That time of year

By Brian Doyle | September 18, 2015
Paul Hamilton/Flickr
Paul Hamilton/Flickr


Another end-of-summer opening-of-autumn ritual is the gathering of the backpacks, the herding together of the bookbags, the reclamation of the bags of burden that students must carry, bent to the toil of education. This happened recently in our house, and once again it amazed me exceedingly, and I recount some of the low points here, for there were many of those, and some were funny; such as finding one backpack actually stashed into the wall through a hole behind a poster of the World Champion 1999 San Antonio Spurs, where it (the backpack, not the poster) had been apparently crammed with glee and triumph after the last day of school for that child, which was 11 weeks ago, which made the discovery of half a peanut butter sandwich something of a screaming adventure.

Another backpack had been so worried over by the dog that not even I, the world’s most parsimonious man, could make the case for its resurrection, and we bought another backpack for that child, which caused a hullabaloo among the others, because children in a family are ferociously competitive, and they do measure status and equity by the thinnest eyelash and smallest spoonful, such that if one somehow grew a third eyebrow or grew an inch over the weekend, the other two would immediately strive with all their might to outdo their sibling, which is why our children are all long and hirsute.

Eventually the backpack situation was resolved to the satisfaction of the ruling party, who oversaw the momentous loading of the backpacks, with new notebooks and rulers and pens and pencils and scissors and Scotch tape and pencil sharpeners and markers, and rubber bands and paper-clips, and those tiny juice boxes with the plastic straw ingeniously affixed to the box, and small laminated sheets of emergency phone numbers, and backup chargers for cell phones, and $10 bills surreptitiously folded into the inner lining of the backpack just in case, and a note of love and encouragement from her, and a small wallet-size photograph of the dog looking winsome, and a tiny medallion featuring Saint Anthony of Padua just in case, and a small wallet-size photograph of the whole family at the beach that summer, just in case school got overwhelming.

Then the gargantuan lunches were loaded into the backpacks, each lunch tailored to a particular child, so that one child got a peanut butter sandwich, and the other got turkey, and the third got cheese, and then the side dishes, such as apples and potato chips and cookies of various kinds, plus granola bars and candy bars and breath mints; and then various medicines just in case; and then for some reason each child was given a book of stamps, although why stamps were disbursed by the ruling party remains a mystery to me.

Finally each child lined up by the back door, and the backpacks were loaded upon their shoulders, and hitched and adjusted properly by the ruling party, as the father and the dog tried not to laugh immoderately, and remarks were muttered about backpacks weighing more than the bearers, and stamps?, and if I ever find a backpack wedged into the wall again there will be serious repercussions, and other things like that. Finally we heard the roar of the school bus at the top of the hill, and the children sprinted away like small falcons, carrying their epic backpacks like bright sins, and the parents stood there holding hands, weeping.

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