Posted by: ktzefr | September 3, 2010

Back to School…

“You have a long road to travel before you,/and tying your shoe is only the first tying.” ~ Maire Mhac an tSaoi, Ireland

Yesterday was a summery 92 degrees, but the scent of autumn filled the air — indoors.  All of the local stores are decked out in school supplies exuding those wonderful smells that bring back memories.  This going-back-to-school experience is something we all share, even though our individual stories may be unique.


In this picture I was seven or eight years old, third or fourth grade.  This was the traditional snapshot that got taken during the first weeks of school every year.  We wore our best clothes and the photographer’s helper stood ready with a comb to do the best she could with our hair.  In this picture, as in many others over the years, I sported a new Toni home permanent.  Our neighbor, Mrs. Elliott, who was also the mom of my good friend Sandra, gave me a haircut and perm in early August before school started.  So I always began the new year with a head full of springy curls.

The school bus held a mix of good and bad scents that became equated in my mind with that first day back.  Pencils and paper, crayons and new-shoe leather, Ivory soap and Bazooka gum (the boys, especially, didn’t give up gum until they had to), and the dull odor that lingered on hands that had grabbed the metal handles on the backs of the bus seats.

Every week the school lunchroom was filled with the same scents: vegetable soup with peanut butter and honey sandwiches one day, pimento cheese the next, pinto beans and cornbread, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  There were no choices.  No McDonalds or Wendy’s or Burger King.  Pizza?  I had never even heard of it until my cousin Rick visited from Detroit.  He raved about “pizza pie” and tried to describe how it looked and tasted.  We guessed at the ingredients and used what we had — a regular fruit pie crust, spaghetti noodles (don’t know where that idea came from), tomato sauce, and lots of cheese (we only had yellow slices of American).  My first “pizza pie” went straight from the stove to the garbage can.

We sat at desks in rows in alphabetical order and, since we rarely had newcomers, I followed Rita Noe and Truleen Phipps through school.  At home we had a small black and white television with reception from one station, so there were no disputes about what program to watch.  The only choice was to have the tv on or off.  And, of course, there were no CDs, DVDs, or computers to compete.

I loved science.  Pluto was still a planet back then and we thought Saturn was the only one with rings.  I also loved recess.   We often played in the narrow passageway that led to the fallout shelter.  The passage had high cement walls and we took turns jumping from one top to the other to see who could do it without falling onto the concrete.  We were rather creative in a masochistic sort of way.  Sometimes we compared stories about what we thought was in the fallout shelter.  Food, guns, bunk beds stacked 20 high, if that was possible.  Teachers.  If the Russians started firing, we would be in that cramped, dark place for weeks with all those teachers and our principal, a man with frosty white hair (Frosty was also his nickname) who could put the fear of God in a person by simply walking into a room.

We received all of our vaccines at school and never knew when the nurse would arrive until we walked in the door one morning and smelled the alcohol.  The health department nurse’s name was Mrs. Browning and she never smiled.  She would tell a victim to turn his/her head and count to ten.  Then she’d ram the needle in and yell: “Next!”  I hated shot day.  When they started giving sugar cubes for the polio boosters it was such a blessing.  I remember standing in that long line crossing my fingers again and again, hoping that all I would need that day was a sugar cube, as I watched the nurse’s helper pore over the records.

We had a beautiful, grassy campus that we were not allowed to set foot on except during fire drills and last-day-of-school picnics.  A wide sidewalk ran down the center of campus to the street and we played on the sidewalk and sometimes fudged a bit and gathered under one of the big trees, while keeping a watchful eye on the window of the principal’s office.  The shade was thick and cool on hot spring days and the grass smelled good just after the lawn was mowed.  We started clubs and swapped sandals and giggled about boys.  Some things never change.

The new colors of school...

But some things do….  Today, instead of the little box of basic crayons in red and blue and yellow and green that I used to be thrilled to own, there’s fuschia and mango and lemon and chartreuse and a zillion other exotic colors.  Ditto for markers — color it pink and smell the cotton candy at the same time.  Packs of white paper for three-ring binders are still available, but the spiral-bound, colorful notebook options with favorite cartoon characters, famous vampires, and superheroes fill most of the shelves.  Color is everywhere — sticky notes and sticky strips, multi-colored paper clips, pens with purple or green or gold ink…designer backpacks and lunchboxes and laptops.

How did we ever manage to learn anything without these modern… necessities?  Toys?  Conveniences?

What are YOUR memories of going back to school?  What sight or scent or taste or feel tells you that it’s time?  Click on “comment” and share!

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