Random Thoughts

Seventy Septembers

... I have seen seventy Septembers, but...

by Ann Robbins Talbot

This year I am a ship without a rudder, not sure where I am supposed to be.

My first four Septembers are not memorable. I am immersed in babyhood, being the first pudgy darling of doting parents. My greatest interest is a set of five cloth books each containing ten nursery rhymes. Place me on a blanket with my literary collection and I will be there when you return. Perhaps that accounts for the "pudgy". One outstanding morning all the electric wires and maple trees are in a big tangle on our street, the aftermath of the hurricane of 38. I do not remember the storm itself.

Ann in 4th grade

Before my fifth September my family, which now includes a baby sister, moves to Stoneham so I can begin school at five years old. I walk one mile to school every day being the last house in the district, and, of course, one mile home. I carry my lunch box containing a mustard sandwich and a ketchup sandwich. I am a very low maintenance child. I gobble up school. Reading and numbers come easily to me as do art and writing. I am expressive in plays but a terrible singer. After the sudden death of my father and the remarriage of my mother when I am in third grade, my Septembers begin to occur in Melrose.
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I love getting ready for the first day of school. The trip to Thom McAn in Malden to have my feet x-rayed would be more exciting if it didn't always end with the purchase of ugly brown oxfords. Some of my school clothes are bought and some my mother makes for me. A few are hand-me-downs from a neighbor, gorgeous dresses that look wonderful on her tall, thin body. However I am not shaped that way.

When I get old enough to buy school supplies, the beginning of September becomes a dream-come-true. Pink erasers that are not attached to pencils. Pads of paper with a smooth surface. A notebook with exotic measurement tables on the back including "grams" and "centimeters" and others that I never use. A bottle of ink with a special glass well where I can fill my fountain pen with blue liquid by pulling a tiny lever. A set of twelve Mongol colored pencils with gold tips which make anything look good. If I save my money carefully a set of twenty-four with the most exotic names. A hand-held pencil sharpener in case one broke. And a zippered pencil case to hold my treasures artificial leather. Browsing in a stationery store is still a delight.

Lincoln School is my home base from third through eighth grade. We know each other very well, perhaps too well. No one does or says anything unpredictable. We just have become used to each other, much like a large family with a few dozen children and several parents, mostly mothers. So the Septembers of high school have the added excitement of being a social event, especially freshman year. For days we browse the stores uptown to see what supplies are going to be "in". We calculate how many outfits we can have by buying skirts and sweaters instead of dresses. Decisions are made about hair and make-up. Luckily I continue my low maintenance ways. And the physical excitement of that first day of school! Who is in your home room? There are kids  coming from other schools this year. What is your schedule like? Each class meets four times a week in different combinations. And who is in your classes? Good old friends for support, intriguing new ones for interest. Who are your teachers? Can you manage a cafeteria? Are you going to try out for a sport or join a club? How about student government? Where will you meet your friends for the walk home and which route will you take? That first day of high school is a most superlative day.

Ann at MHS

As an upperclassman I enjoy September more and more. I jump head first into a new set of classes designed carefully so that I will have plenty of graduation points each year. I carry my eighth grade Latin on for four more years eventually being able to translate at sight. I take French for my last three enough to order a sandwich in Quebec. The only science for me is biology which is fascinating to every adolescent, and math is a necessity to be endured. By the time I get to senior year, I choose typing over math. Later sitting at my computer, I realize what a wise decision that is. My greatest love is English class "so many books, so little time"-- and learning that interesting things can come from my pen.

Each September afternoon is occupied by field hockey, my sport of choice. Armed with a heavy stick, protected by tiny shin pads, I chase after a hard little ball for four seasons learning the comraderie of playing on a team. We think we are winners and we practice hard every day. Our games are played on the football field with almost no one in the high stands to cheer us on, but we don't mind. September is the ideal time for field hockey, before the cold weather sets in, because those short little red uniforms are not warm. I love walking home in the semi-darkness with the unique smell of burning leaves, now nearly forgotten.

Ann the Teacher

My next four Septembers are spent at Bridgewater State Teachers College. The weather is a little different from Melrose, more like Cape Cod a slower autumn. I am ready to go. Our sunroom holds everything I am going to need to begin a new life somewhere else. Every stitch of clothing I own is clean and ironed at the same moment. Aside from my clothes I am bringing a desk lamp and an afghan crocheted by my mother. Still a low maintenance person. Everything fits into one trunk. My mother and brother drive me down the long way since Routes 128 and 495 do not yet exist. All freshman dorm students assemble in clusters of three to choose rooms by chance. I had previously been to Bridgewater at Girls' State, so I find two girls I at least know by sight. We end up with last pick and there are no more rooms. So we are designated "floaters" to live for a year in spaces that happen to be empty. I am placed in a double with a junior whose room mate had married a sailor over the summer. I'm not sure why married students are assigned single rooms since no man can ever enter the dorm. That first September evening, sitting at an assigned seat in the dining room, I realize I am my own person for the first time in my life not somebody's daughter or somebody's sister just me. And I know at that moment that I will succeed.

I love the first day of school so much that I relive it for the next thirty-four years as a teacher. And the thrill of September newness never fades. A new class. All those personalities and learning styles to blend. Many times a new school or a new room to set up in a pleasing way. New colleagues to plan and work with as much teaching is done in teams. I take a few years off when my boys are pre-school, and how I miss the end-of-summer rush.

Ann in retirement

Retirement comes in 1990, earlier than I had originally planned. I wonder all summer what I will do in September. As it happens, I am on a freighter from Montreal to Antwerp and back with four days spent in Belgium. And school begins successfully without me, freeing me to do other things. My husband is retired, so we begin taking our "summer vacation" in September and October, camping in Maine. We enjoy the beaches, restaurants and fairs with few crowds and wonderful weather. I go to Maine alone for two years after his death, but this year I do not go. September just blends in with August and October. I shall not make that mistake again. I do not enjoy being a rudderless ship. Next year I shall look forward to my favorite month for a special reason. I wonder what it will be.

October 7, 2005

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