I’ve already written in this space about just how excited my twin brother and I were as kids as the final days of June dragged by and the summer beckoned. My powers of concentration were never more impaired than they were when it was hot and humid outside and the cicadas were buzzing. We could barely contain ourselves in anticipation of summer vacation.
Here’s where it gets a little strange. Despite being so excited to have two months off, by the time the first week of September rolled around, I could hardly wait to get back to school. I don’t claim this as a universal phenomenon. In fact, I suspect many of our Bessborough and then later Leaside High classmates might even have suggested I needed some kind of psychological counselling. Now to be clear, I don’t think this curious eagerness to head back to school was driven by the promise of classes, homework, tests, projects, and the other daily trials of primary and secondary education. Rather, it was the prospect of seeing classmates and other friends who’d been away for the whole summer that was the culprit. And even so, the feeling wore off, usually around 2:00 p.m. on the first day back to class.
When I cast my mind back to my childhood in Leaside, there was a lot wrapped up in that shopworn phrase “back to school.” It meant Tim and I would be dragged to Fairview Mall for an annual visit to buy school clothes. Over the course of the summer, we’d usually have outgrown the previous year’s wardrobe. I understood the need to wear clothes that fit to school, but it was seldom a fun outing. However, I did enjoy our yearly shop for school supplies. I liked shopping for new pens, notebooks, rulers, erasers, highlighters (which were a whole new thing back then), Duotangs, and if we were lucky, a new box of felt tip markers.
In public school, where we had our own desks, I would very carefully set up mine so it was neat, tidy, and suitable for a photo spread in Better Desks and Bookshelves magazine. I’d already swept out the pencil sharpener shavings and eraser morsels left by my predecessor, so everything was pristine. Then, slowly, or sometimes quite quickly, a mess would move into my desk like a squatter in an abandoned building. I seemed to recall one year losing a sandwich in the debris sometime in early September. I eventually discovered it when the overpowering odour of decomposition nearly triggered a classroom evacuation in early November. I obviously had very good intentions in my youth, but lacked something in the follow-through.
In high school, I was also keen to get back in September. I was working in the summers, and returning to the classroom meant I wasn’t spending eleven hours a day, six days a week, pumping gas at Don Verity’s Esso on the southeast corner of Bayview and Millwood. It was a great job, but it usually left me exhausted and soaked with enough unleaded gasoline to be a fire hazard. My mother claimed she could still smell the gas on me after a third shower. School had its own drawbacks, but smelling like a refinery wasn’t one of them.
September in high school always brought with it student council elections. In 1978, our final year at Leaside, Tim and I decided to run for President and Vice-President. I don’t remember much about our platform, other than a vague promise to deliver Leaside gym shorts that weren’t nearly so baggy. We were obviously trying to shore up our base of support among skinny students. We had a blast running the campaign, but we clearly should have targeted a larger demographic because we did not win the election. Nor did we come second. Nor did we…well, I think I’ll quit while I’m behind.
Even as I make my way through middle age, when the days of August wind down, I seem to gain some energy for what feels like the start of a new year.