The last day of summer

Madoc Township Public School and, in the foreground, a tree that was planted at its 50th-anniversary celebration last fall (I was there with bells on) to honour “the classes of the 1960s.” That’s me!

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.

Plaques affixed to the front of the school that honour those behind its building and, fittingly, its first principal, the inspirational Florence McCoy.

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.

Odd to see the hopscotch setups and the playground silent and empty. The very next day, they would have been filled with children having exuberant fun.

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.


4 thoughts on “The last day of summer

  1. Oh how your post brought back memories for me, Katherine! I entered Grade 7 the first year the MTPS opened, with Mrs Aleatha Woods as my home room teacher, and my beloved Mrs McCoy at the helm, as well as my Grade 8 teacher the next year! It was so exciting to move from the 1 room Hart’s Public School, to the consolidated school, and the teachers were marvellous, as you said… How I loved them all! Thank you for the mini trip back in time!!

    • You went to Hart’s School, Ruthanne? Raymond and I were by there the other day, and I took a couple of pictures. It’s now (and has been for a long time, I guess) the Women’s Institute building, right? (Gracious, I wonder if the Women’s Institute is still active.) I missed by one year the chance to attend Queensborough’s one-room school; I even attended an initiation day there in the spring of 1966, but shortly thereafter the decision was made to close it and the following September the kids from Queensborough began to be bused to the new Township school. I remember Mrs. Woods very fondly; she taught us history in Grade 7, though by then Grade 7 was at Madoc Public School. I’ll never forget her telling us forcefully about the maxim of Captain John Smith in the Virginia settlement (apparently we were doing American colonial history): “Those who don’t work don’t eat!” Mrs. Woods seemed to be a big believer in that precept, given her enthusiastic and repeated delivery of the line. She was a great teacher, as were they all. I’m really glad my post brought back good memories for you – our little visit sure did for me!

  2. Love your post as usual, Katherine (even though I am weeks behind in reading). But I must chuckle at your reference to “those just starting kindergarten…and how they might be a little bit scared…”. You couldn’t possibly have had our Ms. Caitlyn in mind when you wrote that, had you seen the photo Stephen posted on her first day of kindergarten, with a smile so big, you would have thought she had won the lottery (if she even knows what that means). I hope you and Raymond got to see it on Facebook. It is priceless. But then, so is she.

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