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Old school back to school

The back-to-school ritual in my household when I grew up always began with a trip to the discount department store, where my mom’s mission was to outfit me in the most embarrassing clothes possible.

Between the dressing room and the cash register, I’m sure my pants lost roughly six inches of length. You might be thinking that I’m referring to the phenomenon known as “high-waters” but you would be mistaken. High-waters are pants that show about two or three inches of your socks. The pants I had showed about two or three inches of my leg right above my white athletic socks.

After my new school clothes were in the buggy, my mom headed over to the school supplies section of the store.

Hint: if you’re buying your clothes, school supplies, and auto parts at the same store, you’re probably not the most fashion-forward kid at school.

Old school back to school article by Charles Marshall

The first item on the school supply list was a pencil, but not a regular-sized No. 2 pencil. No siree. We had to get super-sized, gigundo pencils that were about the size of telephone poles. The size of these pencils was supposed to make it easier for teeny little hands to manage, but go try writing your name with a tree trunk and then come back and tell me if that makes any sense.

The next item on the list was an eraser the size of an electric razor that would have lasted for the rest of my life, had I kept up with it. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no use for it, since there was already an eraser the size of a cantaloupe on the end of my telephone-pole pencil.

But the kids today don’t know how good they have it. I saw some kids getting on the bus yesterday who were wearing shorts. I would have killed to wear shorts to school because my school didn’t have any air-conditioning.

Mention air-conditioning back then and almost any adult would instantly poo-poo the idea with a statement like, “What, do you think you’re Rockefeller or somethin’? Hey Agnes! The kid thinks he’s gotta have air-conditioning in school!”

The thrifty adults of my generation opted instead to invest in a cooling system known as the oscillating fan — one per classroom, lest we all were tempted to think we were Rockefeller or somethin’.

My teachers would set the fan to oscillate so that precisely every 42.5 seconds heaven’s door would open and, by golly, you could breathe again and feel what it meant to be human once more. When the fan was swinging back away again, life was miserable and not worth living. The only reason I held on was in hope of recess.

Recess was the mirage of my school day, because I assumed it meant I would get to go outside, breathe some fresh air, cool off, and have a little fun. But that notion was far from reality, because (and see if you can follow my logic here) as hot it was inside, it was even hotter out in the sun. And to make things worse, every piece of playground equipment back then was made of metal.

Do you know what happens to metal when it’s been sitting out in the sun all day? The only way for the metal equipment to cool off was to be covered with kid sweat. If any piece of the playground equipment could have talked, I’m sure it would have said something like, “Thank God! The kids are here. I can finally get some relief from the sun when they cover me with their sweaty little bodies.”

So, school was not eagerly anticipated at my house. The back-to-school sale fliers appearing in my mailbox around the first of August always made me a tad bit queasy. Sometimes I still get that feeling. Not about school, of course, but the memory of wearing those high-waters.

But, you know what? How about if I just re-branded them? They’re not geeky anymore. They’re retro-chic!

© 2021 Charles Marshall. Charles Marshall is a nationally known humorous motivational speaker and author. Visit his Web site or contact him via e-mail at

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