notquiteold

Gracefully Aging – With Resistance

The Best Day

When I was a kid, do you know what my favorite day of the year was?

Yeah, okay, Christmas. (Good guess.) After all, I was a little girl who loved dolls and clothes and anything wrapped up. And unwrapping stuff. And tree-trimming and angel decorations. And parties and singing. And staying up late and getting up early. And Christmas lights, and cards in the mail. And tiny hot dogs wrapped in dough. And cookies. And having my hair curled. And money.  And pie.

That’s pretty hard to beat.

So you do know what my second favorite day was?

The first day of school.

I loved summer – long hot days filled with swimming and biking, and warm evenings with night-time hide-and-seek and fireflies and the ice cream man and late bedtimes.

But by September I was ready to go back to school.

And that first day of school was so very thrilling.

First Day of First Grade. (me in the middle)

I went to parochial school that required homely navy jumpers. But we didn’t have to wear our uniforms the first day. I got to wear something pretty. And new too. My mother would buy me a special first-day-of-school outfit. No hand-me-downs for that day. And the whole school would go to Mass first, where I also got to wear a mantilla. A dress AND a lace headscarf. Very special. I loved that triangle of white lace, but if I could go back I’d like to wear my mother’s black lace mantilla. How cool.

I’d fidget all through the long Mass, and then Father What-Ever-His-Name-Was would come to the pulpit and start reading names.

“Grade One,” he’d start. “Sister Saint Adelaide:  Denise Nadeau, Stephen Bernier, Janice Houle…”  and all the way up to Eighth Grade.

And the children would get up as their names were called, and go stand by the Sister. And she’d line them up two by two and they’d march down the aisle and out the door and over to the big brick school across the street.

It was so exciting to find your new desk in your new classroom, and discover who would be your classmates for the year. Saint Anne School had two classes for each grade, and it took just that one day to be certain you had the better teacher and the best kids. You’d sneer at the “other class”, even if your former best friend was in it.

The September weather was fine and we’d go out at recess and run around the schoolyard. We had jump-ropes and cat’s cradles.

We’d get new textbooks. Well, not new, really – most of them were written about 1910. But they were new to us and we took them home in our new bookbag (I liked red plaid) and covered them that night with brown paper cut from old grocery bags. And I always had a new pencil case with ticonderoga pencils and a pink pearl eraser. And a protractor – though I had no idea what to do with it, except I could rub my pencil along the ridges and make a design on my new composition book.

Sister would give us lots of tests that first week to see what we knew. I sucked up like nobody’s business.

I got to write on the big old blackboard.

And be almost the last person standing in the spelling bee. Damn you, Andre Dorval.

Of course, it didn’t take long before I couldn’t wait until my third best day – the last day of school.

But that first day was so sweet.

I went to school until I was thirty. (My parents told their friends that I was majoring in Transferring.)

But that first day was glorious every single time.

When I retire, I am going back to school. I’ll find a class in an ancient brick building with heavy scratched-up desks and a real blackboard. The whole semester will be worth it for that first day.

**

42 Comments

  1. Michelle Gillies

    This is beautiful. It brought me right back to being a little girl. Unfortunately, I can’t remember even 1/10 of the details you have. How can you remember such things? :-)

    • My sisters will probably tell me that I have it all wrong, but that’s how I remember it!

      • Michelle Gillies

        Sisters are like that. I have so many and any given event we each have a version of what happened as seen through our own eyes. I always say the reality is somewhere in the middle.

      • That’s what makes memoir so interesting…the fact that your family has completely different memories. Love yours.

    • 73skiddo

      Deja Vu. St. Joseph’s School in Sharon, Penna. I graduated from 8th grade in 1952. Brava!

  2. pharphelonus

    Very nice, Nancy. And I agree with Michelle. Your recall is fantastic.

  3. Brings back so many memories…but your mom got you a protractor in the first grade??? I am SO jealous..;-)

    • It must have come with the pencil case.

  4. I loved school, too. And I was good at sucking up, too If you do go back to school one day, take something with no grades (like pottery) or audit a class–very freeing. And weird.

