Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 3, 2012

Back-to-school brings family fun

— — The back-to-school rush seems to be arriving earlier and earlier each year, even though I am no longer in school myself.

I believe it was mid-July when I saw the first TV ad inviting parents and kids to come on down to get all of their back-to-school outfits and needs. I still shake my head when I see those ads come on so early. In many ways, the start of school is associated with the start of fall and the end of summer.

When I was young, the annual back-to-school shopping trip was one of my favorites. Mom would pile us in the car, and we would all head to the mall with our school supply lists in hand. It was usually an all-day trip, so it meant getting to eat out, usually at one of the better sit-down restaurants, and running in to a lot of school friends and former teachers who were also out getting supplies of their own.

I never really liked the whole clothing part of the back-to-school trip. Dress codes grew increasingly strange the older I got. I never had to do the whole “tuck in your shirt and wear a belt or you get detention” routine they put my brother and sister through, though there were some dress code measures I thought were a little crazy. They were especially crazy when the teachers were getting away with some of the same dress code violations the kids would get sent home for.

No, my favorite part of the trip was heading off to the office supply section of whatever store we were in to pick up those essentials: pens, paper, binders, notebooks and that $100 calculator for the advanced math classes. Of course, my weakness was always the pricey pens. My mother didn’t understand why I begged for a $6.99 set with only two pens in it when I could get an entire bag of 20 bargain brand pens for less than a dollar. Highlighters were also a favorite and, though Mom preferred the old sharpened model, we always insisted on mechanical pencils.

The pinnacle of writing utensils was always that big box of crayons, markers or colored pencils. I always wanted the biggest box possible, which at the time was that huge 64-pack. They would introduce the 120-pack and then the 150-crayon monstrosity when I got older. I would beg and plead for that big box of crayons, but the answer was always “no.” Mom wasn’t completely heartless, though. She wouldn’t relegate us to the tiny eight pack with the basic colors. We could usually squeeze a box with 16 or even 24 crayons out of her in the crayon aisle.

Sometimes, Mom would have to buy a new box halfway through the school year since some of those crayons got used up pretty quickly. I was usually out of cerulean by December, which is still my favorite shade of blue. Scarlet and cornflower were often close seconds.

Of course, just because I didn’t get the big box didn’t mean I was discouraged. On the very first day of kindergarten I made best friends with the girl who did have that 64-pack of crayons. “She who holds the most crayons holds the most power” was a very basic elementary school principle I learned early on.

With all of our utensils in the cart, we would move on to the next best part of the shopping trip: getting our notebooks and binders. If the teacher didn’t have a preference, we delighted in picking our own colors and patterns. It was Lisa Frank patterns and glittery covers for me and my sister while my brother opted for covers with guitars or his favorite sports teams and figures. Having the coolest notebook cover was often a contest between kids, so the selection process was very thorough.

Being that my mother is a teacher, she wouldn’t just be buying supplies for us on these trips. She would often stock up with supplies for her classroom and a few extra supplies as well. Though I was pretty much oblivious when I was younger, as I grew older I realized that not all of the kids in my classroom could afford even the eight-pack of crayons. I felt pretty lousy and jealous the first time I saw a kid bring in that huge 120-pack of crayons, but I can’t imagine how that kid in my class with no crayons felt. Looking back, I wonder if Mom never bought us the fanciest, biggest box of crayons because she didn’t think we needed to be showing off to the kids who didn’t have any.

On our way out, Mom would usually toss some of the extra papers, binders, crayons and pencils into what appeared to be a trash can, but I later learned was a donation bin for the kids in the area who couldn’t always afford going back to school. Mom would also stock up on extra supplies, just in case there was a kid in the room who didn’t have as much as the others.

Over the years, my crayons now reside in a shoebox-size plastic storage tub with all of my office supplies. I don’t get them out as much as I once did, but I still feel like a kid again when I reach my hand into that tub and pull out one of those cerulean crayons.

Kate Coil is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at

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