To begin with, it was one of the few occasions when we were turned loose in the store and got to actually pick what we wanted to purchase. It was all regulated by Mom’s Budget, of course, and by the mimeographed note from Sister Chlotilde specifying that we needed crayons and tablets and paste and scissors (blunt-nosed) and construction paper and those sorts of things.
But we went right up to the shelf ourselves and decided whether we wanted a blue plastic ruler or a red one, and debated over the tablet with the Indian on the front or the one with the blue horse.
Crayon selection was a big event. Mom always wanted to get the small box, because that’s all Sister said we needed. But, somehow, we always convinced her that our true artistic temperament could be served only with the big box with all of the colors in it.
Other than crayons, there were three items of utmost import: your lunch box, your satchel, and your pencil box.
Lunch boxes came in different styles and shapes and colors, but we generally got the kind with the curved top that a thermos fit into. It was the design on it that was most important. Some had farm scenes, others had circus clowns marching around them, still others offered a parade of horses or dogs or other domestic animals. You had to select carefully because you wouldn’t want to be the only kid in your class with clowns – but you wanted to be a little bit different, too.
Satchels, likewise, were made in a variety of shapes and sizes – important considerations. But the overriding consideration here was the number of pockets the satchel had.
Most were divided into two sections inside. One side was for papers, the other for books. That was standard. But your prestige in the classroom was related directly to the number and variety of pockets on the outside. If you could get one with a separate pocket for crayons, another for pencils, a long one to slide your ruler into, and a few smaller ones for the sundries school kids carry, you’d really be something.
A kid could walk across the playground with head held high with all of those pockets bulging.
But the true test came with the pencil box. Pencil boxes, of course, contained pencils. The pencils were in the top section of the box, neatly divided according to color. Red ones were first, then green ones, then blue ones. That was just the way it was.
But that was only the beginning.
There were one-drawer pencil boxes, two-drawer pencil boxes, and super-duper three-drawer pencil boxes that were the Holy Grail of the first grade set. These were filled with wonderful things – a plastic pencil sharpener, a big rubber eraser, pencils with colored lead, a ruler, and a protractor that was great for drawing Halloween pumpkins.
The first thing to do on the first day of class was to carefully place down your many-pocketed satchel, open all of the snaps casually, and lift out your Big Box of crayons and your pencil box. The pencil box was placed on the right-hand corner of your desk. After looking around to be sure that yours had been noticed, you began to pull open the drawers, one at a time, and lift out each item for inspection.
You, of course, knew what was in each place, having inspected the box 54 times since getting it home from the store. The inspection was for the benefit of your classmates (who never noticed, because they were busy inspecting their pencil boxes for your benefit).
The showdown came at protractor time. The one-drawer boxes had to throw in their hand, having no protractor. The two-drawer boxes had a flimsy metal one. But the three-drawer protractor was solid, colored plastic, big enough to draw huge pumpkins with a center cut just right to circle a moon over the pumpkin patch.
You could hear – or, at least, imagine – the sighs of envy when you pulled out that three-drawer protractor.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.