Anyone could tell we were coming to the last day of school because the students stepping off the bus looked like pack mules. My daughter trudged up the sidewalk with two armloads of clothing.
“There,” she said as she downloaded it into a heap on the front porch. There were two winter coats, a wad of crumpled papers and notebooks, a pair of shoes and a lunch box.
“I’d been wondering what happened to that,” I said. Last I’d seen it, it was winter, and I was packing her hot soup in the matching thermos and tucking it inside. I unzipped the box and there it was. It would take more nerve than I had just then to open the thermos; what must the remnants of 6-month-old soup be like?
The next day brought another heap: more papers, several pairs of mittens, a winter hat and a red ski jacket.
“That’s mine,” I said. “I didn’t even know you’d borrowed it.” She shrugged and went inside for a snack.
Sitting there looking at the mountain of winter outerwear at my feet, I wondered how she ever fit all of that in her locker. Last time at the middle school, I visited her locker. It was decorated with heart and star stickers, and I took note of how much narrower the lockers are than I remember. Junior high gave me more cubic feet. Her locker was the width of – well –a lunchbox. I didn’t open her locker that day; I just didn’t want to know.
But now I was getting a picture.
With two school days to go, Grace walked onto the porch carrying two drawstring bags, one holding gym clothes that by now were likely in the same condition as the thermos of soup; the other held the astronaut costume she wore while appearing as Sally Ride in a seventh-grade speech.
“What? Is your locker really a trash compactor?” I asked. Or was it like the armoire in “The Chronicles of Narnia”? Do you open your locker and find a whole new world? Where else could she be fitting all the coats?
And yet, I understand. My seventh-grade year, my mom packed brown-bag lunches with a daily banana. Some days, in order to avoid sitting with the other brown-baggers and get entree to the buyers’ table and all my friends, I would ditch my bag in my locker and buy a cafeteria lunch. This typically happened on spaghetti day.
After a couple dozen spaghetti days, the bottom of my locker was a wad of old lunch bags; it smelled like bananas and peanut butter. Like most 13-year-olds, I thought that if I just ignored the mess it would magically go away. On the last day of school, I dove into the bottom of my locker, retrieved an armload of bags and tossed them into one of the big garbage cans the custodians had placed in the halls for just that purpose.
On the last day of school, Grace brought home the remainder of her locker’s contents: another winter coat, a pair of boots and another lunch box.
“Locker empty?” I asked as she tossed it all on the porch.
“All empty,” she said.
I’m left wondering a few things: By my count, she had four heavy winter coats in her locker; did she leave school without a coat on those cold days? And was she barefoot, too? How long will that heap stay on the front porch before she finally puts it all away?
And a final question: Sorry about the lunches, Mom. Forgive me?
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.