In some ways September is one of the more confusing months of the year. Even as we thirst for a cozy cup of hot chocolate and hunger for anything-and-everything pumpkin, we often long for just one more sunny weekend, reluctant to relinquish our carefree summer life and resume serious adulting. For me, however, the first two weeks of this transitional month have been less about the seasons and more about Septembers past.
When the school doors opened at West Liberty-Salem last week, all kids in Champaign County had officially begun their studies for the 2022-23 school year.
But what some now consider a late start was pretty universal during my girlhood, well before Trapper-Keepers and backpacks replaced our metal Mickey Mouse and Roy Rogers lunch boxes with matching thermoses.
Currently in style as a back-to-school tradition are Facebook posts of kids on the first day of school. Although some parents hand their offspring a simple card with handwritten notations of the year and grade level, in recent years more elaborate purchased signs with spaces for age, teacher name, and possible future occupation have begun to appear.
I don’t recall my parents ever photographing us on the first day of school. Being stair-step siblings in a house with one tiny bathroom, we were lucky to be clean, dressed, and at the end of the lane by the time the bus arrived. And I am not sure we used photographs then as we do now. Folks these days are mere clicks away from 65 instant views of the beach simultaneously broadcast to hundreds of friends and relatives. It was a big production for my parents just to load the camera, take a few snaps, drop the film at the drugstore, return for pictures a week later – and maybe share them at the next family reunion. Black-and-white photographic evidence of my kidhood lies randomly in random receptacles; we were never an album kind of family. I often wonder: when my greats-and-grands have greats-and grands of their own, how will they ever wade through the thousands and thousands of photos saved to clouds and flash drives?
My favorite back-to-school photos are the ones marked “Last First Day of School.” Seniors, some with car keys in hand, exude a practiced sense of cool, while their parent-photographers dab nostalgically at teary eyes. I did notice that the WL-S Class of ’23 perhaps established a new tradition at their Senior Sunrise. A majority of the Tiger senior class met at 7 AM on the football field for donuts and moments of camaraderie prior to tackling their last round of compulsory education.
All too quickly, however, their Senior Sunrise will become part of their yesterdays when they march into their futures as high school graduates.
German families also follow first-school-day traditions, which former GHS German teacher Maria Hickey – once again living in her native homeland – recently described on Facebook:
The actual start of school with the beginning of 1st grade is a big deal in Germany, as it was for my son Benedict two weeks ago. After years of kindergarten, children are assigned to a class with a teacher who will stick with the same kids for all four years of elementary school. On the day of the event, the new first graders had a ceremony in the city and then walked through the entire city, loud and proud, led by the marching band squad of the local fire brigade. Streets were blocked off, and there was a police escort. Then they took their first lesson of thirty minutes at school after which they were met by their parents, who handed them school cones filled with sweets, school supplies, and small gifts tailored specifically for each child. Benedict’s celebration continued back at home.
Last week’s Pony Wagon Days stirred memories of autumn celebrations during past St. Paris eras. In the online archives of the UDC, I found mention of the very first Fall Festival in 1925: a three-day event held in October. I remember the Fall Festival with crafting and garden produce competition displays when I was young, and sometime – maybe during the 1980’s – Pony Wagon Days came into existence.
The Pony Wagon Parade reminded me of a Facebook video filmed at the village’s gem of sightseeing, the Pony Wagon Museum, located on South Washington Street. In the video, ten-year-old Alice Rogers appeared quite fascinated by the 1924 Gulbransen player piano displayed there. Alice, daughter of Beau and Elisabeth Rogers – high school sweethearts from my German classes – kept enthusiastic time to the music generated by the ever-moving piano roll she was observing. And this piano was not just any player piano: it had belonged to the grandmother of Alice’s dad: Norma Cotterman Leasure McCulla!
Another wave of recollection washed over me as I suddenly recognized the music in the video clip as “Yes, We Have No Bananas!” This 1923 novelty song was a popular ditty in America, as were “Mairzy Doats” and “Paper Doll.” My mother had the sheet music of the three songs propped up on her piano. As a kid, I sat at the piano and sang them all hundreds of times – often instead of doing my chores!
We are only halfway through this ninth month of the year. With the morning sun slipping ever further southward, who knows where else the todays and yesterdays of September may lead me?
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.