21 Dresses and September Love

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Back in the Dark Ages when school started after Labor Day, September was the month for going back to school. I still remember my first day of school – first grade on an air base in Germany.

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At some point as an almost-six-year-old, my mom and I decided I needed 21 dresses to start school with – three full weeks of cute outfits! She told my grandma, who then started sewing.

My birthday’s in August, and I got school clothes as gifts: a pink and white checkered jacket, pink plaid skirt, turtleneck shirts, new socks and undies, slips with rows of lace sewn on the edges…

And a couple large packages arrived that month with my name on them.

By the time September came, I had my 21 dresses.

On that first dark morning I wore my red and white gingham shirt, a navy pleated skirt, and black and white saddle oxfords. My name tag was pinned to my jacket, with my classroom number and teacher’s name. I carried my lunch box, and my German red satchel (school bag) filled with brand new paper and fat pencils, scissors, erasers, glue, and glorious crayons in a flat box that smelled divine.

crayons-1445054_640I was ready.

(My mom still has the photo in an old album.)

We lived in a village about 20 minutes away. My dad drove me up to the highway to wait for the bus.

I remember meeting kids I’d never seen before in a classroom with tall windows across the back. My legs dangled at a desk that would take me another year to grow into.

I also remember no chewing gum allowed, no talking, raising hands, pledging to the American flag, and sitting in small chairs for reading group, seeing Dick and Jane and Spot run.

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My mom says I sat at the dinner table that evening barely keeping my eyes open, and she sent me to bed. I wasn’t used to getting up so early and spending long, busy days away from home.

We moved into base housing later that year. It meant I could walk from our apartment building to the school in just a few minutes. My parents gave detailed instructions about crossing the street.

Stand at the crosswalk and wait till no cars are coming. Then you can walk across.

I did exactly as I was told. I stood there, waving on the cars that stopped for me, and didn’t step into the street until no cars were around!

I always loved school. The older I got, the more I loved looking through the fall/winter catalogs that came in the mail, with photos of cozy sweaters, wool skirts, stylish boots, thick tights and knee-high socks in an array of rich colors.

And I still love September.

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The promise of autumn days chasing away summer’s heat, ushering in harvest-time and pumpkins, burnished leaves, brisk mornings, warm fires in the wood stove, and shiny bouquets of new pencils and crayons sharpies.

The temperatures this morning are cooler than usual, and I’m keeping the windows open as long as possible.

And I called my mom… while sitting here remembering.