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.
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.