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Column: A time when passed note, rather than text messages, filled school days
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

I can’t get excited about the end of summer until, at least, Labor Day.

When I was a kid, we didn’t start to school until the Tuesday after Labor Day. I don’t remember wearing shorts to school. I had new jeans and khakis. I had new sneakers that Mama bought for me to wear to Vacation Bible School. It was somewhere in the Bible that you needed new sneakers to wear to Bible school. It was somewhere between the verse about “cleanliness is next to godliness” and the one about the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

But, I usually got a new pair for school, as well.

I had a kid on my bus last year that would walk stiff-legged. I thought he might have a physical impairment. Turned out, he just didn’t want his new sneakers to get wrinkled.

The first few days of school were wonderful. You could smell the plastic of new notebooks, the scent of new pencils, the smell of freshly waxed floors and they would often give us forms that were copied on a mimeograph machine with purple ink.

I don’t believe any of the schools I attended had a copy machine. I would say a Xerox machine, but Xerox is a trademark of Xerox Corp. I also just wanted to write a sentence with six X’s in in.

As you progressed into junior high, there was another smell. Girls started wearing a little bit of perfume. My aunt used to wear a fragrance called “My Sin.” No self-respecting junior high girl would wear something with a name like that.

Aunt Iris worked for Avon and for several years would give me a tugboat- or a racecar-shaped container that had bubble bath in it. One year, she gave me a glass horsehead decanter of after-shave. I wasn’t old enough to shave, but I decided one day to splash a little of this toilet water on my face. It would be several years before I tried that again.

It was also along this time that we began to notice that girls were not some kind of monsters sent to trouble us. I remember getting my first note passed from a girl. It was actually a one-question questionnaire. 

Dear Harris, I like you, do you like me? Check one yes or no. I checked yes, and before lunch, there was a rumor floating around the classroom that I had a crush on her. All I said was that I liked her. I also liked puppies, Hot Wheels cars and chocolate cake.

I met my wife at a church singles retreat in Pigeon Forge. It was in January and it had snowed while we were there. I was trying to make her laugh (I succeeded). I plopped down in the snow and made a snow angel. I’m glad I did that then instead of now. If I tried that now, they would have to call the Tennessee Highway Department to bring in a snowplow to resurrect me from the frozen mound of white.

I write this as I observe middle and high school students who are starting to take notice of one another. Some of them will hold hands and others will steal a little kiss, often beside my bus.

They seal this deal with an exchange of electronic messages on their phone. 

I’ll take my old notebook paper notes any day, especially the ones where the i’s and j’s are dotted with a little heart and they smell like young girl’s perfume. My phone messages just smell like me.


Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly. 

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