I attended my first day of school in 1972 at Mater Dei Primary School in Toowoomba QLD.
I don't really remember much about those days but I do have strong scent-filled memories and emotions from that time. I bet if you asked a grown-up to write down what they think makes an impression on a first grader and then compared that list with the child's some years down the track, it would be surprising.
My first and lasting impression of school was shopping for the uniform.
My mother took me to Hanna's Department store (est. 1956), you know the traditional old fashioned two story wooden buildings that carried everything you could imagine. My mother held my hand as we climbed the large dark wooden staircase. I felt so small. Until then it was probably the largest staircase I had ever climbed, to me it was enormous. Back in those days, stores were genteel establishments of hushed, carpeted places, no music on loudspeakers and an assistant at every elbow. Coming in from the harsh glare of a Queensland summer day, the store was dimmer and cooler. It smelt of wood and carpet and fabrics. Stores don't smell that way anymore.
Once in the school wear department a lady conferred with my mother and I numbly submitted to a bewildering number of garments to try on. Firstly there was the summer uniform, a sturdy cotton dress of a typical patterned plaid but I particularly remember the smart blue "bow" that had a button on the back and attached to the wide collar. I tried on straw hats to get the right fit and cotton socks, singlets and bloomers were also added to the pile.
Then came the winter uniform, a very French little number now that I look back at the photos. A bit "Madeleine" nes pas? A warm brushed blue cotton shirt with a heavy grey, belted and buttoned woollen pinafore, a blue and grey striped tie, long grey woollen socks and chic of chic, a grey woollen beret. The grey woollen cardigan a serviceable transitional piece. I can't remember but I suspect the school shoes were black and I walked funny for the first few days trying to prevent those nasty crease marks appearing across the top of the toe. Do you remember that first time trying on school shoes and the grown-ups bidding you walk up and down, all the while feeling extremely self conscious and not walking at all normally even though you tried very hard. And what a silly question to ask a child over and over "can you feel your toes?"
And then.....the raincoat! A bright yellow shiny vinyl raincoat with big plastic buttons. The smell!
The smell...like nothing I had ever smelt before, sort of cosy and special and most definitely new smelling. It was the most glamorous thing to come into my world that day.
I feel I must explain something to you about the enormity of this shopping trip.
I was a very quiet and shy little girl of very good manners and like all children of that time we only spoke when spoken to. I was also the eldest of five children and I was six years old. I was loved but there was no spotlight for any one child in such a busy and large family.
So here I find myself, suddenly in the gloom of a hushed department store after ascending the most imposing staircase I had ever seen in my life and standing this way and that in a parade of clothes. In a family like ours the budget was modest, my mother making all my clothes and new things were a special treat. There were literally piles of clothes on the counter all waiting to be wrapped in brown paper off the roll on the counter and then tied with string. I was the centre of attention like I had never been before in my life making me want to hide, AND I was to have my own special coat for going out in the rain, what a thought!
Of course this was just the beginning because next came the school port and new books and coloured pencils, the new lunch box and handkerchiefs, the drink flask and....
really....can you understand now why the first day AT school was a bit of a non-event compared to this?
The experience was quite overwhelming and so full of different smells. It is the smells that I remember most. I remember opening my port and no matter what was inside that day, it ALWAYS smelt of bananas and shaved pencils.
I suspect my parents think my first day of school was rather momentous but for me it was more the lead up that was impressionable.
Is this how it was for you?
Was it the something quite apart from the actual first day that you remember?