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Back-to-school time still conjures memories

This morning, I had a nice chat about the new school year with fellow writer (her short story “The Bee Family” is not yet published), Bethann, who is entering third grade.

When asked whether she was looking forward to returning to school, she replied, “Yes, but no.”

A provocative answer that required more.

“I do like going into a higher level," she explained, "but it’s kind of scary going into a new classroom with new rules and a teacher I’ve never met.”

I understood completely. As a kid, I dreaded September’s arrival every year and didn’t sleep a wink the night before the first day or two.

Don’t get me wrong, I find it heartwarming that so many kids look forward to herding back to the classroom — mystifying, but definitely a good thing.  I viewed the classroom regimen, and rising at dawn, as an unwelcome interruption of a day full of valuable reading and play time.

I loved learning; I just hated having to endure eight hours to acquire maybe 72 minutes worth of information. This was not the teachers’ fault, OK? We collectively spent the remainder of our time: a) lining up and waiting for the class rowdies to stop slugging one another so we could go inside/outside, b) lunch/recess time, which for me meant cramming down my sandwich, fruit, chips and Hostess cupcake and still being the last one in the cafeteria. The janitor would sweep around my feet, and c) "reading" as a class, which involved my mentally tearing out each hair on the head of the kid who agonized over every word, even the word, "the." It’s THE, THE, for pity’s sake, I would scream inside myself (I’m sorry if you were that kid, but I doubt it since you’re reading this).

We were forbidden to do anything else during this interminable length of time, like reread "Titus Andronicus" or fill out FAFSA paperwork. We all had to hover over the page willing the poor slob or slobette to take the dive and pronounce the next word.

Now may be an appropriate time for me to save myself from relegation to the corner and promote a wonderful opportunity for volunteering. It’s the S.M.A.R.T. (Start Making a Reader Today) program. SMART offers thousands of Oregon schoolchildren the chance to spend one-on-one time learning to love books with a caring adult. One hour a week is all it takes to make a literacy connection and help foster the love of words in a little person. Contact them through their website at www.getsmartoregon.org.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, recess mostly meant hanging around by a chain-link fence, as there were few trees in Phoenix, Arizona. I remember walking a couple of miles to reach a tree once when I saw it off in the distance, but it wasn’t at school. Eucalyptus, I believe it was.

So, during recess, I studied the perimeter of my prison grounds or lost miserably at tether ball. Only big-footed bullies suckered people into that game so they could have an excuse to buffet their opponent’s head relentlessly with the ball.

I can hear some of you now. “Sheesh, she can’t garden, she hates yard sales, and she complains about the heat. Now she’s trying to get the kids to hate school just when we finally got them fooled into believing how much fun it was going to be.”

So, to prove I’m not a total downer, if you were to ask little Peggy what she looked forward to most in returning to school, here’s what her positive answers would be: new clothes, a fresh box of (64) crayons, and Christmas break.

Was it irony or payback that, after years of avoiding an academic schedule, I landed back in school by choice? I volunteered in the school library and classroom during my daughter’s grade-school years, and then worked at Cascade Christian High School for three of the best years of my life.

But, I still cringe when I see ads for Back-to-School.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.