September Blues

By Jeffrey Page

Here I am – desperate, hopeless and despairing – my eyes fixed on the calendar. Sept. 1, the worst day of the year and the start of the worst month. Never mind the equinox; Sept. 1 means summer is over. And the end of summer means the end of happy days and liberty. And it means back to school.

It’s been decades since I had to go back, but the pain has stayed with me. Soon I’ll see kids waiting for the school bus with backpacks full of books and lunch and pencils and notebooks, crayons and gym suits and rulers and note pads, and I will be glum for them. I’ll be glum even for the ones who’ve been looking forward to the start of another year in school. There are such people.

When I was in grammar school, I couldn’t have defined desperation, hopelessness and despair, but as Sept. 1 arrived, I always found myself desperate, hopeless and despairing. I dreaded being locked in a classroom at P.S. 33 in Queens for another year with Mrs. Terwilliger or Miss Lang.

But it wasn’t only the start of school that made me unhappy. Sept. 1. was also the end of magical summer.

As June turned into the sweet July days I could forget my dad’s anger as he read my abysmal report card in a menacing silence. I could forget the look of eternal disappointment on my mother’s face as she whispered to me – as she did every June – that things would be better in the fall, when I could start fresh. But I never started fresh. It never got better, neither my grades nor what they used to call my deportment.

Ma persevered – yet I always let her down. For that I felt terrible, but not for long. It was summer out there and it was calling me.
 
Summer was punch ball seven days a week. Or stick ball. Or marbles. Or getting money and buying a hot dog at the deli. Summer was staying up late. Summer was disconnecting a neighbor’s lawn sprinkler and slurping water on blistering days. Summer was bikes. Summer was skates. Summer was the bells of the ice cream truck. Summer was going to a Dodgers game with my father once he got past the report card’s summary line that seemed to define me and which made him furious: Could do better.

Summer was hanging out with Joel Greenspan, my best friend. We had a joint scrapbook in which we pasted pictures of airplanes. We were airplane crazy. Summer was spending time with Robert Kaufman, the doctor’s son who was born in Switzerland and who once called me a beast after I made fun of the goofy way he threw a Spalding. A beast, he called me. Can you imagine that?

Summer, most of all, was freedom: I could talk when I chose. I never had to raise my hand. I could have a lunch that was not like the watered down vegetable soup and jelly sandwich they served at school. In summer I didn’t need a hall pass. Summer meant I didn’t have to dive under my desk, close my eyes and clamp my hands over my ears because the Russians wanted to kill me.

Summer was rapture. It was ecstasy. It was perfect. And, as happens every summer, I think again of Dylan Thomas’s line: “ … in the sun born over and over, I ran my heedless ways….”

Such a joy was heedlessness.

Even in the rain, summer was a time for running. Or for finding an open basement door in those garden apartments in Queens and waiting out the storm. But I don’t remember too much rain. Summer was sun and breeze. We could trade baseball cards all year round, but in summer we played our beloved game with our mitts and our bats – and with our mothers’ caution not to let the hardball hit us in the head.

But always there were hints of the doom to come. The worst was the first back-to-school ads in the paper. A few, then many.

July was slow and easy. But August came and flew past. Soon it would be over, this wonderful time. Soon it would be Sept. 1 and the rest of dreaded September, and then it would be 10 endless months before the next summer vacation.

After Sept. 1 would come the terror of chilly gray Sunday nights. Sunday night – the worst time of the week even to this day when I have no homework to forget to do. On Sunday night, I would look at the clock and be astonished that it was already 8:30 and that those math examples had not been done. That science assignment had not been done. That reading about Lincoln or Plymouth Rock or Armistice Day or President Eisenhower had not been done, and I knew there would be hell to pay the next morning.

Jeffrey can be reached at jeffrey@zestoforange.com

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2 Responses to “September Blues”

  1. LeeAgain Says:

    I didn’t share your dread, Jeffrey. September meant new clothes, new books, and renewing friendships from the previous year. The advertisers really must have gotten to me because to this day I can’t make it through Back-To-School season without buying some kind of school supplies, even though my kids are approaching middle age. Like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn, I find myself drawn to stationery stores for those marble composition books and #2 pencils around this time every year. And I still have dreams about forgetting my locker combination.

  2. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    I’m an all summer person too. BUT, I’m also with LeeAnn. And I thank her for relieving me of my fears of insanity when i feel the pull of school supply shopping – even at 62!

    BTW: best wishes on the happy family news.

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