The End and the Beginning — Jean E. Pendziwol August 27 2013

The first day of school — the thrill of seeing friends again; dressing in a carefully chosen outfit, debated and assessed endlessly in consultation with sisters and friends; a book bag filled with binders, pages empty in anticipation, pencils sharpened, erasers intact; a nervous, fluttering heart. It is the beginning.

The chilly tang of an early September morning, the grass tipped with frost, questions the warmth of the-long debated outfit. Camper trailers and boats have been tucked back into driveways to slumber until spring. The smell of diesel from the chuffing yellow busses hangs in the air as every other driveway collects sleepy-eyed, backpack-adorned children, their skin sun-drenched and minds swimming with stories of “what I did this summer”. It is the end.

The first day of school looms notably on the calendar, marking the beginning and the end at the same time; a rigid, non-negotiable date that defines the year. But there was one year when the end and beginning melded together and simply didn’t happen.

When I was fifteen years old, my parents decided to take a trip. A long trip. We had spent a lot of time aboard our sailboat, “Winter Solstice”, exploring Lake Superior, but they were looking for a bigger adventure. In June, my mom and dad and two sisters and I boarded our 32-foot boat and set off on a fourteen-month journey that would take us through the Great Lakes, down the Oswego Canal and Hudson River, past New York City and on into the Chesapeake Bay, through the Intracoastal Waterway down to Florida and across to the Bahamian Islands. And back.

My sisters and I had brought along our schoolwork. Our pencils were sharpened, our erasers intact and there were endless sheets of blank paper waiting in anticipation. But that significant first day of school seemed to slip past somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, unacknowledged. It may have been while we were photographing the Osprey nests, or touring West Point, or staring at the Spirit of St. Louis hanging in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Our classrooms became the anchorages we visited, the markets we explored, the historic sites and museums, and the people we met, some of them with kids travelling just like we were. On rainy days, we opened our books and read stories about the life of Rodin, or the last Czar of Russia, and more than one Agatha Christie mystery novel. We learned how to snorkel and make bread and spent hours combing the beaches for shells to add to our collections.

We eventually dug out our textbooks and completed our math lessons and wrote our essays about Shakespeare. Although, I have to admit, many of those formal lessons were completed after we had returned home, with the end and beginning of my next year of school getting all muddled up yet again. But probably the greatest lesson I learned that year is best summed up in the words of Mark Twain:

“I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Turns out, there is no end or beginning.


978-1-55498-138-0Jean E. Pendziwol is the author of Marja’s Skis, Dawn Watch, and The Red Sash. In her newest book, Once Upon a Northern Night, the beauty and wonder of a northern winter night unfold in an exquisite lullaby. Watch the book trailer

Watch for back-to-school blog posts from Groundwood authors running from August 15th – September 15th. Everyone at Groundwood hopes that this school year will bring you new adventures.