Back to school, back in the day

By Barbara Grider
Independent Staff Writer
Posted 7/18/07

It’s almost time for school to start and retail stores are stocking up on all the school supplies that today’s children must have. The aisles are crammed with folders, binders, pencils, note pads and book bags — all available in in an …

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Back to school, back in the day


It’s almost time for school to start and retail stores are stocking up on all the school supplies that today’s children must have. The aisles are crammed with folders, binders, pencils, note pads and book bags — all available in in an assortment of brilliant colors.

Just the other day, my husband, who is a bit older than I, brought up the subject of school and school supplies. He recalled that his father’s mother, his Granny, who lived in McHenry, Miss., always sent him a new book bag at the beginning of each school year.

He said he would open the package and there would be what we always called a “book satchel” and it would be filled with things she thought he might need. She would buy several yellow No. 2 pencils, tablets, crayons, the basic drawing instruments like a protractor and compass, a notebook and notebook paper.

Each summer, he spent the month of July with his Granny and Pawpaw and they adored him, as he did them. The whole month was a time of freedom for him to wander the woods with his dog, Pete, to be spoiled by his grandmother and to spend time absorbing the wisdom of his grandfather who was a man who could do anything.

Thoughts of school were far from his youthful mind during those halcyon days of July.

I have to smile when I think about his Granny sending the book bag way up to Memphis or Grenada so he would have it by the start of the school year. I’m sure his Granny loved going into Gulfport to make those very important purchases for the little boy she loved so much — the only son of her only child.

My memories of preparing for the start of the school year are wreathed in the wonderful smell of roasting coffee beans. My mother would take us to downtown Meridian to the Paragon Book Store, where we would buy the required workbooks. The book store was near the old Nylon Coffee Company, so the entire area smelled like strong, fresh coffee!

When I started school, we were living in Columbus, Ga., and we were not required to buy workbooks. For first and second grade, we only had to bring a tablet with us to school. The best thing about those tablets were the covers, which were slick paper decorated with a color picture of a celebrity. One year I went off to the first day of school with a Gene Autry tablet under my arm. Although I loved the cover, I hated the pulpy, grayish paper inside those tablets. Everything smudged and if you tried to erase something, the paper would promptly tear.

Exciting items like binder, protractors, spiral notebooks and book bags came later and were a symbol of being a “big kid” like my brother and my cousins. They also got big boxes of Crayola crayons, but I had to go to school with the required box of just the eight primary colors.

Buying school supplies was fun and exciting when I was a child. The smells of paste, erasers, paper and crayons was heady and seemed full of promise for the future. To this day, those smells bring back the feeling of anticipation. When I got to replace my tablet with a new loose leaf binder full of bright, white notebook paper, I knew I was finally one of the “big” kids.

When my husband opened his new book bag and pulled out the items his Granny had so thoughtfully bought for him and tucked into his new book bag, it was as exciting for him as opening a Christmas present.

Even if we weren’t particularly happy about going back to the confinement of the classroom after our summer of freedom, we were thrilled with all those wonderful new items we had gotten in preparation for our return to school.

Like so many other things in our frantic world today, it seems that buying school supplies is another burden for today’s busy, financially stretched parents and anxious children.

I’ve seen parents at big retail stores shopping for school supplies with their children. They hold the official list of supplies while frantically searching for the items specified. The parents often look angry and the children on the verge of tears as they search.

There is no way today a loving grandmother could buy and fill a book bag for a cherished grandchild — none of it would be right.

Barbara Grider is staff writer for The Independent. Contact her at