Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Happy First Day of School

Celebrated: on this day in Virginia, but I'm not sure where else

Kids in Maine went back to school last week, but my nephews and niece in Virginia follow the custom of my own childhood, starting school on the Tuesday after Labor Day. (At least, it was the custom of my childhood; my prep school always started the week before, possibly to differentiate itself and remind the community oh-so-subtly of its higher standards and general superiority.)

The school year traditionally follows the farming year, but even now that children are no longer required to help with the harvest, it makes sense to keep them inside when the days are shorter and the weather's cooler. It follows the natural rhythm of the year in the northern hemisphere, but it helps create that rhythm, too. The day after Labor Day will always feel like the first day of a new year to me, a good time to start new ventures, set goals, get organized and buy school supplies.

I miss school supplies. These days I have little use for more than paper, envelopes and printer cartridges, but I can still stand mesmerized in front of a display of spiral notebooks. I love binders. I own, at last count, three three-hole punches, because I never seem to be able to find one on the rare occasions when I need it.

As a child I longed for a set of Mr. Sketch markers - the scented kind, where light blue for some reason was mango, a fruit few of us at Baylake Pines Elementary had ever seen in real life. In fact, I'll bet nobody in Mrs. Holmes' 4th grade class had ever seen or smelled a real mango, unless one of the Navy kids had spent time in Hawaii. My often-indulgent mother, overwhelmed by the need to buy school supplies for five kids (my brother James, the sixth, started first grade the year I went to college), drew the line at such extravagance: they were absurdly expensive, the smell wouldn't last, and we never treated nice things well. (I still can't have nice things, I'm sorry to say.)

In middle age, I see the impracticality of Mr. Sketch markers, and wonder where the idea even came from. I've been able to afford my own Mr. Sketch markers for years, but have never bought a set. What would I possibly use them for? Nothing in my life requires any kind of marker, much less the scented ones.

 But if I had kids, they'd be going to school today with the 12-pack.

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