School Days

Back to SchoolSummer vacation has disappeared like morning dew in the dog days of July. Family trips to the beach, lake, and mountains are nothing more than distant memories. Area students and teachers are already preparing for school to start.

During my childhood, students enjoyed a three-month summer vacation before returning to class around Labor Day. Teachers gathered one week beforehand for a mysterious rite known as “pre-planning.” During Open House, we excitedly perused the student rosters posted outside the classrooms. Then we received a list of required school supplies.

My father worked for Sears-Roebuck and Company, so his employee discount guaranteed our customer loyalty. We rode in the family station wagon to the local mall for back-to-school shopping. In those days, Sears strategically placed snack bars in the center of the stores. I still associate the start of school with the aromatic mélange of Spanish nuts, popcorn, and fruit slices.

My mother and sister spent interminable hours looking at new clothes. I could have cared less. Three pairs of blue jeans and a few shirts met most of my fashion needs. The Sears’ brand “Toughskins” jeans featured double-layered knees for active boys. The new denim stunk with chemicals, and the stiff fabric chaffed in unmentionable places until softened by a washing machine.

The only apparel item that really interested me was a new pair of tennis shoes; but not just any tennis shoes. I insisted on wearing Keds—“the shoes of Champions.” The commercials promised that the sneakers enabled the wearer to “run faster and jump higher!” With my laced-up tennies, I could race the wind and win while leaping broad canyons with ease.

School SuppliesAfter enduring the ordeal of clothes shopping, we would visit the school supply section. We selected three-ring binders with heavy-duty denim covers. The rings snapped shut with the force of a mouse trap. Many an unwary child bore the scars of such encounters.

Our writing utensil of choice was the Ticonderoga # 2 lead pencil. No doubt Moses employed the same instrument while inscribing the Ten Commandments. We used the pencils until they were one inch nubs that became lost with the turn of a pencil sharpener.

Discriminating students only used Blue Horse notebook paper. We saved the Blue Horse labels and dreamed of exchanging the accumulated points for neat rewards. Looking back, I do not recall ever actually redeeming a prize with the coveted labels. Nevertheless, they formed the stuff of many a school daydream.

Each year we bought plastic rulers marked off in fractions of an inch. This was long before the metric system had been invented. A zippered pencil container snapped into a notebook. We filled it with pink erasers the size of Matchbox cars. On one memorable occasion, I also got a miniature stapler complete with a box of micro-staples. I immediately mutilated a fingertip with the device.

Other supply list standards included a compass and protractor. I had served a tour of duty in the Cub Scouts and could not understand the need for the former. Knowing the direction of magnetic north seemed useless in a classroom setting. Only later did I discover that a compass was the pointy thing with a golf pencil that drew circles.

The school provided everything else deemed essential for our education. The most important items, however, never appeared on any supply list. My best teachers supplied me with a love of learning, thirst for knowledge, and belief in self. These dedicated educators invested their hearts and souls into their students; and the return on their investment proved to be invaluable.

Christa McAuliffe, the elementary school teacher who lost her life on the space shuttle Challenger, once said: “I touch the future—I teach.” At the beginning of a new school year, I am thankful for those men and women who are teaching a new generation of students in our classrooms. May God supply their every need.

12 thoughts on “School Days

  1. Good memories, Bill, but you left out the new box of Crayola crayons…..box of 64 if you could justify the extra expense to your mom! As a pre-school and kindergarten teacher, I was always thankful for the prayers and support from the Church staff, my fellow teachers, and the parents.
    Thanks for bringing back lots of great memories of the beginning of a new school year.

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    • Great addition! The 64 box was the super-deluxe container of crayons. I never could make the sharpener work correctly, however. I’m not sure God intended for crayons to be sharpened.

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  2. Nicely written. The rulers we used were supplied by the local Coca-Cola Bottling Company and for my first two years contained the Golden Rule. There was never any indication that the Golden Rule changed the behavior of classmates, and the Golden Rule on the ruler went away by third grade. I don’t know that kids can take a compass to school any more, as it might be considered a weapon. We never thought of stabbing one another with it, but on more than one occasion I poked the neck of the person in the seat in front of me.

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    • Weaponizing school supplies . . . didn’t cross my mind that a compass might be considered a lethal weapon but I’m sure this debate has occurred in local schools. Sad sign of the times. Now if we could only make pencils safe to use . . . .

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  3. Lots of great memories for me, too, Thanks, Bill. And…an industrious, determined first cousin saved enough Blue Horse “things” to give to my mother for my first bicycle, so at least one someone saved enough to get a really nice goody, and I loved it. RIP, Joanne – you were a loving and giving cousin and I still miss you.

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  4. Another fun trip down memory lane! Thanks! I, too, shopped at Sears in Columbia, SC, and our store had a great little grill. I remember the grilled cheese sandwiches were my favorite, but my mother preferred the pimiento cheese. Never understood that until I ate Palmetto Cheese pimiento cheese as an adult. Anyway, we would shop at Sears for penny loafers, as girls wore them with their skirts and dresses before the “go-go” boots and bell bottoms. I never wore a pair of jeans until I was in high school! Regardless, shopping for school with my mother was an annual event! (And making book covers from kraft paper grocery bags was fun, as I recall. Probably because my parents did most of the work!)

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  5. My dad, rest his soul always had those Coca Cola rulers for my brother and I. Also those red pencils. We started school on the Friday before Labor Day in Rockdale County. Those classrooms where the windows rolled out. I hope you wife has had a good week of pre-planning. Thanks for the column.

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  6. Marcia,
    I am so envious!
    I saved Blue Horse labels for a bicycle and just knew I had enough for one. I had a great source because my mother was a teacher and rescued any stray ones left by her students. Alas when my prize came it was a radio. I’m glad someone got the big prize.
    Bill, thanks for the memories you bring back.

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  7. I have just gotten around to reading this article. Being a teacher, some things take a back seat – like reading (and writing) blogs. For my son, duct tape (preferably red) was a necessary school supply. Coming from a very frugal family, and being my child who despises shopping, he would put a fresh layer of duct tape on his high school binders and carefully re-label them with his best Sharpie.

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  8. i enjoyed reading all of these accounts but I don’t remember buying school supplies. We had a chalkboard, writing pads, and pencils.Its been a beginning of the school year which won’t ever be forgotten in La. Schools that were only open a few days are faced with massive cleanup and loss. I had helped my daughter carefully label individual boxes putting in needed supplies in each box for students. Cleanup will not be complete until this Thursday. Almost everything in her class was destroyed: no shelves, desks, books, papers, or supplies. Being a conscientious teacher, she has applied for and received grants:
    They can’t be delivered to the school. One clerk suggested she pick up the packages at the Post Office.She’s not sure if the Post Office near her school is open. This is just one story. Students are having to go to other schools which is causing overcrowding. In some areas as many as 70% of the students’ homes were flooded. La has dealt with alot. We will recover! Please pray for us and support UMCOR!

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