Memories are fickle things. Perhaps it’s a liability of age, but the older I get; the easier it is to remember things that happened twenty years ago rather than what I ate for lunch yesterday. It fascinates me how the oddest things can trigger memories.
It happened to me last week. I was sitting at my desk (I teach high school English). The room was quiet except for the sound of the heater that hummed one steady note while it blew a continual blast of hot air. Our school has a coal furnace, and in the classrooms, all of the heat comes from one register that squats like a giant gray box under a window (I know, that’s not exactly energy efficient). In my classroom, the old unit has one control with two choices – on and off. The metallic smell of burning coal comes from the heater in faint puffs.
This particular morning, it was ten degrees, so the heater was in the “on” position. My students and I were writing in our journals, when the hum of the heater unearthed a memory. I closed my eyes and let it float to the surface.
I am in the first grade at P. V. Dennis Elementary School, and it is a cold day just like this one. The room is warm and the acrid scent of coal burning in the furnace permeates the room. I am sitting at my desk, a little girl in a jumper and thick black tights, laboring over a writing tablet, lined gray paper with the right amount of space between lines so I can print my letters. My chubby hand grips a fat red pencil. I look up at the letters my teacher, Mrs. Yates, has printed on the board. She has a contraption that holds four pieces of chalk. When she swipes it across the board, it makes straight lines for her letters to rest upon. I am fascinated by that contraption and long to try it.
I open my eyes and I’m back at my desk. My students are still writing and the heat is still pumping into the room. I look down at my journal; it’s lined pink pages with gold embossed edges invite me to put words on the page. Today, I am writing with a purple gel pen. I smile and keep writing.