I remember another September, when we still lived in Penrose. Finally, another school day is over as I sit at my desk in front of my second grade classroom in Powell's old red-brick Eastside Grade School. I need to go home and help Russell finish up the milking and wash the equipment. Then we'll have supper and talk about what has happened today and read the mail. Maybe some of the kids will have written.
I think about the new school year that just started today. The chorus of voices and the forest of hands in the air are still on my mind and in my ears. Mrs. Blood, what is this word? Mrs. Blood, may I go to the restroom? Children, please pay attention. Try to print more neatly. Children, please put your scissors and crayons away and clear your desks. It's time for recess, children. The last piece of chalk has worn down to a nubbin, hardly enough to avoid the screech of my exposed fingernails on the blackboard. It's time to go, so hurry quickly before I think too much about the hundreds and hundreds of eager faces and bright eyes and fidgety and sweaty bodies and runny noses and quizzically wrinkled foreheads--all waiting for recess, waiting for lunch, waiting to see how far I'll let them go, waiting for time to go home.
The bright new September day began with laughter and sunshine and with shiny new shoes not yet scuffed and faded and with rundown heels and holes in the soles. Children not quite ready to give up the joys of summer came this sunny morning wearing stiff new dark blue jeans and bib overalls and bright new dresses with the "store-bought smell" promising new and exciting things. Is anything more fun than a new box of crayons with the paper covers not yet peeled away and worn down so that the bright new colors are still nicely tapered on the ends? The new crayons always are so much easier to use than after they become worn down into stubs and grimy pieces. New scissors, new (or at least different) schoolbooks, new rulers, a new teacher. The transient joy of anticipation and the nervous feeling of uncertainty permeate the air. Anxious faces mirror the unspoken questions: Will I like my teacher? Will my teacher like me? Will I have any friends? Will I be able to make good grades? Will others make fun of me? Thus, another school year begins, my new class a carbon copy of countless schoolrooms stretching across time and space.
What do these scamps think when they first come into my classroom? I know some have heard that I'm a hard teacher. Well, I don't think that is true, but I do expect them to mind their p's and q's and do their work. If that is what they mean by "hard", then they'll have to live with it.
This day at least is a day of hope for everyone. Soon the slow students who need extra help and extra love and the lazy and ornery students will separate themselves from the gifted and the hard workers, who move on with self confidence and need more work and greater challenges. Why are there always a few eager or ornery faces that just break your heart and then a few others you would like to adopt and take home with you and still others you must endure with every ounce of patience you can muster?
Where are they all? Where did they all go, leaving only fading memories of chalk dust and crumpled paper and the hollow echoes of laughter in long-emptied classrooms? Where are their faces, their smiles, their tears? I can forever see their up-stretched hands asking, telling, answering. I can watch their actual mischief and clearly sense and anticipate their undone antics, mirrored on their faces and harbored in minds and bodies wound up like springs, just waiting to be released. The blackboards are erased. The lights are turned out. I know I must go out the doorway and into the warm sunshine of this treasured September day. But I'm feeling drowsy. Maybe I could just lay my head down on my desk for just a moment beside the huge bouquet of myriad-colored gladiolus I brought this morning to welcome this new school year and my new family of children . . .
. . . Now I am looking out this same classroom window in the waning sun of another, earlier, September day, the dust motes riding the filtered light rays down the sunlit shafts moving like escalators from the windows to my desk, dancing in the moving air. The calendar on my wall tells me that it is a September day in 1930. How did all of those three hundred and sixty calendar pages become restored again, just as if they had never been torn away in the relentless succession of months and years that somehow I know followed this day and this year. The empty desks; my goodness, the empty desks! No more "Miss Wasden may I's," at least until tomorrow morning.
Just like my pupils, I have my own shiny new back-to-school shoes. I'm giddy. If I hadn't gone up to Sunlight basin to work as a cabin girl at the Dewey Riddle Ranch this summer, I would never have met that lost orphan cowboy, Russell Blood. What should I do? How is it that I know that, in a few months, Russell and I will marry, load our sparse belongings in the rumble seat of my Model A roadster, and take off for Denver to seek our fortune and who knows what? And how is it that I know that just a few months later, when the Wyoming prairies are alive once more with a blanket of wildflowers, that Russell and I will come back to Penrose with the return of meadowlarks, just in time for the purple lilacs and wild roses to bloom and for the cottonwoods and silver leaf poplars and Russian Olives to adorn themselves in their summer finery?
But, for now, I must turn the crank until the throaty purr of my little car promises that I will return home safely once more. The top is down, the autumn wind is in my face, and I toss my head and let the breeze take my hair. I pass by the golden grain stubble fields and breathe the wonderful smell of the season's last cutting of alfalfa hay. The weeds that only a few weeks ago had seemed so haughty along the side of the road and along the fence rows during the peak of summer, as if they ruled the universe, have now met their inevitable fate and received their just reward as they stand brittle, dying, and turning brown in the relentless onset of autumn. The leaves on the cottonwoods and elms have just a tinge of yellow, as if they are giving up in advance of the first sign of frost. the trees seem to possess an innate knowledge that their season of greenery is over and that nature's last assignment of the year to them is to dazzle the horizon with brilliant colors that promise to tug at your heart every day for the rest of your life. How can life be any better, any more full of promise?
I let the faltering warmth of the late afternoon September sun guide me over the twelve bumpy miles toward home. How incredible it is to feel so young, so strong, so free of aches and excruciating pain. Strangely, the sun seems brighter than it should at this late hour of this halcyon September day as I head my purring roadster ever eastward, moving steadily toward Penrose, toward the safety of home, and now toward new adventures, far, far, beyond . . .