Thursday, August 20, 2015

"School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days..."

Helen DePrima

Growing up on my grandfather’s farm near Louisville, September meant picking and putting up fruit and vegetables for the winter as well as back to school. The scent of a brand-new box of Crayolas blends in my memory with the perfume of pickling spices and the Red-Hots cinnamon candies my aunt stirred into applesauce made from our own apples. I lived at the very edge of encroaching suburbia, the only farm kid in my classes. Occasionally I wished I had my classmates’ neighborhood playmates, but they seemed more envious of my life, my horse and pet goats and chickens, the fields and woods for a playground. School friends rode home on the bus with me far more often than I visited them after school. Of special scientific interest to the boys was checking on the decomposition of an old mule that had died and been left to molder in the woods. On special occasions, my uncle would hitch up his team of mules to the big wagon and treat my whole class to a hayride. The only downside was requests now and then from my teachers in the lower grades that I not share quite so much specific information about farm animals’ activities at Show and Tell.

My favorite souvenir of my grandfather’s farm, now devoured by highway expansion, is a flowering vine called Back To School down home because it blossoms right around Labor Day. I brought a tiny root fragment to NH in a sandwich bag; now it fills my patio with fragrance and the hum of bees.



 Liz Flaherty

Oh, Helen, I love the bush. If I carried a start of anything to NH in a baggie, it would get lost under the passenger seat and mold.

I grew up in the country and went to a small school. Like Helen, I remember the scent of Crayolas and was bitterly envious of classmates who had big boxes of them instead of the eight- or sixteen-pack that was my lot in life. We wrote in pads of Goldenrod yellow lined paper. I used to get in trouble because I used too much paper and didn't like to write on the back. My mother learned early on that my favorite Christmas present would be paper and pens that I didn't have to take to school; I could keep them at home and write stories.
Even though I wasn't one who really loved school--I wanted to do things, not sit at a desk all day--I am so grateful to the one I went to, where no one ever suggested I wouldn't be able to do anything I wanted. Of course, I didn't realize then that what I'd want was to sit at a desk all day. 

What about you? What are some of your school or September memories?


39 comments:

  1. I remember the first day of school in September was always cool and crisp in NYC, and that I got to sport a new outfit, complete with new shoes and book bag. Some of my favorite memories are of playing hopscotch in the yard after lunch, and music class. In fact, band was my favorite class and I enjoyed it from elementary school through to HS. I played the clarinet. Sadly it's probably unheard of in schools today.

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    1. Hi Laurie -- early September in Kentucky was usually more like summer than fall, but I always wore a new plaid dress my grandmother made on her old treadle Singer sewing machine and the sweater my aunt knit to match. In the primary grades, girls weren't allow to wear pants; in bitter weather we wore leggings like ski pants and took them off once we got to school. By the time I got to high school we could wear slacks -- not jeans! -- when the temps dropped below 20.

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    2. Hi Laurie, your post brought up fond hopscotch memories for me. At my school, the girls would take those Snack-pack things with the saltine crackers and the cheese with the little red stick to spread it on and we'd use the sticks for hopscotch markers. Or tree pods, if no one happened to bring the crackers one day.
      Sounds like it was nice to have a cool and crisp start for back to school, here in CA, it was always super hot on the first day!

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  2. We were on the edge of town. I was in a neighborhood of kids and there was a street behind us. But, behind that street was country. I could walk to a horse ranch, a corn field, and beyond that the cemetery.

    Laurie, my 5th grade son told me this week that he had a choice of learning to play the drum or the piano in music elective (I'm hoping for piano but he's already leaning toward the drums - which Santa will NOT bring)

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    1. Hi Pamela -- Lucky you, the best of both worlds. Only farmland beyond my grandfather's farm as well, so my cousins and I could ride for miles along country roads, Everyone knew my grandfather, so we had permission to cut through many farms as long as we closed gates behind us and didn't ride through the standing corn. Now all strip malls and condos, the whole kingdom of childhood erased.

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    2. Hi Pamela, I chose drums in 5th grade (or maybe 4th) but instead of a drum kit, I used two drumsticks on a (and you'll love this) and rubber pad with two levels that sort of simulated a drum. That's what the music teacher gave out to practice on! At the time, I was thinking...what the heck??? But now I'm thinking, you geniuses!

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  3. Growing up outside of the Washington, DC area, we always went back to school, the day of Labor Day. For me, the chirping of crickets, always signaled it was time to hit the books again.

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  4. Hi Jill -- your back-to-school weather was probably about like ours in Kentucky, still warm and hazyl. Goldenrod and magenta ironweed along the fence rows meant the end of summer for me. I loved the long vacation days with my cousins and my horse Sunndance, but I was always ready for school to start-- new clothes and school supplies, getting back together with friends I hadn't seen since Memorial Day, and new classes.

