The most wonderful time of the year is here, indeed. Buying school supplies is second on my list only to toy shopping. When my kids received their lists of what pens, pencils and folders they’ll need this school year it sent me out on a hunt like I was on a reality TV game show. Tearing off to the local store, I stood elbow to elbow with other well-meaning moms as we dug through the picked over bins of folders to find the perfect ones that will encourage our children to do their school work, have a successful school year and become President of the United States one day. Or win a gold medal at the Olympics. Considering each of my kids needed only needed about four items, I was a bit disappointed that my school supply shopping frenzy only took about ten minutes at one store. I spent the entire summer revving up and practicing my store aisle drills in my hunt for obscure office supplies like reinforcements, poster board, tempera paint and rubber cement. Did I mention I love school supplies?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved the idea of buying fresh notebooks with blank pages that are ready for recording lessons and dreams and plans and doodles. I love the idea of picking out pens in any color of the rainbow. Should it be a flare tip or a ball point? Would spending extra money on a pen with a grip on the barrel really give me the ergodynamic confidence I need to write my way into literary history? Or, should I just save the extra fifty cents and be inspired by the starving artist spirit I channel in with my generic pack of plain pens in a bland color of ink?
Since I no longer care about being “cool” I’m not embarrassed to admit that at one time I knew the model numbers and names of a spectrum of Uni-ball pens. I drooled over certain models and fancy pens. I once casually met a man in a bar in New York City who, in hindsight, must have thought I was interested in him personally. But all I kept looking at was his Mont Blanc pen. I’m serious. He insisted I take the pen, but then he would not stop calling me all the way from San Francisco.
I think it was my intense love of said supplies that encouraged me to become a writer. How could I not want to write with that state of the art Uni-ball? Having a blank journal with heavy-stock paper only cries out for poetry, sketches, dreams and inspiration. Ok….not only have I digressed, but apparently the ‘Nerd’ sign over my head is on with all lights a blazing.
Did you know that once you graduate from school the phrase “school supplies” becomes the phrase “office supplies?” I found this out first hand. My first job in the corporate world had me in a position where I was FREE TO ORDER ANY OFFICE SUPPLY I NEEDED! What? Yes! It’s true. I spent my lunch hours hunched over the office supply catalogue and dog-eared and post-it-ed many a page. Of course these items on my list were all things I NEEDED to do my job. I ordered a maroon stapler because I thought it was incredibly cool, a wire rack to display the rainbow-colored folders I’d also ordered. I picked out multi-colored folder labels and hanging files to match. And post its, and stickers to highlight important office business. And a lamp I needed so I could see the office supply catalogue better. Not only did my savvy office supply purchases make my gray cubicle “pop,” I believe my work performance improved at least 350% because of my wise purchases.
I have vivid memories of the school supplies I had as a kid in the nineteen seventies and eighties. Of course, there were the usual suspects…folders, notebooks, pens and pencils. But some supplies can only be chalked up to products of another era.
My first day of first grade I remember bringing in an oil cloth to cover my desk with. It was like a red greasy piece of fabric. What the heck was it? It smelled to high heaven and made me want to cry. The teacher who insisted every pupil bring one to class was about eighty years old. I can only assume that an oil cloth must have been a popular school supply when she was a youngster during the late eighteen hundreds. Whatever mess it was supposed to prevent I promised to not become involved with in the first place if I could keep that greasy red square out of my life.
Another elementary school staple…paste in a jar. Paste in a jar? Was this an era before liquids were invented? All I’m going to say is that the texture is greasy and lumpy and it’s minty flavor doesn’t taste as good as it smells.
In junior high Trapper Keepers were the happenist supply in the land. They were like binders that folded over and sealed with velcro. This was a bonus to keep papers intact incase an upper classmen decided to have fun at your expense and “flip your books.” Today this would be called a “bully” – and rightfully so. Trapper Keepers had cool stylings on them such as rainbows, unicorns, and even pictures of horses.
When I was in junior high I was obsessed with horses. I had myself convinced that I could keep one in the garage of my house in a suburban neighborhood. Hey, I guess that would have really put the “Neigh” in neighborhood, huh? Sorry. Anyway, during that school year we had to cover our books with book covers. We made them out of brown paper grocery bags. I personalized mine with stickers of horses. But, since I was in an unspoken competition with my best friend who also loved horses to prove who loved horses more, I wrote “I love horses” all over my book covers. I did this with every book cover for every book for every subject. In fact, had to open the books up to the cover page to actually see what subject they were for. This totally slowed things down at the locker during class change time, but it was the suffering I endured for my passion.
My horse-obsession came to a halt quickly one day when my health class teacher, high on her own anti-drug lectures, told me that if she didn’t know me personally she’d think my writing “I love horses” really meant “I love heroin.” She then sternly let me know that “Horse” is slang for “Heroin.” I don’t think I ever completely recovered because here I am thirty years later still stunned by her bizarre assumption.
Other school supplies I remember that are probably illegal by now…rubber cement, grease pencils, protractor, compass, T-square, and markers that smelled like fruit. Even as a kid I always thought it was a bad idea to encourage kids to sniff markers. It’s quite likely that there are liability issues in today’s world that prevent schools from having kids bring in any supplies that are/may be interpreted as being sharp, greasy or tasty.
The school supplies I’ve had to buy for my kids over the years makes me feel like they are living in a bubble: folders, tissues, glue sticks, coffee filters. Yes, coffee filters. Soft and non-threatening, I suppose. But I don’t know how you will keep a cool image when an upper classmen tries to have some fun at your expense and your coffee filters end up gently and quietly floating everywhere.