Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
When I was a little girl, way back before time, Labor Day meant back to school, but now things have definitely changed. Some communities barely even pause for a proper summer, dividing their school years into three semesters or four quarters.
Two questions immediately spring to my weary old mind – how do we find teachers without the long summer break and how excited can the kids be to go back, when they’ve only been gone from the day to day drudge of a classroom for a mere couple of days?
We were ready for a change by the time September rolled around back in my youth.
During our long summer vacation, we had grilled out, hiked trails, and swum until we were pooped. We had played house, board games and, yes, even school – both parochial and public in our neighborhood. We had gone to Grandma’s, gone to camp, and gone on at least one family road trip.
Then we hit August…
August was hot. August was humid. August was loooooong. The best part of August was that it ended at September, but it also meant the smell of new things.
First to arrive would be a Care package from my paternal grandmother. Born in England in the late 1890s, she had been trained as a seamstress. Shopping was her hobby. Remnants were her passion.
All summer long we had played in shorts and tops that had been made with her careful stitches. Now skirts, blouses, and a supply of warm flannel nighties were revealed when this box was opened, and somewhere – deep down inside – was a flat square container within which a golden circle of her homemade butterscotch had traveled. [ATOW: Goes to the Dentist]
Now, I was the oldest of us four girls and, therefore, in my eyes the lucky one. At this point, we lived in East Tennessee, but the next box always came from my second cousin, who lived clear across the country in the exotic state of California.
An only child of divorced parents, my cousin was somewhat spoiled by both of them. Her hand-me-down to me clothes were the things other children’s dreams were made of. One dress in particular still stands out in my mind, a full half century later.
Made of polished cotton, the skirt was solid lavender in color, above which a floral bodice adorned with lavender piping and three large pearl buttons proudly resided. The fabric was heavy and swished nicely when I walked, as it shifted across the layers of petticoats that had been sent to be worn beneath it.
I don’t believe I’ve ever felt more glamorous in anything. The dress arrived a little long, and I was able to wear it for three years. I wish it had been four!
At this point, our young family would switch gears as we prepared for back to school. We had to go shopping.
In my day, this didn’t mean a trip to the mall. Where my paternal grandmother lived, shopping meant a bus journey downtown. In our town, it meant a visit to an L-shaped strip of shops that outlined a large parking lot.
First thing on our lists were usually new metal lunchboxes, each one complete with a thermos. In point of fact, as far as I can remember, I never owned a thermos that was used. Mine are the ones over which collectors are now fighting. Mornings in our home were a zoo, and Mother simply had no extra time within which to prepare soup.
Our lunchboxes were packed with essentially the same things every school day – a PBJ on white bread, Cheez-its or potato chips, and a cookie. All were wrapped in waxed paper, which tended to shift and unwrapped as our lunchboxes bounced along by our sides as we walked the short distance to school.
One of my best friends, Leslie H, had a mother who believed in chicken or tuna salad, Ruffles, and Hostess chocolate cupcakes, which Leslie had grown tired of – quite unbelievably to me. On a good day, we traded.
The evening before the first day of school, my sisters and I were all scrubbed with Ivory soap and shampooed with Lustre-crème before bedtime. Our clothes were set out, the new lunchboxes were lined up, and our saddle shoes were all polished, as my mother vainly attempted to establish a routine.
Bedtime – seven o’clock – was strictly adhered to, not that it made any difference. All of us spent at least the first hour tossing and turning with excitement, as waning daylight still peeked in our windows.
When morning finally arrived, Mother would greet us with the first oatmeal of the season, despite the still ninety degree weather outside – a Northern tradition brought with us when we had moved to the South. Despite our excitement, talk was subdued, even as our actions were hurried, because on this day and this day only, our mother would be walking with us to school.
My next sister down and I usually walked well ahead – seasoned students in our new finery, lunchboxes held tightly in our excited fingers. Then came my baby sister in her stroller pushed by my mother, the third one of us clinging to Mother’s skirt.
Finally, we would arrive at the front door of the school, where we were all greeted by the Principal like honored guests. Jauntily, my next sister down and I waved our goodbyes to the others as we entered the building that was filled with our new teachers, old friends, and the smell of paint mixed with the odor of freshly waxed floors.
Summer was officially over. School had well and truly started. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were just around the corner.
All was, once again, right with our world!
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When to Remain Silent (Annie Acorn’s Kindle Short Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
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