In Springfield, Mo. where I grew up, our school started in September, right after Labor Day, if I recall correctly, and since our family never had an abundance of money, I suspect it was probably not August when we bought our school supplies, but more likely, it was the days just before the opening bell that we went to the store to buy these treasured items. That jaunt was one of the highlights of my year, for I loved school and everything that went with it, and I recall my delight when I became the owner of such precious items. It’s probably accurate to say a kind of euphoria overtook me at these times.
A couple of days ago when I went into our new Super WalMart here in Lake Havasu and passed through the school section, I spied a Pink Pearl eraser tucked in the company of scissors and paper clips and glue. I stopped, fingered the eraser package, and my thoughts flared and carried me to those long-gone days when, with my mother, I stood by such shelves, and made my selections. Pink Pearl was my brand. I bought one on Monday–actually two–for that’s how they were packaged.
Clearly, I think of Big Indian Chief tablets, and though I don’t recall seeing any in stores in recent years, I do find they are still manufactured, at least in limited form. Covers of dark red with an Indian chief in full dress feathers protected the wide-ruled sheets beneath. They weren’t of the spiral ring style, but were glued at the top with a black band. There was a line to write the name of the owner of this fine pad of paper. Maybe I bought other tablets, but I don’t remember any of those, just red Big Chiefs.
School supplies have a unique scent, especially school paste, which emits a savor of peppermint–and to tell the truth–a taste of peppermint. I know, for in our school, we all occasionally took a nip of the white, smooth stuff. Distinctly adding to the school aroma is that of a newly opened box of crayons, pristine and unbroken, their sharp points a flare of blended colors. So careful would we be of our new crayons, and what a sad moment when the first one broke, or became so worn down, we had to peel away the paper covering, and finally they weren’t even kept in their own container, but were dumped helterskelter in the pencil box.
I racked around in my brain this morning, trying to remember my pencil boxes, but I just couldn’t bring up any images. I bobbed around on the internet, looking at pencil box images, and despite my extended surfing, I did not find a pencil box that seemed familiar.
Until…I recalled cigar boxes. Now, I’m not at all sure where I would have come to possess a cigar box, for neither my dad, and certainly not my mother, smoked cigars, but that’s what I used to store my school supplies; cigar boxes.
I realize now that I love cigar boxes–love the way they look, and the slightly wicked aroma that accompanies them, and the fact that for all my years in elementary school, I stored my school supplies in a cigar box. It’s strange, I have no recollection of how I came to possess such an item…and how about the other kids who also used cigar boxes? Where did we get them? Maybe we went to the drug store or the grocery store and asked if we could have the empties. I don’t remember.
Once I visited in the home of my friend Barbra Day; she opened a drawer, and several pencils were there.
“Whose pencils are those?” I recall asking her.
Nonchalantly, she replied. “Oh, anybody who wants them.”
I was impressed with that, for in our home, there weren’t pens or pencils just laying around, or a supply stash somewhere. We had our own items, carefully tucked away in our boxes.
The pencils we used gave a strong scent of cedar when we sharpened them at school, and if our lead broke while we were at home, we used a kitchen knife to fashion a point. Often my pencil eraser would wear out before the pencil was used up, and the metal ring that clasped the eraser would dig into the paper where I was attempting to annihilate my errors.
Watercolor sets were furnished by the school, and when they handed to each of us a metal pan with pats of color, and sheets of paper, and little brushes, we budding artists (and non-artists, such as I) enthusiastically began our work. On very special occasions would the teachers bring out the easels, pots of poster paint and big floppy brushes to accommodate our artistic bent. I remember yet how fine it was to dip my brush into a jar of brilliant paint, and blaze it over the eager white paper.
Impossible for me to explain is my fascination with Dorothy Lynch’s (whom I don’t recall seeing since 6th grade in Bailey School) notebook paper. I probably have never mentioned this to a soul until this moment, for it can’t be explained, but there was something about her paper that I liked. It had a certain “tooth,” I guess one would say. It was a little rough–not like newsprint–but not slick like ordinary notebook paper. Strange memory.
There is much to be said for Big Box Stores and WalMart and KMart and Target where one can buy bundles of Bic pens and cartons of yellow pencils and bags of assorted-color plastic paper clips and made in China pencil boxes. There is much to be said for affording the finest watermarked paper and Montblanc pens, and Fahrney Pelikan pens which can be purchased at a discount rate of $1,418.00. There is certainly much to be said for being able to easily buy school supplies for one’s children.
But there also is much to recommend striving, and for the cherishing of materials which is brought about by the understanding of their limited supply.