I got up this morning, a little bit later than I should have. I came down, poured a coffee and threw some frozen waffles into the toaster. I got a couple things ready in the living room where I’ve been setting up shop lately, logged into my computer, started my necessary programs, and I heard my waffles pop up.
I took a sip of my coffee and headed out to the kitchen. As I rounded the doorway I was punched in the face by a memory associated with the smell of toaster waffles. They say smell is the sense most powerfully associated with memory, and it’s moments like this that prove it.
I’d mentioned before that I was never a great student, and that was never more apparent than shortly after the 6th grade. I’d done some hard-core slacking off that year, and got a failing grade for the fourth quarter of Science. I passed the other quarters, but only barely, so I didn’t know whether or not I’d passed for the year. I took it in stride; calm, cool, and collective, as was my way.
Several days later, we got a letter in the mail that my disappointed and mildly angry mother read to me. It wasn’t required, but strong recommended that I go to summer school, as I had passed science by the skin of my teeth with a D- average. Further, was the fact that going to summer school had a price associated with it, and I knew my folks didn’t exactly have cash laying around. Phew! I thought. Summer school would have interfered with our trips to the MDC pool in Brighton that we frequented every day of every summer for the last few years.
I sat at the table, feeling like I was invincible, having dodged the summer school bullet. I was eating my waffles, feeling very pleased with myself and probably acting the part. I was feeling great, right up until I said something, or did something that pissed off my already angry mother. I can honestly tell you, I don’t remember what it was that I did, but I knew I’d stepped in it as soon as it happened… In a tone that tied my stomach in a knot, a tone that I couldn’t begin to describe, she said “…oh yeah?”
She got on the phone and called my father at work. I listened, hoping that he’d tell her to forget it, that we didn’t have the money for it. “I think that’s a good idea,” I heard him say over the phone. Crushed, I started to cry as I tried to eat my now-cold waffles. I tried to ride out the storm, thinking it was a scare tactic. I moved a waffle bit around in the syrup, and squished some butter between the tines of my fork, in an effort to distract myself until it blew over.
Alas, it did not.
I went to summer school a couple days later. I went again for failing science the summer between 7th and 8th grade, and again for failing English (of all things) before entering high school. I don’t remember anything about the events leading up to the second two bouts with summer school, except that there had been no two ways about those two times. I didn’t pass at all, I was going to go to summer school, or stay back a grade. Perhaps having gone through the first round thickened the skin enough that by then it was no big deal.
You might think that reliving that memory this morning, as I walked into the kitchen would be an unpleasant one, but sending me to summer school was the right decision. Were I the parent in that particular instance, I’d have done the same thing without a moment’s hesitation.