“It’s late September and I really should be back at school.”-- Rod Stewart
Labor Day is my New Year’s Day.
The first Monday in September is a much more significant milestone for me than some arbitrary day in the middle of winter. I take stock at the end of each summer, make my resolutions then. We are sad to see a string of sunny days at the beach come to an end, but secretly, we look forward to a little more structure back in our day, and, admit it, seeing our kids off to the school bus again.
As part of the catalog of tricks our minds play on us, recent years telescope down to a blur, but the distant time of our lives when things felt so dramatic and important remains crystal clear. For me, the memories of heading back to college are so vivid that September still holds the place in my annual rhythm as the time of new beginning, of new year. And nothing lingers in my synapses more, as signal and symbol, than the smell of fresh paint. That slightly stinky sting of paint fumes is forever melded in my head with the fresh start that college presented each fall, and with the four – okay, five - years that were at the center of my transition from teens to twenties.
Going as I did to a huge state school, maintenance was light and the chaos was heavy. It became standard practice, at least at that place in the early Seventies, for everyone to paint their rooms the first week back. Over the summer, an institutional pale green or yellow may have been slapped on, or not. Either way, we arrived with suitcases, records…and paint. I like to think we were just expressing our individuality, but mostly, we were just trying to impress the opposite sex. A really wild color could elicit much comment for quite awhile, often past the point where you got sick of living in a purple box.
I was a dark blue guy myself. Something about sky and water. But we all felt cool and “individual,” all of us in our matching long hair, beat-up jeans, and wrinkled t-shirts, The Dead or Pink Floyd blaring out of most every open door or window. Did I ever paint a heart or a girl’s name on a wall, then quickly paint it over? I don’t think so, but I can see the possibility in my mind’s eye and suspect that maybe I did. A deep sigh, an adjustment upwards of the volume knob of the stereo, and more paint to complete the fresh start.
I may sound overly nostalgic but don’t be fooled. I love looking back but would never want to go back. Now, I have great family and friends, a job I love and a car that starts without drama. And a new smell rules my life -- the smell of books. Every day is a day of discovery, of finding words in a sequence I’ve never experienced before. And different from college, where everyone is off doing their own thing, I am in a community of like-minded book lovers, a place where everyone is teacher to the other. I am in school for life, and I am still learning, thank goodness.