|Across the Fence: School days, school days...|
|September 01, 2011 M. Timothy Nolting|
This time of year I always think of these lyrics and repeatedly sing the few lines, that I remember, as they were taught to me by my Grandma Zeek.
When I was growing up, back to school day was an extra special day for me. I suppose I was one of the few who genuinely loved school, but I did for many reasons. The first day of school was a day of excitement. It was a day of new beginnings and untapped possibilities. Back to school day was a better day than New Years and even better than Christmas.
The excitement began in the last few days of August when nights began to cool and days stayed below 90. Mom would load my sisters and me into the pickup and we’d head to Atchison, or maybe even the ‘big’ city of Topeka, for our school supplies. If it had been a good year, I might get a new pair of fancy stitched boots instead of plain old shoes. Mom always balked at boots. She said I ran them down at the sides and outgrew them out too soon. It was several years before I realized that one pair of boots cost more than three or four pairs of shoes. And there just might also be a pair of jeans as well. To this day, a stiff, new pair of Wranglers gives me a feeling of prosperity, you see, new jeans meant I didn’t have to wear patches.
But, more than the clothes, even more than the new boots was the thrill of something else brand new. Something never before used, marked on, written in, folded, creased or stained. It was a thick, cardboard backed, red covered ‘Big Chief’ tablet. Before there were spiral bound notebooks and boring yellow legal pads, there were ‘Big Chief’ tablets. Remember? They were the blank pages of things to come, things to learn and things to do. Opening a ‘Big Chief’ tablet was opening a doorway into the unknown.
The beginning of the school year also meant that the three cuttings of hundreds of acres of alfalfa had been mowed, raked, baled and stored. It meant that the long hot days in the hayfield were at an end for yet another year. The beginning of school meant that endless days of work, in the hot Kansas sun, would be broken by days of exploration and adventure. There would be days spent in the classroom, bent over a book, reading and learning. I wasn’t the best of students but I always enjoyed learning and expanding my world beyond the barbed wire boundaries of fields and pastures and never-ending chores.
Of course, there was also the social aspect of school. There were friends that I hadn’t seen all summer long with stories, adventures and events to catch up with. And there was the anxious uncertainty, wondering if last years girlfriend still was. It was at school, under the teacher’s desk, that I first kissed a girl. It was at school where I learned that proper etiquette dictated that recess time meant you were supposed to be outside interacting with fellow students, not hiding under the teacher’s desk kissing Sherry Johnson.
“Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick…”
It was also at school where I learned that infractions of the rules resulted in double punishment for crimes committed, once at school and again at home. This was something that I learned very quickly and tested infrequently. I remember the first time I was required to stay after school. I don’t remember what it was that I did wrong. I do remember knowing that the consequences of misbehaving in the classroom and not being home to do my chores would be far worse at home than the thirty-minute detention. However, I never experienced the old ‘hick’ry stick’ at school, I can’t say the same for home.
Gus Edwards wrote ‘School Days’ in 1906. Its whimsical, nostalgic story tells of a couple, Nellie and Joe, who were school day sweethearts and recalls those carefree days when they were in school;
“School days, school days Dear old golden rule days.
Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate “I love you, so”
When we were a couple of kids.”
Those were the days before two great wars, before the ‘Great Depression’ and the crippling drought and dust of the ‘Dirty Thirties’. Those were the days before the bitter military and political stalemates of Korea and Viet Nam, before we lost our childhood innocence, before we became cynical and jaded. Those were the ‘good old days’.
Tim Nolting is an award winning Nebraska columnist, freelance writer, cowboy poet and entertainer. For booking information or to contact Tim, e-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org