One more word on ‘back to school’

BY BOB WACHS, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/6/19

By now the annual frenzy known as “Back to School” is a memory, since most folks who go have been back for a few weeks or at least, a few days. Labor Day, that last summer holiday, is now a thing …

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One more word on ‘back to school’

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By now the annual frenzy known as “Back to School” is a memory, since most folks who go have been back for a few weeks or at least, a few days. Labor Day, that last summer holiday, is now a thing of the past as we begin the rush toward fall celebrations. And, of course don’t forget it’s only a hundred or so days until Christmas.

That’s been enough time for students to figure out which classes they like, take in a few football games and soccer matches and similar athletic events, develop new boyfriends and girlfriends and generally have the novelty of it all wear off and be replaced by business as usual.

In addition to those activities and the passage of that time, however, I know that “Back to School” season is over because we got our first Christmas shopping circular in the mail the other day. At one time, “Christmas in July” was a special thing some churches observed to remember folks in need; now it’s one more step in the evolvement of the Almighty Dollar — or credit card.

Anyway, the big stack of newspaper circulars and mail pieces that recently covered our table advertising “Back to School” as the most important thing since sliced bread and indoor plumbing are now on their way to the wood pile as this winter’s fire starter.

Yet, call it a character flaw or weakness or a senior adult mind becoming moldy, I was reminded, as I stacked up those papers, of how that event once played out when I wore a little boy’s clothes.

The clothes thing was the first step in “Back to School” for me. When we lived in Apex — when it actually was a separate place from CARYRALEIGHWAKE COUNTY ­— my mama would catch the bus from our little town to downtown Raleigh. There she would torture me through the bargain basement of the Belks store on Fayetteville Street and eventually upstairs to the place where all the blue jeans in the world were stacked and on display.

I never understood how she could buy jeans and other clothes for my older brothers who didn’t have to make the trip but I had to go along even though for a year or two I was still a pre-schooler since in the Dark Ages there was no kindergarten. In my later years I have given serious consideration to enrolling in kindergarten so I could use those new crayons and markers to color in my book and maybe take naps in the afternoon since I am potty trained.

It’s funny but now I can’t remember where Mama found my “Back to School” clothes after our little family moved to Pittsboro. Maybe it was the old Halls Department Store off the courthouse circle or Griffin’s Shoe Shop on Main Street. Later as I added khakis and knit shirts to my blue jean inventory, I included William Ray Arthurs’s Men’s Shop just down the block from Griffin’s to my favorite places. But that came after I joined the ranks of the employed and starting carrying around a few dollars.

The day on which we went back to school was a yearly decision and not the same date on the calendar as it often is today. Before the introduction of Jordan Lake and its many benefits, including but not limited to — expensive search and rescue operations, the loss of more than 40,000 acres of the best farm land in the county, the end of many families living on the land for generation after generation, and the tragic loss of lives from swimming and boating accidents — it was the annual tobacco harvest that drove the school calendar.

If the harvest was early, we were in school by late August or early September. If the harvest was late, the date was pushed back as far as possible and even then some of our classmates would be a week or so getting there since they were needed to put a profit into the family pocketbook.

In those prehistoric days before social media and cell phones, it was the back to school that helped us develop interpersonal skills. We talked with each other and our teachers in the classroom, sometimes to the chagrin of our teacher, and on the playground and in the lunchroom and on the school bus. I don’t remember any of my friends or family sitting around the table, at home or in the lunchroom, wearing out our thumbs to talk to the person at the next table.

It was the combination of seeing friends again after three months, of smelling notebook paper instead of phone cases, of new jeans and shirts and Old English cologne, of eating with friends even if it was Mystery Meat again for the third day in a row, and all those things that made it so good to go back to school.

But of all those things and events that were a part of the happenings, I must confess perhaps my favorite was finding out not only who my elementary teacher was but who among my buddies was in my room. Critical information like that had much to do with surviving the annual visits from our Grade Mothers who came bearing cookies and brownies and Rice Krispie treats and such. I always wanted to be in the same room with my friend Bill Farrell because that meant his mama Dorothy (always and forever “Miss Dot” to me) would be by with the above mentioned goodies as often as possible.

Do they still do stuff like that anymore? I’ve been told by some whom I assume to be somewhat of an authority on the subject that homemade treats are no longer allowed in the halls of higher or even elementary education.

But, if by some chance they are, I think this may be the year I try that kindergarten sign-up.


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