The anticipated day would not be held back one more second. It seemed to be oozing around the window shade, seeping in to push the already awake Gracie toward her long expected departure. Combing her hair for the third time, she seemed unable to grasp some elusive feeling there was an important thing she needed to remember.
Always the sensible one, she was dressed in her blue jumper and white blouse. Her suitcase was packed. She was as ready as she would ever be for this painful change. Coming back for Christmas and Easter or the occasional long weekend was not the same as living here. Somehow, that seemed to make her an outsider.
The laughter in this house full of children floated up, as did the smell of bacon and homemade biscuits. Slowly, she descended the stairs for a last breakfast with her loving family.
Mary Ellen was busy dishing up eggs and applesauce and pouring milk and juice. “Good morning, Sweetie. Are you all set to go?”
Gracie could only manage a small nod of her head.
“As soon as the school bus comes for the little ones, we will pack the car and leave.” Mary Ellen seemed so relaxed and efficient in her kitchen, and so reassuring. Some things never change, like first day butterflies.
“Todd, your new book bag is hanging on the hook, Jenny don’t forget the note for your teacher about your allergies. And everybody, please brush before you go to the bus stop.”
On one of her dozen trips around the table, she caught Gracie's eye and smiled. “This was a good decision, dear, and is going to be a great adventure for you. We will come and visit as often as we can.”
Gracie visibly relaxed. Still, there was something nagging at her. Memories of the first day of her old boarding school were flitting around in her head. New beginnings are exciting, but often bittersweet as well. She made friends easily and had always been an excellent student. She considered herself older and wiser now, but this time was definitely different.
She had toured the beautiful grounds and buildings. She knew how to get to her room, the dining hall, the infirmary, and various offices. She even knew the number of her assigned mailbox. For what this place cost, she intended to do the best she knew how. She always did.
Breakfast over and the young ones out the door and on the bus, Mary Ellen helped Gracie with some last minute details. Many of the preparations were comparable to going to camp, like sewing nametags in all her garments, except this leave-taking had more permanence.
Mary Ellen ventured to say, "I wish Daddy was here.”
Quietly, Gracie replied, “ Me too.”
It was a little reassuring to already know a friend from her elementary school days. Annie Smyth had been checking in when Gracie went for the orientation and tour. Having her room right across the hall from Annie’s would be like old times.
The short trip over, Mary Ellen helped with the unpacking and then dispensed a little cash for incidentals. Suddenly, in a momentary flicker of insight, Gracie remembered.
Bewildered by her changing perceptions ,she visably shuddered.
What is it?” asked Mary Ellen, a little perplexed as she laid the familiar brush and comb on the dresser and put the old clock and cozy lamp on the bedside table.
“I don’t think I really know how to be a…a, uh, Senior.”
With tears in her eyes Mary Ellen hugged Gracie with all her might. “Oh Mama, remember, you love to learn. There are all kinds of classes for you to join and you will make wonderful new friends. Most important, they can see to your special needs better than we can.”
With that, she made a quick escape.
Dry-eyed, yet somehow lost in foggy memories of old dormitories, Gracie stared out the window at Mary Ellen’s gray mini van as it faded into a beginning mist surrounding the Rolling Hills Sanatorium for the Aged.
She closed the blinds and turned, looking for some comfort in her vaguely familiar new place. She remembered to whisper a prayer for courage, then she took a cautious step into her first day.