My two grands start a new school year tomorrow, one heading into the 2nd grade, one starting Pre-K. I've noticed several popular blogs comparing what it was like to get ready for back-to-school in the 1970s and 80s. But I want to let my two know what it was like waaaaaay back in the 1950s. (True confessions: I started 2nd grade in 1958; there was no such thing as Pre-K, at least not in Chattanooga, Tennessee.)
The first thing you have to understand is timing. We did not start school until the day after Labor Day. Not the end of July or the first week in August. And August back then was a long month. Splashing in the wading pool, playing croquet and badminton, fussing and fighting with siblings and neighbors, and sheer idleness were getting boring by that time. And if that was true for us kids, I cannot imagine how our mothers felt. However, all of us could see a little light at the end of the tunnel (begrudgingly by the kids, joyfully by the moms).
August meant a trip to the fabric store to pick out a couple of patterns and several yards of a variety of cloth. The cloth (and the pattern) had distinct little-girl-school-dress looks about them. Once all that was purchased, Mother set to work spreading out the fabric, pinning on the pattern, cutting, and sewing. After a couple of weeks - voila! - new back-to-school clothes! I'm guessing the boys got their jeans, slacks, and short-sleeved shirts/t-shirts at Sears or J.C. Penney, but that held no interest for me - must've happened because my brothers went to school dressed. Meh, boy-clothes.
Then off to Robert Hall or Penney or a trip to Atlanta for shoes (one pair for school, one for Sunday, and maybe some rubber boots), a couple of sweaters and a light jacket (too early to get a heavy coat), and a raincoat of some kind. Done.
Toward the end of August it was time to get serious about this school-thing. Most years, the lunchbox decision was major and took time to sort out - you know, watching TV or talking to friends to winnow out the has-been or babyish options. Fortunately, my trusty first grade Howdy Doody metal lunchbox was still in fine working order, so that was one decision I didn't have to make in 1958. Alas, I'd busted the real Thermos that came with it at some point, so it was 3-cent 1/2 pint of cafeteria milk for me for the foreseeable future.
Next, supplies. As far as I know, there was never a list. Daddy picked up empty cigar boxes to hold the supplies, usually pencils - big fat ones for a second-grader - erasers, paste, and whatever else we deemed necessary. While I hate the smell of cigars, I love the smell of an empty cigar box. It's a good early-childhood memory-trigger. Older kids selected 3-ring binders, notebook paper, reinforcements (for the paper holes), dividers, and maybe a ruler. And really, anything we needed - except for the cigar box - could be bought at the school's bookstore/supply store, so there was no need for supply-angst.
New school dress and shoes, lunchbox, fresh cigar box, and a pencil or two. Bam! Done!
Labor Day fun, a good night's sleep (maybe a little bit of wondering about which teacher I'd get and if any friends would be in the class), a hot breakfast, then walking about a half-block to my elementary school - and there I was. Second grade.
In second grade we were no longer the babies of the school; our school was 1st-6th grade. Second grade meant business: time to settle down and learn to read and write better, hone those adding and subtracting skills, perfect artistic techniques (at least, learn how to draw a recognizable horse).
Liam starts second grade tomorrow. He's in his third year of a German immersion program. He's already way ahead of where I was in 2nd grade math and science (more like 5th-6th grade). And Pre-K Charlotte? She was introduced to some basic German in pre-school, knows numbers, letters, colors, maps, and some basic science. And could hold a conversation with an Oxbridge tutor. So as the song says: "I hear babies cry, I watch them grow. They'll learn much more than I'll ever know. And I say to myself, What a wonderful world!" What a wonderful world, indeed.
But ah, the smell of that fresh cigar box in 1958!
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