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  5. Here in California, they sell fall sweaters in the store and boy did my mom used to snatch them up. Unfortunately, we start school here when it's still in the 100s. I can remember many a first day at school wearing a sweater and being miserable. Now I see kids wearing short-shorts (and I'm miserable)

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    2. Hi Melinda,
      It's true about the short-shorts these days! I can't believe what I see some girls wearing, they make shorts now that are supposed to ride up half your bum! If kids keep (edit) dressing more and more risque with each generation, are they going to eventually just walk around in thong bikinis?

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  6. Hi Melinda -- yes, a new sweater and knee socks on the sweltering first day of school -- all the girls couldn't wait to trot out their new fall outfits. The old dress codes weren't a bad thing; if concepts like "modesty" and "lady-like" survive anywhere its most likely in some parts of the South. I even hear kids there use "ma'am" and "sir."

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  7. My first day of school was traumatic. My mother had to go with me on the bus because I could barely walk. My doctor had given me my small pox vaccination in the leg. He’d convinced my mother that he could spare me from an ugly mark on my arm when I went to school dances. Of all the baloney! It was like eliminating a bellybutton – something everyone had. And what happens to a girl’s thigh? It grows. So what would have been a dimple on my arm became a huge white scar on my leg. And I spent more time in a bathing suit then I ever did in a strapless dress at a school dance.

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    1. Other than that, I loved school.

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    2. Marion, that's terrible! Did you have classmates that went the same doctor?

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  8. Heh. Here in Australia September is only halfway through the year – our new school year begins in the New Year!

    However, right now, even though it’s allegedly winter, I keep trying to put the heater on but it’s too hot! We have all this firewood and we can’t use it! You step outside and you can smell all the blossoms.

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    1. Hi Sonya -- must be odd for you to hear about all the end-of-summer recollections from the Northern Hemisphere. So fascinating to chat with someone literally halfway around the world. We heat most of our house with wood stoves and will soon be splitting and stacking for the winter. Such a lot of work and messy in the house, but nothing beats curling up with a cup of coffee and favorite book beside a glowing stove.

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    2. Definitely nothing like a wood fire! We "inherited" a whole lot of firewood this year, so we're overstocked. But I think it might be a bit expensive to send it overseas to someone who needs it!

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  9. Hi Marion -- ugh, what a rough beginning! Riding the bus was always a major issue for me. My grandparents' house sat maybe an eighth of a mile from the county road behind big trees. My grandmother insisted on waiting with me, worried I might be snatched. I was horribly embarrassed and finally persuaded her to stand half-way back the lane. Looking back, I'm amazed I had so much freedom to roam the countryside on horseback, considering her protectiveness.

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  10. What a wonderful, nostalgic post! I was a very urban kid in coastal Massachusetts and went to Catholic school. I remember new clothes and new hair ribbons to match for my braids. We lived only four blocks away from school, so I walked with all the neighborhood kids with whom I'd spent all summer. Helen, I love your white flower and that it came from your grandparents' place. What a dear thing. And Liz, I love that no one told you there wasn't anything you couldn't do. What bright memories we all have to write about.

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    1. Hi Muriel -- walking to school with friends must have been fun although I wouldn't have enjoyed the icy sidewalks and the cold. My winter policy now is the stay indoors if the temp drops before 10F. At least my truck sits safely in the garage so I don't have to brave our sloping driveway -- I'm a terrible coward about ice.

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  11. Helen and Liz, love your trips down memory lane. I grew up in rural Oregon. My dad ran a machine shop and logged, and we kept huge gardens. Like Helen's family we canned and made jelly and jam, so the house always smelled of cooking fruit. Mother made all of mine and my sister's clothes. I still don't know where she found time to do so many things. And I always loved school. I count growing up in a small town and logging country as one of life's great benefits.

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    1. Roz, that sounds like a lovely childhood! :)

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    2. Hi Roz -- like you, I still feel sorry for kids who didn't grow up rural. We didn't have a large farm, just pastures and cornfields and nearly an acre of vegetables. My garden now is much smaller, but I get a big kick out of planning dinner based on what's coming ripe. Just now my Red Gravenstein apple tree is producing almost faster than I can make applesauce. It bears only every other year, so I freeze enough to last until another "on" year.

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    3. Helen, oh we had Gravenstein apples and they are so juicy and good. Lucky you.

