Starting School

Fall means remembering the smell of new pencils…

Many, many, many, many, many years ago…new shoes…new skirt. My mom made me get my hair cut short and I hate it. What if the kids laugh at it while I’m walking to school? The teacher I’m getting is really grouchy. What will we read in class? What if I don’t get invited to Janet Moore’s birthday party? Will everybody know? What if I have to sit beside Joe and everyone thinks I’m a loser?  What if my pencil case isn’t the right kind? But my pencils are sharpened and my mom bought me the good colored ones. I love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, like everything new is about to happen. I stand in the dusty sunlight and wait for the bell to ring…

Many, many, many, many years ago…what will my schedule be? I know that no one will ask me to the start of the year dance. Ugh! Joe asked me…in front of everyone! What if they think I’m a loser? I should tell him off for embarrassing me. I mumble something polite and turn away, face burning. My best friend Honey, giggles, nudges me, and stares at the cute boys. I grip my binder, feeling the reassuring weight of a pencil case crammed to bursting with erasers, a protractor, a tiny ruler, scissors, and new pencils. With everyone else, I line up in the stark cafeteria to get my schedule from the blank-eyed teachers.

Many, many, many years ago…the hall is jostling with students trying to sign up for the classes they need for their major. Why is there no streamlined system? Ridiculous. The guy ahead of me turns around and gives me the once-over, his eyes lingering over curves. Gross. I consider stabbing him with my pencil. Red for blood.

Many, many years ago…pushing the stroller with one hand, hanging onto a toddler with the other, the oldest marches along the sidewalk toward the new school. “I’ll take you in,” I say. “No. I know where to go,” she announces. “Come back for me later, okay?” Without waiting for an answer, she joins the stream of kids heading toward the wide front doors. “You forgot your pencil case!” I call, but she doesn’t hear. And I cry all the way home, knowing that she is as happy as anything to be tackling the world.

Many years ago…all three girls pose for first day of school pics. I manage to get smiles between the eye rolls. Then they pelt, laughing and screaming, toward the bus stop, backpacks stuffed with books, notebooks, staplers, markers, pens and their personalized name pencils slapping at their knees until they hoist the huge bags over their shoulders.

Years ago…I nervously pick up stacks of cheap notebooks, markers, calculators, lined paper, crayons, colored pencils, poster board…surely the school will provide pencils?  I add five packages of twelve just in case my first class comes in empty handed. I am ready for the first bell…

Last year…school tie and too big blazer highlighting his age, my grandson hoists his book bag over one shoulder and grins his excitement at his first day of school. He’s so little and the pictures are so cute! I wish I could be there. I wish I could sit with him and take an oohing, aahing, and giggling inventory of the notebook, reading book, and pencils lying in the bottom of his bag. It’s my first year of retirement. I go to Target and buy a representative sampling of paper, notebooks, notecards and pencils…just in case.

Today…I look at all the back-to-school posts and sales, click away from my friends’ first day of school pics, and get started on keying in the next chapter of my book. Later, I think I’ll buy some drawing pencils and sketch a little. It’s fall. With the rustle of fading leaves, I need the smell of graphite, the feel of wood between my fingers…and the scent of newly sharpened pencils.


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