BACK TO SCHOOL
It’s September, the first day of fall is upon us, and everyone who’s going back to school is there by now. I always liked going to school and happily anticipated the end of summer, the cooler days of autumn, and the challenge of new subjects, new teachers, and sometimes even new friends. And while it’s still summery here in Florida, the official change of season reminds me of some incidents from elementary school.
- In grade school, going back to school meant the purchase of a new dress, at first just for me and then later for me and my two sisters. These dresses had full skirts, short sleeves, and were almost always plaid. I recall fondly one green and red plaid with a separate red belt that I thought was particularly smart.
- From kindergarten through second grade, I walked several blocks to school. It seemed like a longer walk than I’m sure it was. One morning I arrived to find the school door tightly locked. I knocked vigorously several times and then in tears walked back home. My folks had not realized it was a school holiday.
- My father’s job called for him to be transferred to another town about an hour away. Before I left for school one morning, my mother told me the name of my new school was “Seward,” and that I should tell that to my teacher. I don’t know why she didn’t write down the name, but she spelled it for me and said she was sure I could remember it. All the way along the sidewalk, I went, chanting, “s, e, w, a, r, d, s, e w, a, r d,” until I reached my classroom. I have no recollection of actually giving Miss Rosa the name nor did I at that point have any idea who William H. Seward was.
- Even when I went there, Seward School was an old building (constructed in 1911 and long since torn down) with a basement that was dank and dim and a bit scary. Mr. and Mrs. Steimle, older German immigrants, were the school janitors. Always cordial to the students, they assisted with any drills. When we had air raid drills, a regular occurrence in those years, we had to wind our way down the stairs to that dusty basement and kneel along the wall with our heads down. I don’t think most of us realized what we were preparing for or the potential seriousness if such a drill were for real. It was just another drill, like a fire drill, only we stayed inside instead of exiting the building.
- Seward School had classes through 6th grade before we moved on to one of the three high schools in town. Graduation from 6th grade was a big deal—white shirts and ties for the boys and for the girls fancy dresses, and probably stockings. For many of us, this was the first time we had worn stockings. In this pre-pantyhose era, that also meant garters to hold them up.
- Sixth grade is also when I had my first male classroom teacher. Mr. Loretan was a young good-looking, capable teacher—liked by all of us, especially the girls!
READING: SIBLING SQUABBLES
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
I received this book, on the bestseller list for some weeks, as part of my First Editions book club membership. After aging it for a few months, I brought it out of my stack and read it over several days. The four Plumb siblings, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice, are somewhat at war with each other over the money they are due to inherit from a family trust in several months. The problem is that their mother has given or loaned a significant portion of said “nest” to Leo, who had a car accident while drunk and caused serious injury to his passenger. Each of the siblings has financial issues of his or her own and has been counting on the money. They collectively gang up on Leo to make him do the right thing, but aren’t sure he will.
Often novels about dysfunctional families, and this lot qualifies, are downers and downright depressing. This novel is actually frothy and fun, despite everyone’s problems. I even found myself liking some of them! This reflection of Leo’s on life after sobriety captures his personality:
However he parsed it, his future in New York could only be a diluted reflection of his before, a whiter shade of pale. Evenness defined his present, the by-product, he often thought, of small minds and safe living. In his new after, there would be no ups and downs, no private jets…or walking home from a riotous evening under a pinkening sky. It wasn’t luxury he missed, it was surprise. The things money could buy weren’t the reward; the reward was to feel lifted about everyone else, to get a look at the other side of the fence where the grass was rarely greener but always different and what he loved was the contrast—and the choice.
For some insight into this first-time novelist, check out this brief interview in the LA Times.
Thanks to my friend Mary for recommending the Netflix series, The Time in Between, which I just finished watching. Set in Morocco, Madrid, and Lisbon between 1937 and 1941, it’s the story of a talented young Spanish dressmaker who ends up being a spy for the British and infiltrating the German community in Spain. It’s subtitled and the pace, compared to most American productions, is measured—at least until the last few episodes when tension builds and events race to the climax. Adriana Ugarte as Siri is beautiful and the clothes she creates are gorgeous, part of the fun of watching this series. The novel of the same name on which it is based was written by Maria Duenas.
Notes: Header art: www.clipartix.com; plaid dress: www.etsy.com; Sweeney’s photo from Harper Collins author web page