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Harris Blackwood: Start of school once meant book satchels, hard shoes, new pictures
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I don’t know that I remember the very first day of school, but getting ready for the subsequent years are forever etched in my mind.

My uncle, George Blackwood, worked for a company that made phonebooks and bound all kinds of printed material. He made me a notebook that had my name embossed in gold, along with the name of my school. He also printed a couple of dozen business cards with my name and school on them. I don’t know what a kid who could barely read needed with business cards, but I thought it was very special.

The cooler part was going to see Uncle George at work. The printed material glided through the plant on steel rollers. George would put me in a little crate and let me ride down the last curves of the maze of steel rollers. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I can remember the smell of ink that covered the place.

A new notebook required a new book satchel. We didn’t carry backpacks; it was a book satchel. I particularly remember a red plaid one that had double buckles on it.

In addition, there were school supplies, including tablets and pencils. The tablets were always Blue Horse, a brand of Montag Brothers of Atlanta. If you saved the blue horse head emblem, you were supposed to be able to win prizes, like a bicycle. I never made it that far.

I also remember going through my fair share of Husky pencils. These were extra fat pencils that were designed to help little hands develop better writing skills, or so we were told.

Back to school also meant new “hard” shoes, a pair of sturdy leather dress shoes. I usually got new sneakers at the beginning of the summer and they were expected to last until Christmas. For the beginning of school, I would either get a pair of saddle oxfords or a pair of plain leather shoes. Those shoes were shined every Saturday night so they would look nice for church.

I wanted a pair of penny loafers, but someone had told Mama they were not good for my feet. I guess my wearing them now is some kind of delayed act of defiance.

My first school was Beecher Hills Elementary School, which had a contract with Fort McPherson to teach the children of Army personnel. A lot of kids would come and go over those first few years. I don’t think of that school without thinking of a kid named Douglas. His dad was in the Army and one day our principal showed up at the classroom door with his sobbing mother. Douglas was told to get all of his things and I never saw him again. It would be years later before I understood that his dad had been killed in action in Vietnam.

School days were fun and I miss the excitement of that opening day. One of the events that occurred shortly after school started was picture day, when the photographer would make those nicely posed photos of us. The first two years, I managed to scrape my head and ended up with a nasty wound above my eye. It is forever recorded on film.

I hope school is just as exciting for the new generation that is beginning its educational journey. I hope one of them might be a writer and shares his or her story with readers a couple of generations from now.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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