Yesterday's Magazette

1 – School Life In The 1940s

By Madonna Dries Christensen

Children today are provided an extensive list of items to bring on the first day of school. Staples, OfficeMax, Target, Walmart, and other stores post these lists at the door, grade by grade for each school (a clever sales technique). The grocery store I frequent fills bags with school items and encourages customers to purchase a bag for a needy child.   

In my childhood, we had fewer needs, but for a large family like mine, back to school shopping was expensive. To my knowledge, there were no merchants handing out freebies or asking others to contribute to the cause.  

About a week before school started, Poppy announced at noon dinner that he and Ma were going shopping in Worthington (a nearby bigger town).  

“Can I go?” we kids yelled as one.

 I don’t recall what system was used to decide who got to go, but if Ma stood you on a piece of paper and traced around your feet, you weren’t going. You would, however, have new shoes before the day ended. You could only hope the shoes would be a comfortable fit and a popular style, with the latter being most important.

Time stood still while we waited for the returning car to pull into the driveway. We dashed from all directions to help unload packages and carry them inside. There might be one new dress each for my sister Shirley and me; pants and shirts for the boys, and socks and underwear for everyone.

But clothing wasn’t the good stuff. From the packages we pulled tablets of lined paper with movie star photos on the covers, quickly grabbing the one featuring a current favorite. There were boxes of crayons, bottles of ink, compasses and protractors for the older kids, and pencil boxes. These were narrow wooden boxes with a top that slid open and shut. Nestled inside, in grooved slots, were two pencils, a plastic pencil sharpener, a rubber eraser, a six inch wooden ruler, a wooden pen holder and two pen points.  

The new term began the day after Labor Day. At the end of the first day, we lugged home our new text books, our names penciled inside. After stirring up a batch of flour and water paste, we made protective covers for each book, using plain brown paper cut from grocery bags. If Shirley and I were lucky, Ma might have a few wallpaper scraps big enough to fashion feminine covers.

After school and on weekends, Shirley and I played school; we were the teachers and our younger brothers were the students. Before long, though, school and playing school became boring. We moved on to other activities and plodded along, looking forward to Christmas vacation, and then Valentine’s Day and, after a few more interminable months, the end of school, just before Decoration Day.

On the last day, report cards in hand, showing that we’d passed to the next grade, we raced out the door, shouting, “School’s out, school’s out; Teacher let the monkeys out.”

Off we scrambled, helter-skelter into summer fun, picnics, the 4th of July, the County Fair and, before we knew it, back-to-school preparations.

1 Comment »

  1. yolo

    Comment by hi — November 12, 2014 @ 6:23 pm | Reply


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