Sunday, September 1, 2019

Back to School!

It's the beginning of another school year. Based on all that I hear from those who teach or who have school-age children, the learning experience is far more than the "reading, writing and arithmetic" that dominated my elementary school days. Yet, the joyful anticipation of the new school year is timeless.

All dressed up, loving my kindergarten school year.

I can still recall my excitement in getting a new plastic pencil case, a new box of crayons--perhaps a little bigger with more color choices than the previous year, sharp new pencils and a jar of paste. And speaking of paste, living in the country, I rode the school bus to my elementary school. On the bus was an older boy who had the wonderful first name of Pace. However, from my first-grade perspective, I thought for the longest time that his name was Paste!

The first days of school also meant a new dress. I recall my parents buying me two new dresses for the start of my third-grade school year. They were of an identical sailor design, with a wide collar and bow in front. One was sewn of olive paisley fabric and had a matching little purse, as well as olive green knee socks, while the other was made of light blue and white gingham. 

I can be seen wearing the light blue and white gingham sailor-collar dress in this photo taken during one of the first days of my third-grade school year. (To gain a better understanding as to why I am holding two Eastern Fox Snakes, see my blog post, dated August 21, 2018, My Dad, the Snake Man - Part Two.)

One year, I saved enough of my summer allowance earned from doing daily and weekly chores to help my parents to buy my own skirt and sweater. I'll never forget that outfit or the circumstances behind my buying it. Our downtown business community held an annual event on the last Saturday in July called Old Fashioned Day, when all of the downtown merchants would display discounted merchandise on the sidewalk. There were always huge savings to be had on Old Fashioned Day. With my hard-earned money in hand, we headed to Kiddie Kastle, a popular local children's clothing store on Oak Street next to the First National Bank. There I found a bright turquoise, cream and magenta plaid skirt. Then, lo and behold, on another rack, I found a turquoise turtleneck sweater that perfectly matched the skirt. Although not designed to be a matching outfit, I was able to piece the two discounted items together to create my own matching sweater and skirt set. 

Buying my own school clothing at that time wasn't the only focus of my allowance purchases. When I was 11 years old, I decided to use some of my allowance to buy my mother a new dress for her own back-to-school experience--her 25th year high school reunion in Charles City, Iowa. Once I explained what I wanted to do with some of my allowance, my parents and I headed to Reinking's, a popular store in our downtown that featured women's clothing, lingerie, fabric, sewing patterns and notions. The store had delightfully creaky wood floors, an elaborate black metal grate on the floor that led to the furnace below, dressing rooms in the back, high windows to the north, two side-by-side doors at the front entry, a display window that wrapped around the front and to the side, and an elevated platform where purchases were rung up on an old-fashioned cash register. I loved that store! What Mom ended up selecting there that day was a white linen shift, complete with a brightly colored belt and a matching hot pink, white, bright orange and lime green striped linen jacket--colors that were in vogue at that time. I was so proud to be able to purchase her special outfit for her. I even had enough money left over to buy her one of those big bright daisy pins and matching clip earrings that were popular back then.

My late mother, Barb Naidl, at her class reunion, standing at right.

My mom, second from left, in her new dress at her high school class reunion.

My back-to-school dresses didn't always have to be brand new or from a store. My mother was a wonderful seamstress who made clothes for me all the way through my junior high years, including a favorite sailor dress for my second-grade year. We even had matching mother-and-daughter, red plaid jumpers that we wore with white, long-sleeved blouses that had big loopy bows at the neckline. One year, Mom made me plaid pants with a matching jacket. She transformed her old nursing uniform cape by making a matching cape for my plaid outfit. I also often received lovely hand-me-downs from my older cousin, including dresses for all occasions.

My mom made this sailor dress for my second-grade year.

I attended elementary school in a lovely, old two-story building, called Lyons School. Those enrolled there primarily came from the surrounding neighborhood and were bused in from rural areas. Ours was a small enrollment, with class sizes that averaged no more than 15 students, so we were more like family than schoolmates. Due to the size of the geographical area that the school served and the class sizes, two classes were often housed in the same classroom and taught by the same teacher.

Lyons Elementary School

Lyons School's third and fourth grade classes.
I was in the third grade. I'm seated in the front row, third from the right.
The class sizes were so small that we often paired two classes together in one classroom.
Miss Dorothy Schoonover was our teacher that year. She was busy with two grade levels to teach at once.

Riding the school bus was also a joyful adventure. Our driver, Harold Martin, was a gentle soul who always had a ready smile and kind word. My friend, Chris, and I would often sit together on the bus and sing songs all the way to and from our school day.

Gone might be the simple pleasures and experiences of my school days, but I still feel that same excitement I did more than 50 years ago when a new pencil case, a "new" dress and an apple for the teacher were all I needed to give my school year a report card of straight As.

Wishing you a happy new school year!

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