Yes, I know that the last day of summer is technically Sept. 21. (Actually, I didn’t know it; I had to look it up. Remember the good old days when Sept. 21 was always the first day of fall and June 21 was always the first day of summer and Dec. 21 was always the first day of winter and March 21 was always the first day of spring? There was a pleasant certainty and regularity about the whole changing-of-the-seasons business back then. Now the fancy-pants scientists have got us not knowing from one year to the next just what day the next season begins on, and having to look it up. I don’t think I particularly approve, but nobody asked me. Anyway, I digress.)
So yes, the last day of summer (this year, anyway) is Sept. 21. But for a kid growing up in Ontario, the real last day of summer is Labour Day Monday – because the next day is the start of a new school year.
This past Labour Day Monday, Raymond and I were out for a drive and made a stop at Madoc Township Public School. What a nostalgic place that is for me! My very first day ever of school was there, the Tuesday after Labour Day 1966 when I started Grade 1. (No kindergarten at our school in those days.) I was at the Township school through Grade 6; for Grades 7 and 8 we were bused into the village of Madoc, to attend Madoc Public School.
I have written before about the Township school and what an excellent group of teachers were there in the 1960s and early 1970s, all under the extraordinary leadership of Florence McCoy, the principal. We were well-taught and well-cared-for at that school, and I have the happiest of memories of it. (And you might imagine what a pleasure it was this past long weekend to spend some time with my Grade 1 teacher, Gayle Ketcheson, her husband, Grant, and their family.)
So I took a little time poking around the grounds of the school the other day, taking some photos and relishing the memories that came back. Of how scary it all seemed that first day in Grade 1, and of the little green metal lunchbox that I carried. Of old-fashioned blackboards, and being the “board monitor” assigned to wipe them clean and beat the chalk out of the brushes (outdoors, of course) afterwards. Of school choirs and school plays. Of the school’s quiet and kind caretaker, Stan Moorcroft, and of visiting his open-kettle maple-syrup-making operation once on a not-far-afield field trip. Of the excitement when, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, a library and gymnasium were added to the original school building. Of competing in races and high-jump on field days, initially as a useless klutz and after a few years getting not too bad at it. And mostly of those excellent, excellent teachers and all that they taught us.
What especially resonated with me was how quiet the grounds were on that last day of summer, and how noisy and busy they would be the very next day. And I thought of the youngest children, those just starting kindergarten (because yes, there is kindergarten now), and how they might be a little bit scared at the beginning of that first day but would doubtless make new friends before it was out and would find a gentle guide to this new world in the person of their teacher.
And then, after many photos were taken and Raymond was beginning to wonder if I would ever be done, it was time to go. But just before we got into his truck and pulled away, a cool thing happened.
The bell rang. I looked at my watch: it was 10:30 a.m.