As the cooler weather starts to roll in and the trees prepare to shed their leaves for autumn, classrooms begin to once again fill with children, marching in with their new pencil boxes, freshly sharpened pencils, clean, white notebooks, and lunchboxes. This time of year generates many fond memories for me of my childhood. Not so much specific memories, but feelings—nostalgic emotions and comforting remembrances of a time that seems as if it were ages ago.
Fall has always been my favorite season with its damp, wet mornings, and its bright sunny afternoons with big piles of orange and yellow leaves in every yard. Of anything, the smell of fall leaves gives me the strongest olfactory response. It takes me right back to the mid- to late-1970’s when I was a young pup on my way to school with my lunchbox in tow.
A rainy, misty morning just before sunrise, and the smell of those damp leaves in the air filled my nose so often that the smell still takes me back. I’d pick my seat on the school bus, wave to my mom through the window, then sit and stare out the window, nervous and scared of what my new classmates and teacher might be like, but also excited. And I’d watch as each of the other students boarded the bus as it stopped with the “psssssst” of its brakes, and the creaky, squeaky sound of the bus door opening as the bus driver pulled the handle to let the students in.
Those steps onto the bus always seemed so large to me, and as I think back on watching those other kids board the bus, I’m reminded of how slowly each of them (and I) had to walk up those stairs; one step at a time, holding onto the rail, and hearing the clomp of their shoes or boots on the steps, one . . . at . . . a . . . time. You’d see the top of their head as they approached the top step, and then they’d turn and begin walking down the aisle. The nervousness filled them as they looked down that long row of seats, trying to find a seat left with a window. At least that’s what I did.
I’m currently in a massage therapy program, and for the next seven months I’ll be awakening at 5 a.m. every day for classes that begin at 6:00. I started back in June, and ever since then on my drive in to school each morning, I’m reminded of these old memories of school—the fear, the excitement, and how lonely I felt sometimes.
I was (and still am) very close to my mom, and I remember really missing her when I first had to go to school for a full day, when lunchtime would come and I’d be sitting in that lunchroom with hundreds of other kids I didn’t know yet. I’d open my lunchbox, and there, along with the smell of that old metal lunchbox and peanut butter, would be a note from my mom written on my napkin, and I’d feel safe. It was one of those things she did for me that I’d never have told anyone else in school, but I’d take that napkin and tuck it in my pocket, so that for the rest of the day anytime I felt lonely, I could pull it out and look at it.
I wish I still had those old napkins, but I’m just thankful that every fall I recall them, remembering that place in time when I was just a little boy who loved his mom on a rainy morning.
And then I tuck my finger in my pocket to see if the napkin is there.