She wanted to play “vallerina,” as we had the first time she was at my house. I didn’t remember that first time, and I didn’t want to play “vallerina.” Twirling in tutus may have been fine that other time she was there, but I wanted to play school. Apparently it annoyed me significantly, since I still remember the frustration of it.
I don’t know what playing school consisted of in those days, since I myself was only beginning to be literate. My formal schooling had begun that year, in the pine-panelled room between our kitchen and garage. I remember the school sale at which we bought the two little desks and chairs for the school room, and I remember the bulletin board which we adorned with my school work. I was the only student then, and I loved school. I loved school supply stores, scented of new-printed workbooks and construction paper. I loved the perforated pages of my math book, and I loved marching around the house singing my phonics songs. I loved my little paper-backed readers, particularly the one about Gus, the bug in the rug — a fairly advanced reader, “ŭ” being the last of the short-vowel sounds.
Every fall there was the excitement of new pencils and new notebooks. Smooth pages of empty lines waiting for me to fill them. When the box of new books came in the mail, I hovered about to see it opened, my hands greedy for the books which were to be mine. I reverently touched the new pages of science and history textbooks, studied the covers of new readers, used a finger to trace out the jumbled letters on the fronts of the math books.
And literature lent a glamour to the idea of schooling. Laura Ingalls, prairie schoolma’am at age sixteen. Anne Shirley’s trials and joys in the Avonlea school. Sara Crewe, and, later, Jane Eyre, in boarding schools. Even the “model school” at which Eustace Clarence Scrubb languished.
My American Girl doll had a brown-backed Primer, worked sums on a little slate, and carried her lunch to school in a little wooden bucket. Mid-morning snacks of cheese and crackers transformed into the sole sustenance for a long day in a wooden schoolhouse with a limited supply of coal. Elizabeth and I put on dark dresses and pretended we were at boarding school.
We didn’t take attendance in my school classes, I being the only pupil, but I was fascinated with Sunday school roll sheets: the alphabetical listing of names, last names first. I made lists of friends and relations: alphabetized by last name, alphabetized by first name, in age order, beginning at the end of the alphabet, segregated by gender, written backwards across the page so that I could read it in the mirror, written with my left-hand in case I ever broke my right arm.
The subjects grew more difficult and the books grew heavier. I decorated a dorm room and my professors took attendance, stumbling over the same names week after week. My American Girl doll sat on a shelf beside her little desk, and I wasn’t Anne of Avonlea any longer, I was Anne of the Island. I still loved the aisles of office supplies perhaps best of all aisles in the stores, and I assembled my pens and pencils each autumn and carefully labelled each subject in my notebook. And then the cap and gown, and more classes still.
And then last week, when the little girl who wanted to play school dressed up in her teacher shoes and took her attendance book and three dry-erase markers and a folder full of handouts and stood in the front of a classroom and wasn’t playing school — perhaps last week was not so surprising as it seemed at the time. Perhaps all the bits of things were always tending this way all along the way. And if that is true, what I want to know now is, where next?
©2011 by Stacy Nott