27 January 2010

School Bag

My colleagues in the English Department and I have a shared journal that we started last fall: it's a standard sized composition notebook, and we can choose to pass or play. If we play, we have 24 hours to share something: a poem, a story, a rant, an observation. Some people have pasted in pictures, or taped in typed things. Lots of folks just hand write something, off the cuff. It's allowing us a little snapshot into each other's writing styles and thought processes that I'm enjoying immensely.

If you're one of my colleagues, and you'd rather be suprised when the journal comes to you, stop reading now.

This is my entry for today.

Every semester I search for the perfect bag: big enough to hold 125 syllabi, or 75 student essays, and a couple of books, a handful of dried up dry-erase markers, and a tepid Coca-Cola. I want one that makes all this feel less heavy, literally and figuratively, than it is.

At the end of my 12th year of teaching, I still haven't quite found it.

I've come close; a green Hanna Andersen bag with technicolor flowers; a dark green messenger bag from old navy; a leather man-purse on clearance from Target. Each is flawed, somehow: lacks that essential pocket, or tips too easily, or is too hard to get into.

Over break, I found a vintage soft-sided suitcase at St. Vincent de Paul for $2. It's a carry-on type, like a super-sized camera bag, a softer response to the rigid train case. It has a front zipper pocket, and a decently long shoulder strap. The zippers are industrial strength, and there is no velcro. It's that particular, distinctive shade of Harvest Gold.

On the inside of the shoulder strap, in permanent ink, is the name "Mary Mitzel" and "Hope, N. D." in the script of someone who once had decent penmanship until age shook her hand. Just the fact that there's a town in North Dakota named Hope makes me happy: and I imagined Mary Mitzel packing this bag for a week or two away, folding slips and stockings and denture cleaner, than zipping the industrial zipper closed and locking her door behind her.

I know she's probably dead, or nearly so, because St. Vincent's tends to get entire estates, or what's leftover from estate sales. Or maybe she's gone into a nursing home recently, and won't be traveling anymore. I hope wherever she is, Mary Mitzel has fond memories of this gold bag, as I pack it with syllabi and pens and class lists for my first day teaching in a new decade.

In my 5:30 class, students ask if it's a bowling bag. "No!" I tell them. "It's a vintage piece of luggage. And it belonged to Mary Mitzel of Hope, ND." I'm kinda proud of myself, in that irritating way people who buy old stuff and call it vintage are.

From the back row, one of my students can't help himself, and blurts out "I totally knew her! She was a bitch."

Perhaps not surprisingly, this makes me like this bag even more.


Megan said...

Ooh! I have such a juicy tid-bit to add to this.

I am from Arthur, ND, which is approximately 30 miles away from Hope. We were pretty big rivals in high school sports, and some of the students at our school had close friends from Hope-Page (one of those consolidated small, country schools). Now, not only is my littlest sister's boyfriend from there (Hope, not Arthur), but we personally knew the Mitzel family from Hope.

I'm not positive whether Mary would be the aunt, older cousin, or mother of the Mr. Mitzel I knew, but he was the superintendant at Hope-Page high school. Very ironic, I think, considering another educator is now using Mary's bag.

Oh, and I can't speak personally regarding whether Mary really was a bitch, but if she was anything like her younger Mitzel namesake, she was probably just authoritative. Seems to me your student probably just has a problem with those figures ;)

Jennifer said...

My student, then, is in for a world of hurt.

Jess said...

that is MALARIOUS!!!

ilene said...

The world seems to keep getting smaller & smaller :)

Christine F said...

Oh man, I can't stop laughing!!

Emily, Scott, and August said...

2 things- I definitely think the "bitch" angle is a plus; and have you tried a diaper bag? It would even keep the Coke cold for a bit longer with the insulated pocket.