Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sprout


Inspired by a wonderful shot at Scrivenings, this is my first day of school. It is February, 1978, and I am four years old.

I am so tiny. I know it, even then. Everyone is taller than me, even my baby brother, who is two and a half. My miniaturity is such that all the other school blazers--even the smallest of the small ones--have three buttons, but mine only has two. My wee checked dress, light as air in cotton and polyester for the Australian summer, balloons at the bottom with its inch-upon-inch load of hemmed-up fabric. I long for something in the shot to provide some contrast for the enormous piece of luggage in my hand, the smallest schoolbag they had.

I remember the photograph being taken. We are in the tiny paved courtyard in the front of my house, through the French windows into the sitting room where there are a pair of scratchy brown couches that my mother covered with a pale lemon-coloured sheet for me when I had the chicken pox, and a tiny little bar behind a special door underneath the record player. It opens down, unlike any of the other doors in the world, and it has two tiny brass struts which pop out and hold the door straight out like a table, where my dad puts glasses and pours whiskey. I love the special door. The courtyard is behind the high white wall that is at the front of the house, where the number is, but not where the front door is. Our house is on a corner, and the street where we are numbered is not the street where the door is. Another wonderful and mysterious thing about our house, not like other houses. Another special door. It will take me many years of adulthood to get out of the habit of adding door-finding instructions to my address.

I fizz with nerves. I am completely, completely overwhelmed by the importance of what is happening. Especially the little forest green blazer, which is crispy and flat and stiff-fuzzy on the outside and has silky material inside it and it has buttons where everything before seemed to have zippers or nothing at all. Mum stands a little away, and her expression and the camera tell me more things about what is happening, her mobile eyebrows and crooked smile speaking of the need to capture me, because this is not the everyday, it is a part of the story that must be written down, like the appearance of a magical creature or the discovery of another door.

What I remember most vividly is the bag. It is so big, and it has two handles, and my hands are tiny, tiny, and my fingers are being squished together in a bunch from holding it. I look down at my fingers, because I hate this sensation. I still hate this sensation. Thirty years later I see my fingers, impossbly tiny, and I am back on the paving, and I can feel that I am not going to put the bag down, even though I want to rearrange my fingers, because mum wants me to hold it for the photo.

So I look away from my fingers, and up at her. I feel the bag lean against my knee, cool and vinylly. She crouches to get in line with me, folding up gracefully, as she always does, and I see her lovely, angular, precise pianist's hands prop the camera delicately at the edges as though it is already a negative.

I am so scared. Everything is so important. What if I don't find the right doors?

13 comments:

pluvialis said...

beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!

Xtin said...

:)

dr. hypercube said...

You and pluvialis are both magical creatures (beings?) - don't let the world try to tell you different. As someone who is driving a child to college (his 1st year) this weekend, I can empathize w/ your mum - kids get older, but the feelings stay much the same. Your post and the boy's departure are conspiring to fill my eyes up...

I wore a school uniform (Newport, Wales) to my 1st day of school as well - my parents have a picture somewhere - wish I had it.

kookaburra said...

The dr. is correct in his taxonomy. I have to praise you both yet again (& then, I promise, I'll stop for an unspecified time period)--having discovered your blogs only a wee week ago, I've suddenly got this habit of looking forward to new installments of fine writing.

"Sprout" is a wonderful post. Brava!

Reid Farmer said...

Love those bangs!!

My daughter had bangs in her first day of school pic, but her hair is so curly they almost twisted up off her forehead.

Wonderful "Remembrance of Things Past" writing Xtin.

Scrivener said...

What a beautiful post. Thanks for the kind words about Ella's photo. I need to actually manage to write a post about her first day of first grade, maybe her first week.

Heidi the Hick said...

Do you ever look at your fingers now and wonder how they can be so small? I do. Having both my kids catch up to me doesn't help...but I can look at my smallest fingernail with my own eyes and just brain-burst at how ridiculously tiny it is.

I don't have such a vivid memory of my first day of school. (I loved reading yours.) I do remember a blur of everybody being bigger than me. Oddly, I don't remember being afraid. Just little.

Krista said...

What a wonderfully vivid memory of tinyness. It made me consider, and I don't think I have any memories of First Days. And I don't think my mother took any photos, either. This is all very strange, since there are a ton of photos of me as an only child, and only girl grandchild.

Also, it may amuse you to know that I've been thinking of you as tall all this time.

Xtin said...

Thanks for the lovely comments, everyone.

Really, Krista? Brilliant. (I'm not sure why it should delight me so much that I come off tall in my writing, but it does). I'm not exceptionally tiny any more (5'4) but there was a decent period of time during which we thought I might not crack 5 feet.

Scrivener said...

Every time I've met another blogger or someone else who knows me from my photos online, I am told that I'm much shorter than they had imagined me being. I also get a little zap of pleasure at the thought that, at least in my virtual world, I come across as tall. I was always the smallest kid in any class until I got to high school, when there was one kid a little smaller than me. I kept growing well into college though and now I'm not especially short, but I still think of myself as short and slight.

Krista said...

You write tall, and you also photograph tall somehow.

Apropos of Scriv's comment: It's interesting how those old self-perceptions persist, isn't it? Since I skipped a couple of grades, I was always the youngest in my class. And I started working young, so I was always the youngest in whatever office I was in, and so I (and everyone) called me "the littlest X." (X being pizza slinger, or rep, or writer.)

Now I am 31, 5'9", 200+ pounds, and no longer the littlest anything by any stretch of the imagination. But the title still pops out of my mouth from time to time.

joshua said...

i was always shorter than the shortest girl. still not exactly tall, but passable.

Xtin said...

Josh, you write tall too (inter alia). So does Krista, but turns out that's because she actually is tall.