With school renewal, memories flood back

Published 7:39 pm Saturday, August 8, 2009

Schools are opening this week, a fact almost impossible to comprehend for those of us who still consider August the last month of summer vacation.

Let’s think back:

In the year 2000, the month of August was in thrall to a two-year drought, as was the summer of 2008 with its browned lawns, trees and shrubs, a proliferation of campaign candidates appearing in the state, and the frequent “corrections” in the stock market, which fluctuated in preparation for the economic crisis we are presently enduring.

Email newsletter signup

All this brings to those of my generation recall of the nation’s Great Depression that began Oct. 29, 1929, and held this nation captive for a decade. However, even more memory evoking are the “Back to School” sales ads in newspapers and flyers, urging families to take advantage of the tax-free weekend in preparation for the school doors opening.

School doors now open a month earlier than in my youth when the Monday after Labor Day was the signal for the bell in the Dallas Academy belfry to peal, “Come to school, come back to school!”

In my generation, that bell was Mother’s signal to us to “Finish your breakfast, girls. Hurry! Get your books together! Don’t be late!”

So we hurried, walking the tree-lined blocks of Alabama, Water, Lamar, Arsenal Place and Selma avenues in noisy, jostling groups, described perfectly in a poem by Eleanor Farjeon:

“All the small children and big ones as well,

Pulling their stockings up, snatching their hats,

Cheeking and grumbling and giving backchats,

Laughing and quarreling and dropping their things,

Those at a snail’s pace and those upon wings,

Lagging behind a bit, running ahead,

Waiting at corners for lights to turn red,

Some of them scurrying,

Others not worrying,

Carelessly trudging or anxiously hurrying…”

Our route to Dallas Academy led over the low brick wall in front of the stately Lamar House, long since destroyed to erect an earlier post office, now also destroyed, with a detour into its grounds to greet the fat golden carp lazily swimming in the lily pond.

A short cut through the adjacent alley took us to the back of the big brick school and its sandy playground, where we played “Drop the Handkerchief,” “Farmer in the Dell,” “London Bridge” and occasionally softball during our “little” and “big” recesses.

In the 1930s schools did not furnish books to students. Each family had to purchase them from the list given us on enrollment day. Tillman’s basement on the corner of Broad Street and Alabama Avenue was the textbook repository, fragrant with the aroma of new books and workbooks, theme paper, pencils, erasers and paste. Lines were long that week each September as our mothers moved to the counter, one by one, handed our lists to the clerk and waited as she gathered the supplies and totaled the costs.

”Are you getting all-new books?” was a frequent question. We seldom were so the hunt for used textbooks was school-wide.

How our parents found the money for school needs we never questioned. They always did, just as they found time to come to our classrooms on visitors’ days, to attend our plays and special programs and to take an active role in PTA. Our education was important to them and their interest was manifested in overseeing our homework, in trips to the Carnegie Library each Saturday, in listening to us each afternoon when we rushed in from school, bubbling with news of our day.

As I have grown older and early autumn days grow shorter, I fancy that I hear those long-ago little girl voices and our mother’s response, just as the sound of chalk on a blackboard and the fragrance rising from the pages of a brand-new book will always be a reminder of “all the small children and big ones as well.”