Summer 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.
After 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.