Seen You in September

First day of school flashbacks from our favorite local seniors network, SOWN. 

Back to school in October? September may have been the “official” Back to School month, but for parents dealing with the return to “normal” after years of COVID lockdowns/protocol, it’s gonna take a bit to get back in the swing. 

Getting the kids ready for school, school buses blocking intersections, students swarming like ants – WHEW! The SOWN staff is giving parents, grandparents, and caregivers a chance to recover from the rush by offering our memories of returning to school. 

Mayu Stehly, Operations & Communications Coordinator

While I have the fondest memories of going back to school as an older student, as a very young child, I found the first day of school to be a nerve-wracking experience. Meeting teachers and classmates and adapting to new routines felt daunting to me. I attended the same school for 12 years, so over time, those first-day nerves faded. 

Eventually, I looked forward to going back, learning new things, seeing old friends, and embracing the sense of community. In contrast, my young son said of his first day of Pre-K at a new school, “I had a GREAT day! I made many new friends!” 

Jill Gates Smith, MA, Outreach/Administrative Coordinator, Philly Families Read Together

When I recall that first day back to junior high school (ca.1962), I have an olfactory memory rather than a visual one. It’s the smell of the new clothes my classmates and I were wearing. Back then, before today’s use of natural fibers in clothing, our outfits were made of polyester or polyester blends and “sized,” meaning they were treated with polymers to improve their strength and resistance to wear and tear. (It was a way to make clothes last as long as possible.) 

This sizing was used liberally, apparently, to add “body and crispness to clothes” Whatever the reasons, I can still recall the smells and, even today, I shun polyester fabric and, even more strongly, I shun dresses. 

Arlene Segal, MS, Coordinator, Philly Families Connect

First day of first grade, I was the new girl in school. I was six years old and had just moved from Fourth and Brown to Olney, near the now-gone Sears tower on Roosevelt Boulevard. 

We were standing in line, ready to enter school, when the girl behind me pushed me! I wish I could say I was really tough and pushed her back. But, that didn’t happen. Instead, I started to cry. No teacher intervened and the pusher, whose name shall live in infamy, was not punished. 

But this story has a happy ending. Another girl, Marsha, gave me a big smile and put her arm around me. And, to make the story complete, we are still friends, almost 70 years later! 

In contrast to Arlene’s experience as the one needing comfort, Lori Latimer, MSW, LCSW, Director of Programs, provided comfort for a sister classmate.

I was very excited to start kindergarten. My brother was older and already in school. I was jealous that he had something special to do every day. I remember entering the classroom and seeing bright colors all over the wall, the chalkboard, and the teacher trying to gently gather all the new students settled in chairs. 

I noticed one little girl, dressed all in purple, who was crying inconsolably. I was surprised to see someone scared and upset to start kindergarten when I had been so excited. I felt sad for her and, maybe, a little protective. I didn’t want her to have a bad time. I don’t remember how our interaction started, but I do remember that she and I became kindergarten best friends. 

As the sole male staff member at SOWN, John’s memory is decidedly different from his colleagues’.

John Rosenberg, Administrative Coordinator/Grant Writer 

“In high school, I thought I would wear cologne on my first day of school. Not having a fully formed brain yet, I thought that I would apply the cologne in class. I, of course, dropped the bottle. The whole class smelled of Drakkar Noir. The teacher was not amused.”

After reading his memory, we wondered, did high-schooler John use Wikipedia to learn that the creator of Drakkar Noir said, “. . . the secret behind this fragrance is . . . its sensual masculine power” or that it has “. . . top notes of bergamot, rosemary, lavender, middle notes of cardamom and geranium, and a dry down of vetiver, cedar, and fir balsam” or that marketing “focused on themes of masculinity, sensuality, decadence, darkness, and lust” or that “the name Drakkar is derived from the word drekar, a type of Viking long ship, invoking the ‘virile charm’ associated to the Viking warriors”? Did Wikipedia exist?

Follow-up questions revealed that John was in the 10th grade, the cologne was a gift, and, no, he does not use Drakkar Noir anymore.

Questions? Comments? Please add them below to keep the conversation going.

ABOUT SOWN The Supportive Older Womens Network serves grandparent-headed families, caregivers for loved ones, and vulnerable older adults in the Greater Philadelphia region. A grassroots news partner with WHYY/N.I.C.E.
4100 Main St. Suite 403, Philadelphia (MAP LINK)
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This column was written by Jill Gates Smith, Outreach/Administrative Coordinator for SOWN. Read last month’s column here 

About SOWN 17 Articles
SOWN strengthens community support networks, reduces social isolation, and improves the well-being of older adults, especially women and their families. It offers a number of resources, including peer counseling groups by phone and in person, individual counseling, educational workshops, and resource referrals.

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