Throughout my entire Polish childhood, September 1st was perhaps the most consequential calendar date of the year. August 31st was quickly forgotten by the time September 1st came around. The new month was, for all, the beginning of the new school year. I, along with millions of others, would join the swell of young people making their way to szkola.
In the Warsaw of my childhood, not a single kid was dropped off at school by car. By second grade, you were certainly able to walk alone (or with friends). During first grade, the more protective parent would insist on an adult escort – typically a grandmother. A savvy grandma would let go of your hand early, so that you could walk in with your peers and pretend, for a moment, that you were older than your tender six or seven years.
We hadn’t the advertisements and store sales of big time America, but our papers and magazines still made much of this day. School's about to begin. In postwar Poland, education was hot.
That the hours spent in school were memorable is clear as anything to me now. I remember virtually every teacher I ever had between first grade and the last year of high school. (Contrast that with another reality: I attended various college and graduate school programs for some fifteen years, compared with the ten years I spent in elementary schools and high school. Few of my college or graduate school professors (the pre-law ones) are as deeply enshrined in my psyche.)
Kids, at their youngest years, are so impressionable!
[Here I am, in first grade. I'm reciting to the teacher (and oh, did I like my teacher! In my eyes, she was so... worldly!) the equivalent of "See Jane chase Spot." In the Poland of the late fifties, it was all about Ala (aka Jane) & As (aka Spot).]
Life has become less predictable now. School years begin in Poland and elsewhere on dates that no longer rigorously track the switch from August to September. This year, classes for me begin on September 2nd. Close enough. Starting then, I will leave a hazy imprint on the less impressionable minds of young adults. But today, I succumb to Ed’s proposal that we head out one last time into the countryside.
Picking up on my nostalgic thoughts of schooldays in the “old country,” we go north, to visit cranes.
But I don’t think of Poland here, at the International Crane Foundation of Baraboo, Wisconsin. I think how spectacular these birds appeared when we saw them over the waters of the Wisconsin River, back during our kayaking trip in early July.
Here, they are too used to the likes of us. Ed suggests waiting quietly and, unlike on the river, where all birds fly off at the mere dip of a paddle, these guys are happy to stare us down.
There are maybe a dozen visitors at the Foundation this afternoon. Two of them turn out to be my newly wed colleague Ann and her Meade. I look at her blog now and note that she has put up crane videos. And, that her day (their day) ended at the sushi place across from Sundance Theater. Such a small town.
Me, I'm just a few doors from Sundance this evening. At the shop, working the late shift. Selling stuff.
After work, Ed and I ravenously devour a very large pizza.