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Lesson from first day of school taught me to embrace the unexpected

My classmate found a new shortcut on the first day of school. Unfortunately, he had to crawl under a freight train to use it.

The trains then were steam driven. They ran day and night through our tiny Montana town. Sometimes the lonely call of the whistle woke us in the night, but mostly they were so much part of our lives, we didn’t even notice them — until Quentin decided to create his new route.

Quentin was the smallest of the five Ridgeway boys. He used his small size to get in and out of tight places, but it was very sinus clearing when he grew impatient with the long train blocking our only way home and ducked beneath one of the mammoth boxcars.

It looked as if he’d make it across to the other side easily, but just as he rolled under the car, the great train gave a jerk and moved forward. We all stood horrorstruck, visualizing Quentin being ground to jelly beneath the wheels.

The trains were often 100 cars long, so when they stopped, there was no way around and no choice but to wait until they took on water or finished whatever trains did when they stopped, however long it took.

Then, Quentin had his great idea. I stood clutching my lunch pail and brand new pencil box, ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog, as the long train rattled past. I tried to envision what we might use to scoop up Quentin.

Finally though, when the caboose lumbered past, there was Quentin safe on the other side without a scratch. I could have killed him!

That was my very first day of first-grade. I must say that event raised expectations for the excitement potential of the rest of my school career that were never fulfilled.

A group of us talked about our first days of school at a local historical museum recently. The museum is a great place to remember the iron horses that once defined our lives.

First day of school, we agreed, has changed dramatically since the time when school supplies meant a pencil box, two nicely sharpened pencils and a Big Red tablet.

Today, if you print out a supply list for any grade level, you’ll notice lots of new items. Glue sticks, for instance, for all grades. There’s a whole lot of gluing going on in schools today, apparently. We didn’t have glue sticks. We didn’t have glue. We had library paste, which the teacher ordered in gallon jugs because the students kept eating it. It was salty.

At 5, I was the youngest child in school and made up the whole first and second grades in our one room schoolhouse. Demands on me were light. I listened to the other classes. I drew with my new pencil and erased with my new eraser. It was great. The Dryer twins, Daryl and Darylene, came the farthest and arrived on a mule. They were usually late. Sometimes they barely arrived in time to turn around and go home. It took them a really long time to graduate.

At the historical museum, we remembered how important it was to have the absolutely perfect clothes for the first day. Anything else?

“Cleavage,” said a woman coming out of the gift shop. “Why doesn’t anybody talk about cleavage?”

Immediately three gentlemen left the display of antique farm equipment and expressed their willingness to talk about it.

“There’s just too much of cleavage, today,” she went on, “I’m seeing way more of people’s fronts and backs than I ever wanted to.”

We pondered this truth. It does seem that school outfits today reveal far more than just a desire to learn and sometimes uncover accessories we didn’t even know were available.

There’s something unforgettable about that first day of school. Coping with the unexpected can be a good thing. In last week’s big storm, the wind blew our tent away before the tai chi picnic even got started. We did tai chi in the kids’ bouncy gym at the YMCA. That made the Sword Form a little challenging.

I think we should make it a point to leave room in every day for unexpected firsts. Push the envelope. Move outside the box. Rent a bus and lead a tour. Take a train ride. Or, we could just talk about cleavage.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com.

AT THE FAIR

Dorothy Wilhelm will give a demonstration in the Home Arts Department of the Washington State Fair from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Friday. She will demonstrate how to make her Turtle Brownies and other scary treats that are easy-to-make Halloween goodies.

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