Remembering Back-to-School Days

As I prepare to go back to school, the time of year which always marks a new year for me more than January 1 ever will, I find myself recalling the joy I felt in going to school as a child. It helps bring me to a more optimistic mindset, a point of view which cherishes the simplicity and the love my parents showed in helping with the preparation.
After the shoes were bought at Oak Brook shopping center, where seemingly thousands were tried on to fit my troublesome feet, the box was transformed into a school supply box. My mother covered it with yellow flowered contact paper, and my father cut a slit into one end through which the ruler could protrude.
Inside went the standard box of 16 crayons. “That’s plenty,” said my mother, “sixteen are more than enough,” as I would beg for the 64 count box. Crayons were not an item on which we could  be extravagant, but scissors were. “She’s going to have them for at least five years,” said my mother, “we are going to buy a quality pair.” No kid-friendly scissors for me, with a gently rounded tip and plastic handles. Instead, I had stainless steel sharper-than-sharp scissors which could easily cut through anything. To that end, my father saved a cork from one of his wine bottles into which the ends of the scissors could be stuck so that they would not hurt little fingers.
There were no glue sticks, then. Instead we had pots of glue with a little paddle attached to the lid with which to spread the paste on one’s project. Or, I had mucilage: a clear, brownish liquid which always formed a crust on the rubber tip of the bottle. Sometimes, the old dried glue would adhere to the paper along with the fresh, and the project would have a hidden lump. I hated that.
Perhaps one of the best parts of all were the brand new No. 2 pencils. After supper, my father would sit with his pocket knife (ever sharp, ever ready in his pocket) and whittle the ends of the pencils until they were sharp enough to write with. I liked it when he sharpened them, because the lead was exposed much more than if had they been put through an electric sharpener; it seemed to me I could write endlessly without needing them to be re-sharpened.
Finally, there was a square of oil cloth. By the end of the year, it would crack along the folds made so that it could fit into the school supply box. But mine was a cheerful red and white gingham pattern, and out it would come before Art so that my desk was protected from clay. Stray crayon marks. Mucilage crust.
What are parents buying today for their children? Little hand-held calculators. Dry erase markers. Colored pencils, crayons and scented neon washable markers. Instead of oil cloths there are disposable baby wipes. It’s a different world, and I try to embrace it.
But, a piece of me wants to take my black Ticonderoga pencils over to my parents’ house and ask my father, “Will you sharpen these for me? Just like you did in 1967?” And ask my mother, “Will you cover my shoe box and make it pretty like you always did?”
I’m sure they would.
Advertisements

29 thoughts on “Remembering Back-to-School Days

  1. Don't forget to add: a protractor, a 6″ ruler, a pink eraser, one of those square brown crumbly erasers, and, if you're in fourth grade or above, the points for the ink pen and a bottle of ink.

    You are going to learn cursive, right? “Loop, fall. Loop, fall.” The Palmer method, practiced in class and at home. By fifth grade, every essay was written in ink. The cartridge pens didn't show up until junior high.

    I still have the photo of me heading off for first grade. I need to do something with that in a blog entry. Such wonderful memories.

    Like

  2. I knew there was a reason why I'm craving a new sweater {even though it's will be too warm outside to wear it till October} and some new pencils (I don't even write with pencils), and some fresh clean notebooks… I hope our new school year is a great one!

    Like

  3. I always loved September as a child and the back to school ritual of new supplies and a new outfit. I can clearly remember wearing corduroy pants and a sweater on one of my 'first days' despite the fact that it was still like summer outside! Love the detailed anecdotes from your childhood…hopefully the current generation(s) have happy memories of their own.

    Like

  4. What a lovely post! I was at the office supply store yesterday and felt like I was going back to school, buying pens and pencils. I love real pencils not the mechanical ones. I remember how much fun it was to buy school supplies.

    Like

  5. Your back-to-school memories are wonderful! I can picture those perfect pencils.

    Mine were mixed with angst and excitement. I loved that I would go back-to-school shopping for clothing, new Levis (with that heavenly, “new denim” scent), shoes (which looked good but gave me heel blisters), a couple of blouses that would create a new me, and perhaps that enticing fall sweater I happened to see in a Bonwit Teller ad.

    Like

  6. WOW…what sweet and vivid memories. Now I am older than you and no one used a pocket knife to sharpen my yellow #2 pencils, we had the crank handle pencil sharpen at home. I had a store bought lunch box, 64- crayons and a pencil box each year and new notebooks. I always have loved office supplies because of the back to school experience. Don't remember “oil cloth” ever.

    Times are so different now – May the new school year be a good one for you.

    Like

  7. What a memory full of emotion this one is 🙂 The beginning of a school year always makes me think of the smell of fresh sharpened pencils… Three more weeks of summer holiday here 🙂

    Like

  8. Beautiful post 🙂 You've made me feel nostalgic for my own back to school days. It's always been my very favorite time of year. I love the weather, I love all of the new possibilities. If they would let me strap on a backpack and go back to elementary school I swear I'd do it.

    School days mean very different things for my family now. My son is starting his 2nd year of high school..yikes. I homeschool my youngest daughter. The best part of homeschooling is that I get to experience that exciting back to school feeling again 😀

    Like

  9. I think we have our own rhythym, too, Col. I was so frustrated when buying a new calendar for the year at Paradise Pen that I had to buy a 2013 which began in January. Now I can only use 6 months of it. The Chalkboard store has calendars which start in August as they should! 😉

    I, too, use colored pens. But, not red. Plus, I'm half tempted to say on a child's paper, “You got 3 right!” Instead of, “You got 17 wrong!”

