Hallowed halls bring memories

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 9, 2002

Wandering through the halls of Andalusia Elementary School, capturing faces for that first exciting day, I felt years slip away from me.

Watching the tearful good-byes from parents leaving their oldest child at the kindergarten door, I remembered taking my own oldest child to his first day, and found myself tearing up as well. These tender, trusting souls, these investments of love and time and worry – we are now turning them over to an alien system, to strangers, and it is hard to let go.

Then I remembered dropping him off for the first day of sixth grade last year, and the tears were for an altogether different reason.

"Out, out, out!" I tossed his backpack after him and burned rubber out of the parking lot, laughing maniacally.

When the baby starts in two years, there may be wistful tears again, since he will be the last one. But then again, there may well be tears of joy again, since he will be the last one…

But more years slipped away as my senses were teased by those first day odors -- fresh polish on the floor, felt-tipped markers, that indescribable starchy smell of brand new construction paper. I'm giving my age away, but I remember the dittoes -- those pre-Xerox pale purple worksheets that smelled like chemical grapes. I remember holding them up to my face and inhaling that wonderful smell which, to me, symbolized school. I think they call it huffing now, and it's probably a felony.

I may not have attended school in the days of the one-room classroom with the outdoor bathroom facilities, but things have definitely changed. One of the smells missing was the nose-tickling chalk dust. What do the teacher's pets do now that there are no more erasers to clap after the last class?

Some of the changes are disturbing. At the high school, I was privileged to hear the Principal, Mr. Shakespeare, outlining the student handbook. I can remember many of those passages from decades ago -- the ones about chewing gum and holding hands, but we never had to be told about handguns and drug dogs.

Some things have only evolved -- and for the better. The odd little boy who was the only one who knew how to run the ancient slide projector has become the highly esteemed little boy who has to show his teacher how to defrag her hard drive. As much as I loved the smell of dittoes, the photocopies are easier to read. Computers have replaced the library -- always limited by funds -- with the entire world at a keystroke.

At the elementary school, I was struck by the innocence, the unfolding promise of new beginnings and I felt a fierce yearning to be back in those tiny chairs, playing Candyland before reading about Dick and Jane (Or Javier and Mariko -- one nice change has been the broadening of culture provided by political correctness.)

At the high school, I was struck by the tensions and fears and insecurities of the students, straddling that precarious perch between childhood and adulthood, and I was thankful to have left that behind me forever -- even if it means I'll never sniff ditto fumes again.

Mary Reeves is the editor of The Andalusia Star-News.