Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My First Day Of School

As a child my birthday always felt more like a curse instead of something to look forward to each year. Other than my mother, how could anyone be excited by the hallmark of that day?  Public schools always went back in session the day after Labor Day.  That meant many times the first day of school fell on my birthday, September 5th.  My very first day of school when I entered kindergarten at Vine Street Elementary School was much more memorable than any of the others because of the events that unfolded.  My birthday had been the day before, so this special day as I began my educational journey remains etched in infamy as being showcased by the fancy footwork of an awkward 5 year old klutz.

My next older brother is 4 years older than I am.  He had been delegated the responsibility to walk me to and from school until I got old enough to either walk by myself or in a group with my friends.  Since we went to the same school, it shouldn't have been that big of a deal to him, but anything involving siblings has a funny way of becoming complicated and drama-filled.  His biggest issue was having to deal with the shame of walking his kid sister to school.  Oh, the horrible things our families cast upon us, but like I always say, "what doesn't kill us, only makes us stronger".  I'm sure my brother is a much better person today for having had to deal with all the responsibilities of being an older brother to a pain in the ass like me. 

We both were decked out in our fine new first day of school apparel as we left home that day.  The journey up Walter Street seemed like such an arduous trek for a five year old child. The route contained two hills, Little Walter and Big Walter, crossing a sometimes busy Third Street and navigating Vine Street to arrive safely at school.  As we walked down Little Walter, I discovered many other children doing exactly the same thing we were doing.  All the older brothers and sisters were walking just ahead of their younger siblings prompting them to stop being so slow.  

As I walked I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing or where I was going. Before my brother noticed and could redirect my focus, I fell face first into a rather large pothole in the sidewalk. It all happened so fast that I didn't even have time to put my hands out to help break my fall.  BAM! My nose and forehead took the full impact of my fall. As my brother helped me up and took me home, he bitched at me the whole way there. I had blood and tears running down my face, but to hear him tell it, you would have thought I had planned the whole thing out just to embarrass him and to make him late for school.  Contrary to popular belief, I may have always had a devious streak in me, but not that devious!

Our family doctor, Dr. Dearborn looked me all over and patched me up.  My nose wasn't broken, but I had two black eyes and my forehead had been split open. My face was a mess for awhile and that was no way for a shy, little girl to start school, but I developed a great poker face at a young age so no one knew just how deeply that fall had hurt me. I like to say I learned to watch where I was walking, but that skill was developed at a much older age.  The only real lasting effect from my fall was the daily ridicule I endured from my brother as we walked to school.  I was so glad when the city finally patched that hole and my brother stopped tormenting me.  We laugh about it now, but I often wondered if any of my brothers ever realized how inferior to them I grew up feeling.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I don't remember any one particular Thanksgiving while I was growing up.  It's more an accumulation of them all rolled up into one pleasant memory that makes me smile. The song "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go" definitely was the theme of the day for my family.  Yes, over the Penobscot River and through Brewer to picturesque country of Holden was the route to my grandmother's house where a feast always awaited us.  Sometimes winter had already begun and the landscape was delicately draped with snow.  My brothers and I were filled with anticipation of the exquisite meal we would eat and the days ahead that led to the grand finale, Christmas. 

Nana's house was filled with delicious holiday aromas from pumpkin and apple pies.  My guilty pleasure was the suet pudding soaked with hard sauce.  The dessert was so rich and flavorful, I could only eat a small serving even though I always wanted more.  Cinnamon and other spices masked the smell of the turkey roasting in the oven and the medley of vegetables on the stove. Native grown McIntosh apples would fill the apple pies and sweeten the day as their flavor mingled with the vanilla ice cream slowing melting atop the warm pie.  Their aroma is so distinctive that I could always tell if they were being sold in a store and now whenever I smell them, I'm instantly transported back to autumn in Maine when the orchards are bustling with business. There with her colorful apron on, Nana was the captain of her kitchen and always busy making sure everyone present was thoroughly sated. She rarely used a recipe, yet everything she made was baked to perfection. Her culinary expertise was strictly from instinct and the experience she had mastered many years before made her like some legendary figure from a Norman Rockwell illustration in my mind.

My choice from the turkey was always the wings, but when my Great Aunt Leah, my grandmother's sister dined with us, I had to share because they were her favorite as well. I never minded and to this day, I always announce out loud that this one is for Aunt Leah as I eat one wing for me and one wing for her.  I know she'd like it that she's still remembered and included in all our holiday meals. Nana piled our plates beyond capacity, but no matter how much we ate it, everyone always had room for a little dessert and then a nap before going home. Nana always told me that my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I suppose she was right, but on holidays even a child can have a hollow leg and be a bottomless pit. 

As the table was cleared and the food put away, my brothers and I did the dishes while the adults went into the living room to take a much needed breather. Nana always saved the paper tablecloth so I could cut out the turkeys and other Thanksgiving pictures printed on the tablecloth.  By the time I was done cutting, it was late in the afternoon and time to return home back through the woods and over the river to Walter Street we would go, but each time I went to Nana's house before I would leave, I always made sure I signed her guest book she kept on the desk in the corner of her living room. Doing that always made me feel as special as the others who had been guests in her house.  I'm sure the thought never crossed her mind to tell me not to do that because it was only for guests.  After all, I was her only grand daughter and I'm sure she indulged me in many, many ways.