Summer always seemed to come to an end with the local fair or carnival and it was unheard of to go back to school before Labor Day. Strangely enough, anticipation of the first day of school was almost as exciting as the last day! Of course, in preparation of the new school year, there were always certain rituals that played out year after year.
Prior to the first day of school, a new wardrobe was a must! Unfortunately, there was no internet or Walmart for our convenience. The closest department store was “downtown” and often required a public transit bus ride since Dad took the family’s only car to work each day. Mom made you try on the dungarees and dresses (that’s right, dresses). New shoes were purchased from a shoe store where the salesman measured your foot to make sure you had a proper fit. It was so much fun to watch the old shoes go into the shoebox and wear the new ones home. If you bought a pair of shoes, you were automatically entitled to one of the pretzel rods kept next to the cash register.
Also, necessary, was the long list of school supplies required to be prepared for a successful school year. Items included those denim blue loose-leaf binders, rulers, Elmer’s glue, No. 2 pencils, erasers, pencil cases, bookbags or book straps (no backpacks). Book covers were fashioned out of brown paper bags. Younger kids carefully contemplated which lunchbox they wanted; after all, it reflected your personality. Lunchbox choices were endless; from Speed Racer and Evil Knievel to Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels. The lunchboxes always came with a glass-lined thermos which promptly shattered, after being dropped, by the end of the first week of school. Older kids brown-bagged it. Neither the lunchbox or paper bag, with our baloney and tuna fish sandwiches, contained an ice pack and somehow, we didn’t die of salmonella. If you were lucky, you could buy your lunch in the school cafeteria on “pizza days.” The “hot-plate” lunch usually cost somewhere around $.50 - $.75 and came with that delicious peanut butter fudge!
After finally making it to school on the first day, it was so much fun to see who was in your class! Each day began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a patriotic song; after which, attendance was taken. Curriculum consisted of spelling, reading, handwriting, social studies, math, gym, library time, art and music. Music teachers pushed the piano from classroom to classroom to enlighten us, musically. Lunch and recess were the 2 most popular times of the day! Daily “ditto sheets” were passed out for both classwork and homework.
Being the teacher’s pet came with its privileges. If you were fortunate enough to be in this position, you were asked to go outside to “clap the erasers,” go to the office to pick up the dittos, act as a “school safety” or line leader, staff the school store and various other duties. It was always a thrill to get out of the classroom while performing some of these tasks.
If you were not the teacher’s pet, chances are it is because you were either talking in class, passing notes, spreading Elmer’s glue in your hand so you could peel it when it dried or copying off your neighbor’s paper. If you were caught chewing gum, you were made to wear it on your nose as a deterrent to your classmates. If you misbehaved in school, you were punished by skipping recess, sitting in the cloak room away from your classmates or having lunch in the Principal’s office; not to mention, your parents were called and you got in trouble again when you got home.
So, the million-dollar question is… why, exactly were we so anxious to go back to school?