Below are essays on the topic of “Back to School.” After reading these, we hope you will write about some of your own memories of school. Then, submit them to us for publishing on this site. Thank you!
Drawing Our State Flower, The Goldenrod
Miss Cecil did try to introduce some creative art, instead of just the traditional “trace the pattern and color within the lines” on the predesigned handouts. She brought a bouquet of goldenrod, fresh picked from the pasture.
“Oh no, anything but that,” I thought, “Not pretty at all! Nothing like the crisp shape of a tulip, my favorite flower to draw! Where do you start?” We were on our own!
“Here is a clean sheet of drawing paper to make something nice. Please don’t mess it up, and try not to erase.” Paper was expensive; even our own tablets with lines could not be wasted, but this was heavier special drawing paper.
It didn’t help a bit to watch Herschel drawing intently while his tongue followed the direction of his pencil, nearly licking his chin, and on around to his nose. It was well established that he was the artist in the family, as well as in the whole school. One time he drew a map so well that the teacher thought he had traced it.
Instead of seeing the total shape of the bouquet, my mind and pencil were lost in the intricate, feathery, separate little blossoms, and there were little lacy designs all over my page. I probably never saw the main stems. “Now, how am I going to color that?!” I wondered. In exasperation, I lightly touched bits of dark gold and light yellow here and there. I had surprised myself!
When all the drawings were lined up near the chalkboard, good comments were made about each one. “There is no right and wrong about our pictures. Each of you drew what you saw, and that is what we like to see.” That was indeed more than an art lesson!
Later in the fall, we brought brown grocery bags to school. After we dipped the bag in water, we smeared blobs of yellow, orange, and red water paint all over. Immediately, we crunched the paper in our hands, then quickly spread it out to dry. The colors had blended and there were still wrinkles in the paper, like the lines of dried leaves. The next week, when the brown painted paper was dry, we cut shapes of autumn leaves, using as guides the leaves we had gathered. (There were very few trees, but ambitious hunters found a big variety of colors and shapes, another “eye opener” and appreciation of our natural environment.)
Something of My Own
By Mieke Tazelaar
I loved my pencil box. It wasn’t the classical shape, but square, not as long, but large enough to place my pencils diagonally. It also contained a green eraser that never got hard and dry. I kept a couple of keys in my box. They didn’t unlock anything – well, one was for the box, but I couldn’t lock it and keep the key inside now, could I? I had several round pieces of bubble gum from the penny vending machine. I saved those for a chance to do some long, serious chewing and bubble-blowing. The box contained a miniature plastic camel from that same machine. I kept a Crayola box with eight crayons and a tiny spiral notebook. Several items from Cracker Jack boxes found their way into my special box.
My square treasure went back and forth to school with me. It resided in my school desk and on the nightstand next to my bed.
In junior high, we had no individual desks, since we migrated from room to room throughout the day, but getting a locker was magical, and frustrating. I bought my own lock and practiced at home, but when I first fastened it to my locker, I panicked and couldn’t remember the combination or the process. To the rescue came Basil Halkedes, who could open any lock, even if he did not know the combination. He had at least six locks strung together and made a game out of unlatching each one before he opened his locker and getting to his next class on time. This skill got him in trouble, because a half dozen students reported missing locks. He was clever, but not clever enough to hide the evidence.
I decorated the inside of my locker with pictures of friends and a rock star or two. I didn’t particularly like rock music, but this was a peer thing – keeping up appearances. Since I was not naturally tidy, I had to clean my locker from time to time when I couldn’t slam it closed anymore. I tossed out papers, took home extra sweaters, books, and shoes, and wiped it down with damp paper towels. Then, I would feel good about my locker again.
At home I had my own room, since I did not have a sister. My parents left it alone, until it became too bad. Then, I would find the things I had left on the floor, in the alley, next to my open window. I would go on a cleaning frenzy and put things back in place. I realize now how fortunate I was to have had the luxury of my own space, and a mostly wise and patient mother.
And no one at home ever opened my pencil box. It was my sacred domain that my parents and brothers honored. How lucky I was!
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Note from Joan: The piece below, by Debra, is a great example of how a piece can begin with a topic like “school supplies” and lead the writer into other areas of memory. In this case, the writer began by talking about pencils and ended by talking about issues around self concept and friendship. Writing can do this, which is one reason I encourage everyone to write! It is a voyage of reflection and discovery!
School Memories from 1962
By Debra S. Valpey
Freshly sharpened yellow pencils with virginal erasers (years later I read a romance novel in which pencil erasers reminded a “wounded wife” of her husband’s mistress’s “char tips.” Maybe the author came up with that one in middle school. (Ha!)
Sharp-cornered 3-ring binders that open and close just right. Two ballpoint pens, one blue and one black. That year I secreted an extraordinary pen from my summer travels to the World’s Fair in Seattle. It was a Space Needle pen and I loved it. The “elevator” flowed up, then slid back down as I tilted the pen to and fro.
Packets of shrink-wrapped wide-ruled notebook paper to be allocated, equitably of course, into five color coded dividers: pink for English because I like pink and I like English class, blue for geography because the earth is a blue planet, orange for history because orange is a dumb color and history is a dumb class (I eventually became a history teacher, go figure!), yellow for math because I am a (yellow) coward in math class, and purple for science because purple is a color that comes from magically combining two other colors and science was magic (another reason I never understood science). All set now!
