‘Back to school’ shopping far different from the past

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I was in Staples the other day with a friend and was awed by the size and variety of displays for “Back to School” supplies. I think the one that totally blew me away was the one labeled “Locker Accessories.” Accessories for the locker?

I gotta think about back in the day to a small town of about 6,000 in Northwest Florida.  We didn’t start school till after Labor Day, so around Aug. 25, my girlfriends and I would go to the Dime Store and buy a three-ring binder and a pack of lined notebook paper, a pencil or two and maybe a Bic pen.   Oh yes, and in high school, a compass and a protractor.  Do those things still exist?

We didn’t buy art supplies and we didn’t have to cover our books and we certainly didn’t accessorize our lockers.  Inside were a shelf and a hook.  I think we may have had to buy a lock, though I always had trouble making the combination work so left it open a good bit of the time as I was often running late.  Stickers weren’t a big thing back then, but some did write (breaking a rule!) on the outside of their lockers.  That was as fancy as it got.                                   

Rather than  locker accessories, we shopped for school clothes.  Mother went to Sears for my brothers.  She said their underwear was the best and their jeans most rugged.  I got to go to the department store, Daffins or Turners in our little town.  Two or three new outfits and a new pair of saddle oxfords and I was set.  Only problem was the first week of September was still very hot in the Panhandle and I wanted desperately to show up in new clothes for the first day of school no matter how appropriate they were for later in the season.  Each year Mother took a picture of my brothers (twins) and me in our new duds, me clutching the three ring binder and sporting new saddles; Bob and Sam with fresh crew cuts.  

The schools were not air conditioned.  I don’t remember there even being fans.  And though it was warm in those high ceilinged classrooms with huge windows, I just don’t think it was as hot as it gets today.  No matter how hot though, we were not allowed to wear shorts and we endured layers of crinolines.  I can’t even imagine how we suffered for vanity!

In our school, we started at eight o’clock with homeroom.  We recited the Pledge, bowed our heads for the Lord’s Prayer (in fifth grade I proudly announced to the teacher that I could sing the prayer as I had learned it from my Perry Como 45 recording; for the rest of the year the teacher had me sing it and some still give me fits about that bit of hubris today), and heard the announcements, not over an intercom, but from the teacher.

At 10:15 we had a 15 minute recess, and there were actually coke boxes in one hall where we could get a cold drink for a nickel.  Note I did not say machine, but box.  For the drinks were in slotted rows in ice water and after a nickel was deposited, one could pull out a Dr. Pepper, or RC, or 7-UP, or Coke (all 8 oz., of course).  The adventurous among us always poured a nickel bag of salted peanuts down the neck of the drink.

By sophomore year, my classmates were accepted into the inner sanctum of Dorothy’s.  Dorothy’s was a wonderful hangout directly across from the front of our school.  Dorothy and Les passed out drinks, burgers, ice cream sandwiches, and whatever else was easy and available.  The juke box was always loaded with the latest Elvis, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Connie Francis or Little Richard. 

There was a fenced courtyard to the rear, but only boys went out there, and they were the ones who were a bit wilder than my crowd.  I was never sure what went on out there, but I suspect they were smoking!  Horrors!

I didn’t go to Dorothy’s for lunch at 12:30 because I just lived a bit more than a block from the school, but many who didn’t bring their lunch or eat in the cafeteria did.  No lunch shifts for grades seven through twelve for us.  Everyone was out from 12:30 till 1:05.  My friends Mary Ann and Sylvia and I raced to our houses to watch “As the World Turns” which ended at 1, then we raced back to arrive breathlessly for our fifth period classes.  We only had six.

That was a simpler era and those of us who went through high school in those days knew of no terrorists.  Our Presidents were not assassinated.  The marches for civil rights were beginning but no violence marred our community. None of us had even heard of pot, or coke, or ludes, or oxy, or whatever infects so many today.  Few kids had their own cars; if we were lucky, we could have the family sedan for a few hours on the weekends.   We circled Dog n Suds and maybe got home with a purloined root beer mug.  On a hot June night the more daring among us grabbed a watermelon out of someone’s field.  It all seems  carefree and innocent  as I recall it, but I am sure we had much the same teenage angst that kids suffer today.

I know this was all real because at our big reunion last spring we talked for hours about those days, the good old days, as some might say.  The irony, I think, is that today’s school children will speak in thirty or forty or fifty years of their adolescence and also remember the innocence of their youth, the good old days.

As the buses begin to roll this week, I bet more than a few grandparents will think back to their own school days.  I hope they have good memories!