I Never Wanted to Go Back
By Jeff Salter
Our theme for a few weeks deals with ‘back to school’ and I’m an expert on this subject: I never wanted to go back! In that statement, I include K-5, junior high, high school, college, and even grad school. [My grades throughout those years were nearly always very good (and sometimes excellent) and I occasionally flirted with straight A’s and Dean’s list.] But I never wanted summer to end. I mean, how could that they be so cruel?
I have a clear memory of those last weeks of summers (when about to begin 4th – 6th grades): I was totally indignant that people could compel me to attend school. I was aware our small town had a truant officer and I knew he would ‘catch’ me and toss me into the calaboose if I’d dared go ‘over the hill’.
As a kid, my summers were filled with play, sports, and adventures … and (usually) late rising. Even if I never consulted a calendar, I knew school was a week away when my mom began waking us early … so our first few days of school wouldn’t be such a shock. [Yeah, I was indignant about that too!]
Once I got into the groove each new semester, I guess I didn’t mind school too terribly much, but it rankled me to have to relinquish so much freedom. I was certain I already knew enough to get by and was positive that enforced schooling would never do me any good … whatsoever.
The only half-way ‘good’ aspect of going back to school was that we usually got a few new school supplies. Our family lived on one-income for most of my youngest years and that salary was my dad’s. In those days, chaplains made less than most teachers did. So when we ‘stocked up’ on school supplies, it was nothing at all like the shopping sprees you see these days.
In THIRD grade I remember how much I wanted a BIG box of Crayola crayons. I was terribly jealous of friends who came to school with the 48-color box — which, in the deluxe model, also included a sharpener! [Even then, I recognized engineering acumen and marketing genius!] But I was forced to make-do with the eight standard colors. Boring! And total mortification. One year, my mom splurged and bought me a box with 16 colors. < yea >
In my FIFTH grade, a commercial revolution had taken place: no longer were kids tethered to those clumsy three-ring binders with stiff blue fabric covers. A brand new product had launched and I wanted one so badly I could taste it. I think it was called a Nifty … and it was, indeed, ‘nifty’. I forget the exact configuration, but I think one of their models actually had the holes on the top edge of the paper! [How radical!] This new vinyl ‘binder’ came in different colors and had a hard plastic compartment (with a snap lid) in which you could keep pencils, pens, coins, small candies, bullets … whatever you wanted. The ads on TV at that time proved conclusively that kids with the Nifty binder made better grades and had more adoring friends.
In SEVENTH grade, the revolution extended into writing instruments. Once we got out of elementary grades, we had to have a fountain pen. [For any youngsters out there, a fountain pen has a complex metal nib and a small bladder of liquid ink.] The coolest guys in class sometimes lifted the lever (which pressed into the bladder) and all the ink shot out … onto anyone within about six feet. I had practiced this maneuver at home, but never dared to do it at school because we already knew students were executed for infractions much less serious than ink-staining someone. How did those cool guys get away with it? I never figured that out. If the teacher could see the ink stain on Susie’s shoe and all the nearby students were eye-witnesses to the nefarious assault … how could those boys NOT be in trouble?
Anyway, my point is that in 7th grade a new product arrived — the CARTRIDGE pen. It looked like fountain pen, but you’d unscrew the forward end and insert a slender plastic cylinder filled with very thick ink. A tiny sharp tube impaled one end of that cartridge and conveyed the ink to the nib. It wrote beautifully as long as you kept swapping-in new cartridges. Those beauties – the pen plus one or two cartridges – cost the princely sum of 50 cents. You could buy a small box of five (?) replacement cartridges for about a quarter, as I recall.
By the time I was in NINTH grade, there was never as much emphasis on school supplies. The new effort was to look as cool as you could possibly manage — to obsess over school supplies was decidedly UN-cool. Most every boy wanted to look like James Dean or Troy Donahue (or the Beatles) … and we knew the very most any of them would carry to school would be a single spiral composition book and a well-used pencil stuck above one ear. Plus a cigarette cradled above his other ear.
This was also the year that I realized I looked way too doofus-y wearing my older brother’s hand-me-downs. After all, my arms were several inches longer than his. So my attention shifted to acquiring shirts which actually fit me. Image — self-awareness was nearly a full-time job at that point.
Revolutions and transformations
So you can see that my first 9 or 10 years of school were filled with upheaval: revolutions in crayons, binders, and pens … and transformations from childhood to adolescence.
What were my classes like? What did I learn? Well, we’ll talk about those issues over the next couple of weeks.
Did any of you ever look FORWARD to the start of the new school year?
Were there any particular school supplies that really captured your interest?