Unzip my pencil bag to reveal a fresh pink trapezoidal eraser with its name easily visible. I do not know why the eraser had a name. Then admire my protractor (even though it is for MATH class) and one of those nifty things that holds a pencil to make a perfect circle for (yucky) math class. At least I can use those for my elective art class, second semester, for making cool colored designs when I become a famous fashion designer.
A wooden ruler with one side devoted to that mysterious European way of measuring – metrics! And a small packet of Elmer’s glue which I had no practical use for, but glue sticks had not yet been invented. So … sigh … we use what we have.
I wore tight undershirts to squash (and hopefully hide) my kiwi-sized breasts that I perceived to be the size of cantaloupes. (They are still the size of kiwis .. oh, well!) Fresh, still pure white ankle socks and new shoes with cross straps and nice flat heels. I tended to wear out the outer edges first so, at least for awhile, my feet didn’t look funny from behind as I slunk down the halls. And a couple of new dresses that made me look like a 15-year-old trying to pass for 12. I was so tall that my clothes needed to be purchased in the big girl department. (I am still the same height, even losing a big each year.)
I liked school enough. I had a couple of friends at a time. I was convinced that my acne (acquired years before my classmates due to my hormonal growth spurts) was the cause of my relative unpopularity. But I so wished to fast-forward a few years in order to know for sure that I would stop growing and start looking more like my classmates.
By 8th grade, it all began to turn around. My friends got pimples, my height leveled out, and I got another friend or two. I still didn’t like math, though!
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Finding Comfort Amid the Confusion of First Grade
I was a shy and often bewildered child in elementary school. Of course, I was also shy and bewildered in nursery school and kindergarten, but first grade brought with it higher expectations for order and productivity. Perhaps suffering from some kind of attention disorder, I often missed out on teacher instructions and had to ask my classmates what we were supposed to be doing. Or, I would just watch the kids next to me and try to imitate what they were doing. If they were reading Dick and Jane, I would read Dick and Jane. If they were copying numbers from the chalkboard, I would copy numbers from the chalkboard.
I often felt an overwhelming sense of drowning in a sea of noise. In retrospect, it’s interesting that it was noise that made it impossible for me to think straight. Because, ironically, throughout elementary school, I was often checked for hearing. Teachers, noting my inability to absorb or follow directions, theorized that I had hearing loss, so once or twice each year, I was pulled out of class to have my hearing checked. My first grade teacher was especially exasperated with me. She often exiled me to the hall for punishment. There I wandered aimlessly, not certain what I had done wrong or when I was supposed to return to the class.
Surrounded by a swarm of activity and sound, there was one very strong comfort: My desk. My desk was my haven, my port in the storm. At our school, we had freestanding desks with lids that opened on hinges. I think part of the appeal of my desk was that when I opened the lid, I could block out the confusion around me and hide behind the lid. Not only that, I could order my little nest of supplies – my crayons, my pencils, my erasers, my pencil sharpener, my protractor, compass, and ruler. And, all my little treasures … “cootie catchers” I had made out of folded paper, four leaf clovers I had found and pressed, pretty rocks, and even a few prizes from cracker jacks. This little area was my domain and, unlike the rest of the world, I had control over it. It was predictable and comfortable. My desk was probably what I liked best about school.
And then there was the elegance and beauty of tools. I remember a pencil given to me by a friend who had visited Japan. It was swathed in patterned paper and had a little red tassel fastened right below the eraser. What magic. Retractable ballpoint pens were a marvel. And erasers were a delight. The act of erasing was so rewarding. Now you see it, now you don’t. And with a sweep of the hand, all the eraser debris could be swept away. Art gum erasers were my favorite, but I also loved the functional orange erasers, and the malleable white artist erasers.
Compasses enabled me to make perfect sweeping circles on my paper, overlapping them and coloring them with different colored crayons. What a perfect tool!
When it came time to write, I would open the lid to my desk and take out my pencil. Not a pencil, but my pencil. I have heard writers say that the pen or pencil they use often feels like an extension of their own body. I suppose I’ve always had a bit of that feeling when I hold a pen or pencil. I’m not obsessive about my writing tools, but I definitely have my preferences, and they are like trusted friends.
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Sharing a Desk in a Small Town School
By Rob Greeves
I started school in a very small town called Inkom, Idaho. The classes from first grade through senior high were in one building. My first grade class was in a small room where both first and second grades were held. We sat on benches that seated two students, so we shared a desk that had a shelf under the table for our pencils and paper. Books were handed out each day and collected at the end of class. Two students per book!
We had only one teacher and she taught both grades. We first graders read whenever the teacher was working with the second graders. Even in the third and fourth grade room the same situation existed for students. All this sharing wasn’t too bad if another boy was assigned to sit with you, but having to share your desk with a girl wasn’t any fun at all! That is just the way a guy felt when he was only six years old.
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Note: The piece blow, by Dennis, is a good example of applying the wisdom of age to the experiences of childhood. Dennis is able to view long-ago events with the perspective of a lifetime of experience, including conversations with others. This is another benefit of writing, both for the writer and the reader. Pieces like this have many layers and can be both healing and thought-provoking
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