  5. Wow, Nancy. You made me sad that I am not still in school. But I was a teacher and I had a first day of school for sixty years from 5 to 65. I loved it then and I miss it still after three years. But I’ve taken courses since then. My next “first day of school” starts next Wednesday. – Maureen Old Girl New Tricks!

    • Stay tuned…. I write about teachers in Part 2. I promise to say nice things…. mostly.

  6. You kill me. Some day I will tell you (only you) about my first days (hated them all). But you have a wonderful set of memories and I love that you have shared them.

    Love the pictures also.

  7. I can smell the dust of chalk and pencil lead as you recall your school days. Fabulous recall, Nancy. Love the sketch of the nun and YOU. By the way, going back to school after retirement is awesome. Better than when I was young.

    • I’ve taken online courses but I haven’t gone “to school” in twenty years. I can’t wait.

  8. You beat me-I went to school until I was 27 – and I loved school too until about grade 9-11–then loved it again after that

    • I don’t think you tried hard enough to make a career out of being a student.

  9. I swear you pulled this memory right out of my head. I had forgotten it for nearly fifty years. Thanks, Nancy.

    • I think about it every September.

  10. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

    I remember laying my first day of school clothes out on the floor before I went to bed. The little diorama resembled a headless flat person

    • How sweet! I remember trying on my outfit dozens of times. (of course I still do that before a big event.)

  11. I loved reading this post, but NO WAY would ANY day of school be a favorite of mine! Well, the last day might come close….

    • 1. Christmas. 2. First Day of School. 3. Last Day of School. 4. HALLOWEEN!

  12. Me, too! The first day of school always held such promise.

  13. My excitement was in getting ready for the first day of school. The new pencil box, new clothes, covering the text books with brown paper bags, a new lunch box. Love this post…. you take me back and back and back….. :)

  14. There’s something magic about new pens and pencils and crisp, fresh notebooks! I think it’s that sense of unlimited potential. :-)

    • I still love a new pen and especially a pristine notebook – white pages and fine blue lines!

  15. This is such a wonderful post! It brings back wonderful memories of my first days of school.

  16. adorefamily

    First day of school and school supplies make average days the best days!

  17. i love this post. i could picture everything.

  18. The first day of school was always, always so exciting for me! Your illustration is adorable!

  19. One of the reasons I loved being a teacher was being able to write on the ‘big old blackboard’ every day. I almost cried when removed them from college classrooms and replaced them with white boards and ‘dry erase markers’. Coming home with black, blue and red ‘ink’ on your hands isn’t nearly the same experience as having chalk dust under your fingernails. Great post – you brought back some of my favourite memories, too.

    • I love even the smell of chalk.

  20. Loved the post! I didn’t go to Catholic school but I did a book on our area’s history and one of the photos in the book is of a little boy standing next to a nun. He name was Sister Boniface and she was in the full head to toe habit. She was apparently one strict teacher and I have a feeling lots of people who have thumbed though my book got the shivers when they saw and were reminded of Sister Boniface! LOL!

    • Sister Sainte Therese was our nightmare. But mostly they were sweet. Forbidding on the outside though!

  21. Fun post. But you may have trouble finding a real blackboard in school anymore. They all seem to be dry-erase or smart boards. Sigh. Good luck, though

  22. Dear Nancy! What a heartwarming post! I too went to a Catholic School and coincidentally, also called St Anne’s Convent. :D And I too have some of the best memories within the white-washed walls. I too shared these moments in my blog. Did you have to “freeze” when the bell tolled at the end of recess? Sharon

    • OMG – “freeze” at end of recess! I had totally forgotten! Then WALK like ladies and gentlemen to your line to walk back into school two by two. And NO TALKING.

  23. cherubim97

    That was great. I love how you remember all those memories so clearly. I mean, you’ve written down every single detail! I don’t even remember what I did a week ago!

    As for me, I’ll tell you that my experience with the first day of school was dreadful. My parents thought that I was happy when they took me to school for the first time, but I wasn’t. I was faking a smile to make them happy, but I knew where I was going since the very first moment. I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to meet those kids, I just wanted my bed and my house, honestly. Yeah, I was a pretty smart kid, hahaha! It went on for eleven more years – the first day was always terrible and the last one was always excellent.

    Fun topic, indeed!

  24. What a lovely, joyous picture of you! My first day at school was awful.

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