Tomorrow is the first day of September. And the day after that is Labor Day.
When I was a girl, school didn’t start until the Tuesday after Labor Day, and even now, it seems quite unnatural to see children walking to school or boarding buses in August. The Labor Day holiday was the second “bookend” of the season (Memorial Day being the first). It signified the official conclusion of summer and was the date after which such things as sundresses and white shoes were unequivocally retired and pushed to the back of the closet. It was time to rotate the corduroy and wool and jackets and sweaters to the front of the closet, and get out the…
School bags. Oh, how I loved getting out my school bag after the long summer! I loved filling it with new pencils, pristine erasers, Crayolas with sharp tips, and fresh, unrumpled filler paper. There was all the promise that accompanied a new school year, too: a new homeroom teacher, new subjects and textbooks, and usually several new classmates. I even loved that classic first-week-of-school ritual: the mandatory composition, “What I Did During Summer Vacation.” Not that I had actually done much of note during most of my summers — I simply enjoyed hearing what the other kids had been up to. And it meant we were getting back in the groove.
There was the shiny, fresh coat of varnish on the hardwood classroom floors, the colorful educational posters mounted on bulletin boards by the teachers, and the fashion show. How I loved seeing the pretty new dresses the girls wore on the first day of school! (Sorry, I didn’t tend to pay much attention to boys’ clothes…) And it would only be a few weeks and the leaves on the trees would begin turning colors and fall to the ground, and teachers would begin adorning the classroom with pumpkin themed decorations. I’ve never been able to sort out whether I liked the beginning of the school year because fall was my favorite season of the year, or whether I liked fall because that’s when school started.
Upon returning to school at the beginning of second grade, it quickly became evident to me that I didn’t get the memo about that year’s fad: rabbit’s foot key chains. Everyone but me seemed to have one hanging from a lunch box handle, a zipper tab, or the like. How could I have possibly missed a societal trend of this proportion? Call it herd instinct, peer pressure, or sheer covetousness, I was instantly fixated on having one of my own. On the way home from school that day, I probably scoured the neighborhood looking for discarded Coke bottles I could redeem for a penny apiece, so I could begin amassing much needed discretionary funds.
[It does seem rather incongruous that I was absolutely horrified by the beheading of a chicken destined to be a family’s nutritional sustenance, but perfectly comfortable accessorizing with dismembered rabbit parts.]
My recollection of what happened next is fuzzy. Whether I said something about wanting this season’s “must-have” to my classmate, Larry, or whether he simply observed my poverty in the trinket department is uncertain. Larry was the Rabbit’s Foot King of Mrs. Fisher’s second grade class. He sported a whole stringer of them in a rainbow of colors. You know, now that I think about it, the most likely scenario is that he noticed me drooling.
At some point — and this is where my memory gets clear again — Larry asked me if I’d like to have one. Are you kidding?!! Did I want one?!! I tried to appear cool and nonchalant, but since I hadn’t yet gathered enough change to buy one, inside I was squealing with delight. He said I could pick one out. I thanked him, then blissfully stroked the soft, furry present for the rest of the day. About a week later he offered me another one. And then again in about another week or so; his supply appeared to be endless. It wasn’t long before I had an enviable collection of my own.
I wish I could say that my conscience kicked in at some point, but it didn’t. I had fallen into a drunken-rabbit’s-foot-stupor that rendered me oblivious to his part of the whole equation. I never paused to ask myself whether he simply enjoyed sharing, or whether he was a little sweet on me. I suppose either way, he may have gotten the payoff he wanted.
I can tell you this: he’s the only boy in that class whose name I can remember to this day. Thanks again for the rabbit’s feet, Larry!