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  12. Hi Helen and Liz, I really liked reading your back to school memories. Helen, I would have loved to have grown up on a farm with tons of animals and Liz, I can totally relate to having office supplies at the top of your list for present requests. :) My back to school memories are of visiting my grandparents in the summer in CO and going back to school shopping. I loved getting new clothes and I would do a "fashion show" for supposedly, the whole family but it was really only my mother and grandmother who cared! I rode the bus in second grade and I remember taking my very special crayon holder that was in the shape of a giant red Crayola, it was spinning caddy. I loved it and wanted to use it at school but I didn't trust to leave it over night. You know, those pesky Crayloa thieves! So imagine how devastated I was when the bus hit a bump and I dropped my crayon caddy and they spilled everywhere. For days, the bus driver said "I found another crayon, here" in an unamused tone. I also really disliked watching TV in the summer and when the back-to-school ads would come on early. Don't those advertisers know how much kids hate that? ;)

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    1. Hi Krissie -- oh yes, back to school shopping. Generations of kids here in our NH town are sad that the store where their moms shopped is being torn down. For many years it was Jordan Marsh and then Macy's. I have a uniform jacket issued during WWII to my aunt, one of the first women Navy officers; the label reads Jordan Marsh. Another tradition now just a memory.

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  13. What a great walk down memory lane, ladies! Thank you for sharing.

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  14. I love the back-to-school bush. I was a farm girl, too, and eagerly awaited back to school where I'd get to play with kids on a daily basis. I didn't love the forty-five minute school bus ride, but filled the time making up stories.

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  15. Helen, I love your transplanted bush! I have a lovely row of lilacs I moved from my parents' house. They've been with me through two moves, and they've survived! I think of them as "Mothers' Day" bushes because that's the weekend they usually bloom.

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    1. Hi Amie -- Lilacs are so forgiving; they transplant with few complaints. The plant in the picture is sweet autumn clematis, thousands of tiny blossoms and a wonderful perfume. I've made sure my cousins in Kentucky all have starts from it, a way of keeping the old farm alive in memory.

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  16. Hi Beth -- With five cousins on the same farm, I never much missed playmates from school. One cousin was just my age; I recall spending hours just messing around with our horses until someone called us to pick beans or corn or tomatoes for supper. The notion that kids get bored is so foreign to me -- stalls had to be cleaned, tack mended, or a new trail explored. To paraphrase John Denver, "Thank God I'm a country girl."

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  17. I loved school as a kid--always got a new pair of shoes and skirts and blouses (to mix and match). And I love the smell of new paper and crayons. I lived close enough to go home for lunch--it was allowed way back then. And school never started before Labor Day, unlike now when it starts the first or second week of August. And we have kids here in Mississippi who go to college on band scholarships.

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    1. Hi Patricia! Yes, Labor Day was the end of summer freedom in Kentucky as well. Almost as good as the smell of new crayons was the scent and sound of new shoes, Mary Janes in early grades and penny loafers later on. I guess I'll betray my age and admit to wearing poodles skirt as well.

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  18. Helen and Liz, such a lovely, nostalgic post! Though I didn't grow up rural, our small town is surrounded be farms and my grandfather was a farmer and rancher though in Florida . My favorite was the Golden Tablets and crayolas! I can smell them now. Frankly, I see those simple instruments of creativity and I almost feel sorry for the generations today. The schools here demand the kids have ipads, at the parents' expense. And when I think of all the worlds I created with my tablets and pencils and crayons! Every September I still roam the aisles in the stores looking at the school supplies. I loved school. I hope the children today find a sense of wonder as apparently, everyone here certainly did... Once upon a time.

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  19. Hi Catherine, A confession: I still lust after notebooks and markers and folders when some need takes me to Staples. We didn't have Golden Tablets; Blue Horse is the brand I remember, appropriate for Kentucky. I do acknowledge a passion for my Mac Book Air, to the point that I can scarcely write a shopping list with pencil and paper. Interesting that your grandfather was a rancher in FL, a much less known location in the beef industry. Nice article a few months ago in Working Ranch magazine about the history of Florida cowboys/

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  20. I went to a one-room country school for the first semester of first grade. I recall my lunchbox and thermos, since there was no school lunch there. I also liked pens, crayons, and paper. My first "books" were little spirals. I also illustrated my stories with pictures I drew, colored, and cut out to paste into the book.

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  21. Hi Lynn -- I always wished I'd gone to a one-room school but in a sense I did. My grandmother taught my cousins and me to read before we entered first grade. I can remember her reading to us on the big screened porch of our Kentucky farmhouse where she served thin lemon cookies and her special citrus and mint punch for "recess". We all sat in a row on the old porch glider; I can still hear its squeak along with the cicadas in the big black walnut tree shading the porch.

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  22. What wonderful comments! I'm sorry to be chiming in late, but thanks to everyone for coming by and to Helen for being such a great blog partner!

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