From The Miami News-Record, Sunday, August 31
When I was a kid, school supply lists consisted of: Pencils – fat in lower elementary, skinny in upper – two of them, no more. A Pink Pearl eraser – these weren’t used for erasing, just pegging your neighbor in the back of the skull. Elmer’s glue – one bottle. This was used to glue construction paper to manila paper (most kids called it “vanilla paper” – FYI: it didn’t smell like vanilla) and was also applied in thin layers to the backs of your hands then peeled off when dry in order to gross out your classmates with your “skin”. Crayons – a pack of 16 was all that was required, but there was always some kid who showed up with the fancy pack of 64 with the built-in sharpener and that was the kid you wanted to sit next to. Colors were Indian Red, Prussian Blue, Maize, Raw Umber, etc. “Burnt Sienna” was the weird brown that baffled everyone. What was a sienna and why was it burnt? Scissors – metal, blunt-end scissors that rusted by Christmas break. The purpose was to cut paper, but was usually just used to cut chunks out of your hair – or your Pink Pearl eraser. Colored pencils – these were only required in 5th and 6th grade because that was when they taught map skills (and we all know maps cannot be colored with crayons – just ask Christopher Columbus). Kleenex – two boxes. No one brought Puffs; they were too expensive.
All of the above supplies were to be contained in your cardboard school box. The school box (and your metal lunch box) was a direct reflection of your interests at the time – Strawberry Shortcake, Dukes of Hazzard, Bugs Bunny, etc. School boxes started out with square corners and a lid that closed squarely as well. By year’s end most were covered in elementary-grade graffiti, the lids were held on by that really good tape the teachers kept in the locked drawer, the corners were torn, and the lid was kept from caving in by a pushpin (said pushpin stolen from the bulletin board). Throw a Big Chief tablet into the whole mix and your school supplies maybe cost a whole $10 - more if you were the kid with the 64 pack of crayons. These things were stored in your desk with the squeaky lift-up tops that slammed at deliciously loud decibels – and pinched countless fingers.
Now, all pencils are small because the big ones hinder small motor skills. Scissors must be kept out of the reach of the children until they are brought out and carefully monitored, saving many a head of hair I’m sure. Glue is in sticks and you must equip your child with roughly 4,823 at the beginning of the year. Crayon colors are politically correct and exciting – Wild Blue Wonder, Cerise, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Jazzberry Jam, Smokey Topaz, and others that to me sound more like stripper names than crayon colors. Manila paper has given way to iPad apps and antibacterial gel is liberally applied to the children throughout the day. Ziploc bags, paper towels, wet wipes, and acetaminophen/ibuprofen make the supply lists these days due to dwindling budgets. If we had a headache we got a wet brown paper towel from the bathroom for our foreheads. And the only thing we had for germ containment was the stuff the janitor sprinkled on puke when someone got sick after riding the merry-go-round. Today’s kids must stay home if they have fevers, but back in my day you were given a baby aspirin and told to tough it out. Skinned knees got “the spray” – a yellow aerosol that burned like the fire of a thousand suns. Pounding erasers was the biggest honor a kid could get and the white residue that covered you was a badge of honor. And probably caused asthma and dry eyes, too, but we survived. We survived it all.
Ahhh, nostalgia. I hope someday our kids develop an app for that.