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.
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.