The Mountain Times

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Recollections from school “back in the day”

Alice Cooper rocked us with "school's out for summer" back in 1972, the year I graduated high school. But right now kids all over the country are returning to school after what I am sure appears to have been an all-too-quick summer vacation.
The start of the new school year means leaving the house 15 minutes earlier for the commute to work lest I get caught up in the school drop-off traffic. Big yellow buses are also hogging the roads now, making their wide turns and stopping at railroad crossings for what seems to be an eternity.

My own girls are long past school age, but my grandchildren are inching toward the elementary years. I am sure I will be flabbergasted when I see the inside of the modern-day classroom filled with computers, electronic whiteboards, digital textbooks and teachers that look like kids themselves.

The start of the school year still invokes memories of my own school days. While humming "no more pencils, no more books" and dreaming of a lunch box filled with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I think of these:

The Bus Ride
I lived on the outskirts of town, so my bus ride, including all the stops, took about a half hour. This was the time to catch up with friends. If you were lucky, you had a good friend who boarded the bus on an earlier stop when seats were still empty. They would grab a good one and save a spot for you. If you were lucky, other friends got the seat in front or behind you. With no confining seats belts, you could lean forward or turn and face backwards.

What I don't miss were the days of walking to the bus stop and waiting for the bus in the rain. I don't remember having an umbrella as a kid. It would have been a luxury item, plus there would be no place to put it once in the classroom. So rainy days meant soggy clothes and bad hair.

Uniforms
Grades 1 through 10 were at Catholic schools, uniforms required. In the younger grades, it was a jumper over a white blouse. We went from all navy cotton to plaid woolen during my tenure. There was nothing flattering about that jumper, especially when it was accessorized with our saddle shoes and anklet socks.

In the upper grades, we switched over to a skirt and blouse with a vest. I assume this was in direct correlation to the onset of puberty and what would fit better. The skirts were pleated and we were measured for a length well below our knee. At the bus stop, skirts were rolled up at the waist and knees were exposed, sometimes even a bit of thigh along with it. But once we reached the hallowed halls, the Sisters performed spot checks of skirt length using a ruler for a precise measurement.

The ugliest accompaniment to the uniform was the beanie. It was also fashioned from the woolen plaid material and was adorned with a white, fuzzy snowball. As the school year progressed, those snowballs started to disappear with stories of them being lost. The trick was to know the right date to "lose" it - this is when the nuns deemed it too late in the year to require the purchase of a replacement hat.

As much as I hated wearing a uniform every day for the first ten school years of my life, today I would give my eye teeth to have a job that required uniforms. How nice it would be to not stand in front of my closet every morning wondering if it was a black day, a stripe day, a skirt day or a day to focus on the "fat clothes."

Recess
Recess was like a mid-day bus ride. If the weather was good, we got to go outside. Best of all, we got to talk. In the younger years, we played. Girls jumped rope while boys played marbles. As tweens, we sat on staircases and gossiped about boys, wondering who would be the next one of us to be bestowed with a tie clip when asked to go steady. The saddest sound of the school day was the bell ringing to signal the end of recess. Of course this same bell rang at 3 p.m. announcing the end of the school day. It sounded downright melodious then.

School memories are universal for Boomers. They include football games, dances, bad lunches, getting caught chewing gum, getting caught smoking, teachers we loved, teachers we dreaded, teachers we wish we could see today to say "thank you." We remember the first time we fumbled with a locker combination, cramming for tests, trying out for sports, getting a part in the school play, watching a fight break out in the lunch room. We remember the SATs, filling out college applications, touring schools and writing the essay. We remember getting sent to the principal's office and Saturday detention. We remember report card day, school picture day, yearbook day and field trips.
But the best, most vivid memory of school was the joy, the relief, the freedom, the hopes and expectations and the outright feeling of "nothing's gonna stop us now" at the moment that school let out for summer. Don't you wish you could feel like that again?
Cindy Phillips is a freelance writer for The Mountain Times. She can be reached directly at cphillipsauthor@yahoo.com.