In the fall

It's not New York, but fall is full of possibilities for students everywhere. Yorktown, Autumn 2008

It’s not New York, but fall is full of possibilities for students everywhere. Yorktown, 2008

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
Nora Ephron

I love fall because it is connected with my happiest memories of childhood.  In particular, the onset of cooler mornings and the sight of children headed back to school evokes the excitement I always felt at the beginning of each year, when anything seemed possible.  A new teacher, a new set of classmates, new books, visits to the school library (of which I could NEVER get enough) and yes, school supplies.  My first few years of school established a love of pencils, pens, crayons, glue, tape and paper that has lasted to this day.

How I envied those children who came to school with bright new boxes of SIXTY-FOUR different color crayons!  Even now, at the age of nearly 57, I have never yet owned such a magnificent range of creative possibilities in wax.  Because my mother was frugal, I had to settle for the school-issued box of 8 fat crayons with their frustratingly broad tips that only grew less defined with use – and there was no way to sharpen them, either.  Still, I was happy to get a new set each year.

Despite being without the most appealing and flashy educational accoutrements, I had abundant delightful provisions to enjoy. I wish some perfumer would bottle a fragrance that was a combination of scents that included pencil shavings, powdered tempera paint mix, chalk, duplicator fluid, freshly bound books, and the smell of new pulp tablets – with maybe some freshly baked cafeteria buttered yeast rolls thrown in.  I would buy that bouquet in huge quantities if I could.  The back-to-school smell quickened my spirit as nothing else has since.  I feel sad to realize that computers and related technologies have rendered many of these supplies obsolete, though our children’s children will have other things to remember.

What are some of your favorite back-to-school memories?

This post was first published seven years ago today. Fall 2020 will be vastly different for students all over the world, as  COVID-19 continues to leave schools unable to open fully, if at all. I hope at least a few of the formerly typical autumnal delights will remain to brighten the start of a new school year.

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Julia, my memories of favorite things about returning to school are almost exactly the same as yours even though I’m quite a few years older than you are!

    I’ll add to that list the pure joy of having so many other kids to play with at recess in the schoolyard, running and climbing and using equipment that today would be banned as unsafe. I remember a contraption that had a tall center pole and a heavy wide metal hoop hanging from it. Everyone hung onto the hoop and ran in a circle as fast as possible, laughing and waiting for the momentum to carry us way up in the air on our side of the hoop. Jerry Williams fell off and broke both his forearms the first week of first grade. No one was outraged but all the kids were sympathetic and he recovered ok. Getting hurt was just considered part of the territory of being a kid. Most of my childhood was spent with skinned knees, bruises and bandaids!

    The odors at the grade school building were imprinted on me, too — the scent of old books in the tiny room that served as a library, the wintergreen in that white paste you put onto paper using your fingers (and licking your fingers afterwards), the woody smell of the tip of freshly sharpened pencils, and the way the brand new workbooks smelled as they were handed to you by the teacher. And the wonderful smell of crayons. I still love to sniff a new box of crayons or the tip of a pencil after I sharpen it. Do you?

    Thanks for the visit to good memories this morning! I always read your blog first thing in the morning. This and the Upper Room. They help set a nice tone to my day ahead.

    • Judy, thanks so much for your vivid descriptions of what school was like for us. It really took me back in time, and I love to time travel! I have often mused about the much-loved steel playground equipment that would not be allowed today. We didn’t have a contraption such as you describe, but I wish we had — it sounds wonderful! And yes, kids got hurt, but there was a level of confidence in care and recovery that just doesn’t seem to be present today. I never knew of anyone permanently injured on athletic equipment until college, when a friend of my friends was paralyzed in a trampoline accident (he was trying to do a back flip). My love of trampolines– and my wish to own one someday– took a serious hit. But I still think that we were so much more carefree, in so many ways, than young people today, who arguably have far fewer reasons to feel anxious. We were, after all, the cold war generation who grew up with fallout shelters and air raid drills. Everyday life must have seemed benevolently safe by comparison. Injuries, such as you describe, were just a part of life. I consider myself very rare in being who has (thus far) never had a broken bone.

      I love all of those scents you describe! As I write this, the day is wonderfully cool with a slight breeze rustling in the trees, and I can almost imagine putting on one of my new “school clothes” outfits– always dresses in those days– and heading with great anticipation back into another school year. What wonderful memories to sustain us through decades of life’s burdens. Thank you for being here with us! I treasure your friendship.

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    I remember Erik wrote a poem when he was quite young about how in the fall, all the leaves “turn crayolas” because, he said, he thought crayola was a synonym for color.
    The trees are an inspiration to the rest of us, I think, to change, learn, astonish.

    • That’s funny that he thought Crayola meant color– because as kids, we referred to crayons as “colors.” As in “I have a new coloring book. Do you have any colors I could use?” I don’t ever recall using the noun “crayon” until I was an adult, just as we called any soft drink “a coke.”

  3. Susan

    That’s for sure, it is sadly different this year. But oh, what memories your post did call up! I’m the oldest child in my family and the day before I went to kindergarten someone, I don’t remember whether my parents or grandparents, gave me one of those very simple plastic “pencil boxes” with just a few simple supplies but oh, how grown up it made me feel! I could see my elementary school from our side windows and just that one little item made me feel excited to go.

    My grandparents had one of those 64-pack boxes of crayons at their house when I was in second grade and not only did I love the colors, that was the year I became an avid reader, and I enjoyed reading the names of the colors :). Raw umber and burnt sienna, lol:

    And picking out lunchboxes …

    • Susan, I never in my life had regular access to a 64-pack box of crayons, and I so envied those who did! I think the names of the colors were no small part of the appeal, and I think that was actually quite a vocabulary-building asset to any child lucky enough to have them. Have you ever noticed the whimsical names that go with OPI nail polish? I don’t even polish my nails, but I love to look at nail polish ads and read the creative names for the colors. I think those OPI folks must have had mega-boxes of crayons as children! I often joke to my sister that makeup is, for women, a substitute for the crayons and watercolors we so loved as children. And yes, those lunchboxes were great! That was another thing I was denied as a child– my mother insisted that we eat the vile cafeteria food (which I mostly threw away, little did she know) and would never pack our lunches. But I got no end of fun out of looking at other people’s lunch boxes. I have a vague memory of my sister having a Barbie lunchbox, but I’m not sure how she managed that. This was before I was in school so perhaps in those days we couldn’t afford even the small price of a school lunch (I remember extra cartons of milk were only 3 cents each, and the entire lunch was 25 cents! But nobody got them free in those days.

  4. Chris

    Great picture! Who doesn’t love the cooler mornings and fall colors, after a hot summer?
    I had to smile at your description of the smell of “back to school”. I do remember those smells, quite vividly. It all brings back my memories of West Elementary. Wow! I don’t think it’s the same now. You have to be around our age to remember duplicator fluid!! 😊

    • I can remember that was the only thing we liked about test days…the teacher would always bring in the freshly duplicated tests and we’d all sniff the papers before settling down to take the test. I doubt it helped us neurologically, but everybody seemed to love the way the paper smelled.

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