The Back-to-School Catalog (and other memories of returning to school)

Ending summer and heading back to school was always a source of excitement for me, growing up. I loved summer, but I also loved the anticipation of a new year, new teachers, new friends, new everything. It was such a time of hope. Hope for getting smarter, getting older, getting … better than I was the year before.

Preparations for returning to school changed over the years, but always the same was the excitement and the hope.

As a child, I knew summer was near its end when the JCPenney Catalog arrived in the mail. The Fall issue, the one with all of the back-to-school clothing ensembles in appealing earth tones, inspired me to wonder who I would be this year. I would take it from the mailbox, carry it gingerly into the house, and sit down with a pen, circling all of the things I hoped my mom would order for me in time for school. She always got me a few of the things I wished for. Back in the 80’s, we had to order with a paper form, and mail it in. Then, we’d have to wait for the store to call to announce the arrival of the items. It was torture, waiting for that phone call! When the call finally came, down to the store we’d go, and it seemed to take forever to get there. Opening up the packages, that new clothing smell would escape. Usually, the clothing fit, and they would become mine.


In addition to ordering a few outfits from the catalog, my mother took us school shopping. We didn’t have a large mall, just a small one, so we went to Bradley’s, which was our department store, and the biggest store at the mall. Kohl’s is there now. We bought shoes at Thom McAn, also in the mall. We went to XPect Discounts for school supplies. I loved buying new notebooks and pencils. They represented so many new possibilities!

My sister and I were subscribers to Highlights Magazine. Every August, that end of summer issue had stories and poems related to the return of school. There was one story I loved, about two girls who’d been friends for many years and always in the same class, but this year, that changed when they were placed in separate classes. They promised that being apart would not interfere with their friendship. But when one of the girls makes a new friend, that promise is jeopardized, or so it seems. After spending some time apart, the three girls end up being good friends and having a wonderful school year, together. Friendships were always somewhat tenuous for me. As now, I disliked confrontation, jealousy, and insecurity in friendships. But I didn’t know how to deal with such things. I loved the hope of that story.


When we left school on the last day in June, we didn’t know who our next year’s teacher was going to be, or which kids would be in our class. We waited all summer and found out a couple of days prior to the new year. The NEWSPAPER would announce that the lists were available and hanging on the front doors of the elementary school. My mother would drive my sister and I down to our school and with excruciating excitement, we’d run up to the doors, eagerly searching for our names to find out who the new teacher was, who the new classmates and friends were going to be.


Once in high school, I wore a uniform so there was no back-to-school shopping, just getting new notebooks and reading lists. Backpacks were backpacks, and I used the same one. I loved receiving the new syllabus for certain classes, like English and Writing classes. That same excitement was in the air. New hope, new possibilities. My friends and I would have last-minute get-togethers and talk about the upcoming year.


Finally, in college, the end of summer arrived as we moved back into our dorms, picked up our new schedules, and purchased our new books. Most of us hadn’t seen each other since mid-May, and I swear, we always came back somehow changed from who we were the year before, whether it was a new style, or new hair, or a new relationship, or … .


Well, I’m out of school now, and there are no more first days for me (as a student, anyway), but every August, I find myself reaching back into my mind to retrieve those wonderful memories. I can see them, I can smell them, I can feel them. Maybe because that part of my growing up was so significant for me, maybe because I’m now a teacher welcoming the kids who undoubtedly share the same excitements I once had, maybe it’s because I have my own child who thrills with the excitement of going back to school. Maybe it’s all those things.

The reality is, summer ends every year, and every year, someone is going back to school. In my mind, I do, too.


2 thoughts on “The Back-to-School Catalog (and other memories of returning to school)

  1. marilynyung says:

    Thanks for this great post! Loved your back to school memories. This post helped me to remember a few of my own … Like my dad always taking me on the first day each year in elementary school. My mom taught at the junior high and didn’t have time to walk me in to my new classroom. Yes, the anxiety!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s