    Like

  10. Oh, yeah, those brown crumbly erasers…I only see Pink Pearls now. And, do you remember the kneadable gum erasers? I think they were more for Art, though.

    We didn't have the Palmer method, but I so loved learning, and now teaching, cursive. Many teachers think its an obsolete skill with the keyboards surrounding us. But, I think we can't lose what's beautiful and always a sign of a good education: one's penmanship.

    I hope you do write your memories in a blog post at The Task At Hand. I'd love to see what you they are.

    Like

  11. There is such a glorious aspect to fall, and to one's “necessary” supplies! I love looking through all the aisles of crayons, markers, pencils, notebooks, even though I don't need a thing. (I tend to buy notebooks year round. 😉

    Like

  12. Did yours have a little sharpener in the back? That's what the big boxes had, and even though sharpened crayons aren't as special as new crayons, it was a pretty nifty trick.

    Like

  13. I have a similar memory, of wearing wool in a skirt and vest combination on September 6, which, in Illinois is invariably 86 degrees. Not a good idea. We weren't to be daunted in our finery, were we?

    Like

  14. I like the real pencils, too. It's nice when my class has mechanical pencils, because the sharpener rarely works. Also, they can barely turn the hand crank and often get it going off track so that I have to stop teaching and sharpen their pencils for them. So annoying. But the real deal is the best. Especially Ticonderoga if you can find them. They write beautifully.

    Like

  15. I remember Bonwit Teller!! With the violets on their shopping bags~ Ours had a perfume atomizer above the revolving door, such that when someone went through there was a spritz of fragrance into the air. So luxurious when you think about it. And new Levis? They are so great, except my husband and I were remembering how the best ones were the ones already faded from wear, and you really can't buy those.

    Like

  16. I did a search on oil cloth because I wondered how strange I am for using it, and it's still available. I guess it's been replaced with the plastic table cloth kind of fabric, but ours was very heavy and could be purchased in however many yards you wished. One square yard in the case of school supplies. I don't think you're that much older than I am. 🙂

    Like

  17. Three weeks is a long time! We used to go back after Labor Day in the States, which would be early September. Now it seems there's no use for August anymore as school always begins then. I think the smells of school are as real to me as the memories. Fresh sharpened pencils, yes and crayons, and the horrible smells from the lunchroom when everyone's peanut butter, bananas and spices are combined. Ew.

    Like

  18. I have often changed my header picture, and I don't know how long this painting by Vytlacil will last, but I wanted a pop of color. I'm glad you like it, too.

    Like

  19. I would go back to elementary school, too. But never back to high school! 🙂

    I'm so glad that you can home school your daughter. I always wanted to do that for my son who loathed school, wondering if I could have made it better for him. Plus, you have those cherished days together.

    Like

  20. Oh no, NOT back to high school…eek! 😉

    It's been a blessing. I didn't think I would ever homeschool. If you'd asked me about it 5 years ago I would have laughed and laughed. But it has turned out to be the best thing for my daughter and I'm so glad we made this decision 😀

    Like

  21. This is a lovely post. School supply lists are sometimes horrendous these days, and I can't even imagine what I'll be buying for Greyson in the years to come. 🙂 I was always excited about a school supply box and the fresh items within.

    Like

  22. Beautiful post, Bellezza! When I read about the pot of glue and your father sharpening your pencils with a knife, it made me feel nostalgic. I think a pencil sharpener will never sharpen a pencil as much as a knife does, as you have said. Thanks for this beautiful post which brought back wonderful memories.

    Like

  23. I'd forgotten all about that glue/paste with the brush in the lid until just now… even the smell of it came back to me. I just loved back-to-school shopping trips… the new Trapper Keeper, writing my name on everything to claim it as my own. 🙂

    Like

  24. Mucilage!! These exclamation points are from a person who was gleeful when she found wax paper sandwich bags at the grocery store. I love thinking that our parents gave us these simple and happy associations with everyday things. Happy back-to-school days!

    Like

  25. I loved reading this post, Bellezza! Such memories it has stirred up. I, too, remember getting new shoes for school (and saving them until that very first day even though we might have bought them a few weeks in advance). And I, too, longed for that large box of crayons with the sharpener on the side (back?). I don't remember getting a 16-count box, so it may have just been 8.

    I remember getting excited for the arrival of the fall edition of Seventeen, although growing up in Southern California did not bode well for buying autumnal clothing as featured in that lovely magazine of my youth. I do recall getting a pair of corduroy pants that looked just like the pair on a model and feeling so special. Oh, and the Shetland sweaters were quite popular, too.

    School begins so early here in Nebraska. My nieces returned on the 13th. I think there are still some locations on the coasts that adhere to the traditional start date of the day after Labor Day. But of course, they stay in school until mid-June instead of late May.

    Other memories (elementary school in the 60s/70s):

    Wax paper-wrapped cheese & mayo sandwiches for lunch. A red-plaid thermos with milk. Carrots cut into sticks with a zig-zag pattern from the cutting tool. Learning to write in cursive in 3rd grade. Dodge ball. Tetherball. Choir practice for a Sesame Street concert. Playing “Heads-Up Seven-Up” on a raining day.

    By the way, I still own the pair of scissors I got when I took a sewing class in junior high school. We engraved our names on one of the blades and I still use them when I need to sew a button on an article of clothing. Yes, that's the extent of my seamstress skills. 🙂

    Thanks for this lovely post and the memories.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s