School bells bring back fond memories

Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

OK, I’ll admit the song refrain to the right was popular quite a few years before my school days. But thanks to my music teacher at L..L Brown Elementary, Mrs. Brasell, who taught us all the old songs, this one popped into my head 40 years later, as Portales schools get ready to open this week.

Back-to-school was usually a pretty good change of pace for me as a youngster. We stayed really busy every summer and worked and played hard, and the routine of school was welcome. The new school supplies and school clothes were kind of neat, too.

It would be hard to forget the feeling of importance as I reported to Mrs. Harmon’s first-grade class in a brand new pair of blue jeans so stiff I could barely bend my bony little knees. I was also proud of that cigar box full of strange new school supplies. Just what would we be doing with all those things my mother had bought from the school supply list?

The fierce Indian on the Big Chief tablet was still clean and unspoiled, the round-nosed scissors had been tested on anything I could get my hands on around the house while mom wasn’t looking, and the paste — why, it didn’t taste bad at all.

My aunt Becky, who probably was in her last year of grade school when I started first grade, was given the job of making sure I made it to my classroom that first day, or one of the first days. She had been warned not to lose me and figured that required holding my hand all the way down the hall. I figured I was a little too big and important for that, so we squabbled all the way down the hall.

Once in class, I was relieved to know I already had a buddy there. My cousin Harold was in the same room. Supposedly, Mrs. Harmon asked us if we were related to each other and we both answered, “No, we’re just good friends.” Since that time Harold and I have always been quick to deny kinship with each other and others of our clan, just on general principles. We found later it was always more fun to find out what the person would tell on a relative if we acted like we didn’t know them.

As I left each grade in the spring, and fortunately reported to a new grade and new teacher each fall, the novelty lost a little bit of its shine but was still a special time of year.

One of the reason’s back-to-school lost its glamour could have been that pretty early-on I learned I was expected to do some work in the summer to help earn some money for my own school clothes. The alternative to that was my mother would make my shirts for me, out of whatever material was on sale, and she could patch those summer jeans if need-be too. Mom was handy at the sewing machine, but patched jeans and homemade shirts were seen as a sure tip-off you were poor.

I hoed cotton, picked okra and squash in the truck garden and whatever else I could do in order earn money and raise my level of fashion. My reward was store-bought shirts, usually three pair of new jeans, and if I was lucky, a new pair of rubber-soled, canvas Converse tennis shoes.
Ah, school days.