News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

August 20, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: School supplies these days just don’t add up

School bells rang yesterday to begin a new school year. I really wish I was still of an age to trek back to that proverbial “little red schoolhouse.”

Heaven knows I strung it out for as long as possible. I attended six different schools, including graduate school, before I finally tossed out a tatty loose-leaf binder and called it quits. While I’d love to do it all again, I think that I’d spend more time with my textbooks if I had that chance. The perspective of age has led me to realize that I regret nothing I have learned, I just mourn all those things I could have learned if I had paid more attention.

Yesterday was only Aug. 19. My school years began the day after Labor Day. I could hardly enjoy the Labor Day picnics and hurried home to get all my school stuff organized for the big day.

Of course, Mom had made me a new dress — girls were not allowed to wear slacks to school. Mom had taken my brother and me to Aurora to shop for school supplies. I was most thrilled with a new box of crayons every year. There were only eight crayons and none had a more exotic name than “orange.” None of this “apple green” or “brick red.” We colored with just plain “green” and “red.” We were also required to have a box of water colors. I really didn’t learn to like water color until I met Salty Seamon. My efforts were more water than color and were never posted on the refrigerator.

The big choice was the mandatory “pencil box.” There was a pen with a point which could be changed, but we didn’t have ink in our inkwells until after fifth grade, so pens were no big deal.

There were pencils, of course, and a couple of gadgets: I finally learned to make flowers with the compass, but never did figure out the purpose of the protractor. If it had anything to do with arithmetic, I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyway.

My grandchildren loaded all this sort of thing into a backpack. I just carried it all as best I could and stowed it in my assigned desk.

My favorite memories of school involve my teachers, most of whom I remember by name and can picture in my mind’s eye: Miss Meeker, Miss Montgomery, Miss Bauer, Miss Hoadley, Miss Gibbs. I had good teachers. My sons had good teachers, and I have to bite my tongue when someone tries to tell me that teachers don’t care — they are just in it for the money! I don’t believe that for a minute.

I was out the other day surveying a counter of school supplies and was amazed at how things have changed. Honestly! I saw a box of crayons with dozens of color choices. There was even a built-in crayon sharpener built into the box — we didn’t have that luxury or that many choices of color.

I miss school. Maybe I’ll go to the library and try to learn something new. How about a crash course in arithmetic?

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send her email at

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