Back to School in Connecticut
The drive back from where ever we happened to have gone for the summer seemed to go by in crawling seconds, each one of us fighting for the window seat and then elbowing each other if we were in the middle. We hung our elbows desperately out of the window trying to hook a bit of summer and keep ourselves in it for another week or two. The car was always hot and sticky from two months of spilled ice cream cones or bits of discarded Juicy Fruit gum. Olive and Helen always got car sick and were usually given the window seats out of respect but that meant there was one left. We passed all of the Merritt Parkway signs and read them out loud every time we did. “Don’t stick your elbow out too far, or it might go home in another car “was my personal favorite.
My mother seemed to enjoy these drives: her left arm hung out the window in order to maintain her perpetual state of tanness and her sense of humor intact and stimulated by the thought of fall party season in Greenwich ahead. We never stopped at rest stops or bought food at concession stands as we were supposed to save money so we packed our own lunches. Olive always had peanut butter and strawberry jam on white bread and I had the same. She sometimes varied her sandwich with bacon but that was only when she could snag some slices before breakfast was over.
Once we were home it took a while to air out the house from its long summer lock up. All the windows were opened and the fans put on and the kids sent out to play in the vast wasteland of back woods Greenwich. Down by the lake there were new families of deep throated frogs and more plentiful weeds grown around our dock which thwarted our canoe paddling. Neighbors were bustling with preparations for the fall and kids were nervously awaiting news of which teacher they were assigned to and how hard the work would be that year.
About a week before school started our mother would announce that it was time for all of us to go to Mead’s and buy our school supplies. This announcement was greeted with much excitement as going downtown was the highlight of our week. AT that time in the mid nineteen fifties, Greenwich Avenue was two ways and people left their car keys in the car while they shopped. I could never break my mother of this habit even in her 80’s. She’d say to me, “If they want my car, Dear, they can have it! I’m too old to drive anyway!” and that was absolutely true.
Mead’s of Greenwich was located mid way down Greenwich Avenue and took up almost two storefronts. The upstairs was mostly for books but the downstairs was for kids and descending the wide stairway never ceased to be an experience so exciting for me I could barely contain myself. The intoxicating fragrance of new paper and sharp pencils still slips into my memory today when I recall the place. There were aisles that went on forever filled with Eberhard Favor pencils numbers one through four, reams of paper of all grades, hard blue binder covers, paper with holes in it for these notebooks, instruments for math class made of hard, shiny steel, art supplies, craypas, colored pencils, watercolor paper, pens, inks, (my favorite was always “Peacock Blue”) large erasers and small erasers that fit on top of another eraser on your pencil. I always bought several of these figuring there were a lot of errors in my life.
It seemed my mother never gave us a budget for these supplies as none of my siblings seemed concerned about what was in their basket. Someone was in charge of the money and we just chose what we wanted. Sometimes we bought a new briefcase without anyone’s permission. Looking back I know this was the only time in our lives we had free rein to buy whatever we needed-wanted on that day. With our baskets brimming we approached the cash out counter and unloaded our stuff being careful not to mix our things with our sisters. Then we each left cradling our brown paper bags filled with hopes of a different kind of year ahead.
Looking back, I remember how hopeful I always was: as if that outing to purchase new school supplies would wash the slate of school experiences clean and from that day on the new pencils would write as none had before. The Math test answers would be noted cleanly on the paper and Phyllis and Betty would decide to be my friend again. I like seeing this streak of optimism in myself which was brought on by the annual visit to Meads. I went back to Greenwich a while ago and noted that Meads has been replaced by a jeans store as well as linen store. It doesn’t really matter to me as I can recreate that intoxicating scent in a second in my mind and there I am descending the double staircase once again, so excited that school is starting and I am buying pencils.