generation of my family to teach in Ontario since the 1830’s! Great grandfather, grandmother, aunt and brother…I asked him if he missed ‘September’ feels ( he is retired) “Nope, they can keep it” as he headed off kayaking for a week.

    1. Oh, gad, that makes me nostalgic, Allison. Hubby and I spent ten years renting a cottage on P.E.I in August. I do know that view of the New Brunswick coast. And how about half way through August you could smell fall in the air.

  21. I hadn’t thought about back to school much this September, which I think is because of the whole Covid, mask mandate/no mask mandate thing. It’s hard to think about ordinary back to school. Your post brought back so many memories. I remember finally being allowed to wear pants! Bell bottoms, flowy maxi skirts, peasant blouses, beads, dangly earrings, etc.
    My best friend, Mary, and I would plan outfits and walk to the bus stop together every morning. My outfit would get adjusted once I was out of sight from our house – skirt rolled up a bit, a little lip gloss added.
    Thanks for bringing it all back. Now I’ve had my back to school fall moment.
    I love your buttoned bell bottoms and jacket.

  22. I wanted a red plaid jumper more than ANYTHING when I was in first grade. But my parents were Eastern European immigrants and red was anathema to them. I told my dad I wanted that red plaid jumper and he said, “RED? What are you, some kind of communist?” and I said, “No. I’m 6 and I want a red jumper.” (I was a smarta$$ even then.) I did not get one.

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