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Food For Thought

I’ve often thought that the new year should begin in September rather than the middle of the winter. As a child, September seemed to be the beginning of new things. School started. I think I looked forward to school more than I did to Christmas or my birthday. When school started, so many things about my life changed. There were new clothes, new shoes– stiff and brown and sure to cause blisters after a summer of sandals and bare feet.
I cherished my pile of new school supplies. Long pencils, yet unsharpened, with perfect erasers and no dents in the paint from my habit of chewing on them. That gold and green box of new crayons was one of my favorites. Thirty-six bright new colors, the points sharp and unbroken, the paper labels intact, with all those wonderful names printed out– red-violet, blue-green, my all-time favorite colors. I couldn’t wait to fill the pages of the new Big Chief tablet with rows of arithmetic problems and lists of spelling words. Some years there were fascinating new items on the list of required supplies. Rulers, protractors, compasses, what wonderful new mysteries was I going to discover with those?
There was a certain trepidation about the new schoolroom, the new teachers, the new students who’d moved to town over the summer– would they be new friends? Would the same best friend from last year still be glad to see me, or would they have been wooed away during the summer to be somebody else’s best friend? Would that good-looking boy still be sitting across the aisle from me? But those little fears just added to the anticipation. I wanted that first day of school to come so I could find out for sure. I was ready for new things.
I wanted to get my hands on those new textbooks. The new geography book with the intriguing maps and photos of far-away places. And the workbooks. There were always pages that the teacher skipped and I loved being able to figure them out for myself. Some, I would even save so that, next summer, when school was over with, I could pretend I was still in school and the teacher would draw a big red star at the top of the page when I’d finished all the problems. I guess most of all, I loved the readers, with all the new stories and poems, and questions at the end of each chapter that the teacher usually ignored but that I pretended I was required to answer. I liked the arithmetic books too. There was something comforting about arithmetic. Numbers were facts– dependable and consistent. None of this guessing about hidden meanings, nothing requiring an opinion or justification. Everything was either right or wrong.
On my very first day of school ever, the day I started Kindergarten, Mother drilled me over and over about my full name, my birthday, my parent’s first names, my address and telephone number, and the name of my teacher. I’d known most of those other things for most of my life, but the name of my teacher was a new and sudden fact and I had to learn it in a hurry. Her name was Miss Simon– a name I’d never heard before. To help myself remember it, I associated it with salmon, one of my favorite foods. Mother usually kept a can of salmon on hand (much like I later did with the can of tuna) for a hurry up meal. We often supped on canned salmon on Sunday evening after a day at our grandparents’ farm. I liked it cold, straight out of the can, even the silvery skin and little round bones that had been softened and made chewable by the canning process. And I liked the peachy-orange color of the salmon. It seemed to be the perfect name for that color. Somehow, I imagined that color would taste just like salmon if it were a flavor instead of a color. The association was firm in my mind. I would not forget Miss Simon’s name.
In the way that children accept coincidence as some sort of given that nobody had bothered to tell them about, I was not at all surprised to arrive at school on that very first day of my formal education, and discover that my teacher was wearing a salmon colored dress. All the kindergarten children were gathered around a side entrance to the school building and herded into a covered stairway that led down into the school basement. Down a long hallway to a room with low tables and child-size wooden chairs. We were instructed to stand behind our chairs and say good-morning to our teacher. Proud that I had memorized all the required information, I raised my voice so that I’d be clearly heard above the others. “Good morning, Miss Salmon,” I sang out.