That Feeling

The author on the first day of school, 1989.

It usually occurred when I opened up the clasp on a specially-made frame that held my grandfather’s Currier and Ives calendar where “the feeling” would sweep over me. At the end of each month, it was my job to take the 22 x 16-inch prints for the year, locate the ensuing month, and then insert it in the front where it would then be the up-to-date centerpiece of our dining room.

When I carefully slotted August’s scenic picture of calendar dates into place, that feeling – another school year beckoning – would suddenly sweep over me like a sudden afternoon squall. 

As the eighth month of the year progressed, endless summer days of treks to the beach, Cape Cod League Baseball games at Orleans’ historic Eldredge Park, and isolated jaunts to gather blueberries at a patch situated at the edge of my grandfather’s property in Eastham, that feeling never subsided. Schooltime was approaching, and, despite relishing the nirvana of a Cape summer, I secretly couldn’t wait to start anew.

As I hiked along the refined grains of sand at Nauset Beach, I noticed that the afternoon sky would darken earlier. An occasional scrubbed-up, fall-like day and the fact that the tides seemed higher in our local marsh would be clarion calls to us all. We would stay on the beach almost until supper time, usually adorned in sweatshirts because of the coolish weather. 

When we finally loaded up our summer things in our station wagon at the end of Labor Day Weekend and then crossed over the Sagamore Bridge to Route 3 and home to Wellesley, my hometown, the reality of a new academic year was omnipresent.

When our packed car finally stopped in our garage at 48 Radcliffe Road, I burst through our darkened kitchen, shades all drawn from our summer on the Cape, and was assaulted by the distinctive smell of our Wellesley house. 

The following day, when I raced downstairs for breakfast, my stomach was already churning with excitement. Not only was I going to see my neighborhood friends for the first time in weeks, but school was literally just around the corner. It was time for another beginning, for reestablishing ties to peers and teachers who mattered, on grounds manicured and disinfected for the school opening. 

This tidal wave of expectation would sweep over me, especially on day one, when the possibilities seemed endless, and the world seemed to be swept enough, like a terrace after a good brooming. Like many people, I’ve always loved the first day of school better than the last day. Firsts are best because they are beginnings, which is why “that feeling” rings so true. 

As a teacher, that feeling has remained the same for the past forty-one years – like a familiar Christmas carol you hear at the local mall in December. The perspective from student to young teacher to veteran instructor has altered my view as I have gone from a little boy to a semi-elderly man. In 1980, when I began teaching at the same elementary school I attended as a child, Tenacre Country Day School, I continually asked, “How am I doing?” More than four decades later, I now frequently ponder, “How are the children doing?”

Still, I view it as a minor miracle that I still begin to get “that feeling” each year around the middle of August until it builds into a crescendo over Labor Day Weekend. This time around has its own challenges and sadnesses – the surge in COVID numbers, protocols resuming, and, much more devastating, the recent death of a mentor and dear friend, Jack Jepson. Nevertheless, if the academic schedule is a connect-the-dots-to-one’s-past moment, it is also a calendar that is both personal and etched in the future tense. In the end, school is a building which has four walls with tomorrow inside.

I can’t wait to get started!

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