There can be no moment more melancholic than the last day of the summer holidays when you are twelve years old and must the next day begin a new year at a new secondary school. The sick feeling at the pit of the stomach recurs like those nightmares where one is sitting in an examination hall with a paper file with questions on subjects never studied. The prospect loomed like a dark cloud, overshadowing the whole summer.
Wandering the cemetery today, swapping memories with those whose names filled the dramatis personae pages of our village life, I wondered if they had disliked school much as I?
‘Ackie, you were my second cousin twice removed weren’t you? Isn’t that right, my grandfather’s second cousin? I used to see you around all the time, it’s amazing to think you’ve been gone thirty-three years. Did you like school? When you walked up Field Road to the village at the beginning of September, did you ever feel sick about the new term starting? Wouldn’t you have preferred to be back on your farm?’
‘And Bert, what about you? I remember you cycling down the road every morning with the post. Your gravestone doesn’t tell how much you meant to us. You were always smiling and laughing, not a melancholic type. You must have spent long enough at school to have had a job with the post office, but did it never clash with your natural joviality?’
My mobile phone rings; it is the alarm company phoning for the third time in the afternoon to say the Rectory alarm has gone off, the spell is broken. Ackie and Bert were of the generation where it would have been impolite to describe school as anything but the best days of your life – even if the teacher was liberal with the use of violence. I bid a farewell to those whose presence filled every part of village life and engage with the business of phoning an office in Dublin about the alarm problems. The anxious memories conjured by the thoughts of schooldays are dissipated by the engagement with everyday problems.
There were times in student years when a new term was approached with eager anticipation, when the world of school classrooms was something forever put away. Those days were something to miss, but the days in the world of Ackie and Bert were left behind with delight.
Four decades on, it is hard to know why school prompted sick-making apprehension. The school taught lessons well, and was fair in its treatment, it did not deserve to be greeted with such dread. Yet attempting to rationalise thoughts decades later is a fruitless endeavour; lie telling oneself in retrospect that a childhood fear of ghosts was a piece of silliness.
Walking down the road the dreadful realisation sets in, ‘It’s 1st September on Wednesday’. Unwarranted or not, a cloud gathers over the days ahead