What was in your school bag?

The Compass - - OPINION - MA­RINA GAM­BIN Ma­rina Power Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She now lives in Pla­cen­tia where she taught school for almost three decades. She can be reached at mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca.

When I was a child in the 1950s, I loved go­ing back to school after our Christ­mas hol­i­days. Given the fact that I hung up a big home- knit woolen stock­ing, Santa Claus had to fill it with some­thing. Be­cause he only had so many toys and ap­ples and can­dies to go around, St. Nick turned to every­day ne­ces­si­ties. Hence, when school re­opened after the 12th day of Christ­mas, I re­turned to my class­room with all kinds of new stuff. One year, I even sported a brand-new school bag with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans gal­lop­ing across the flap.

Is there any­one of my gen­er­a­tion who does not re­mem­ber those rec­tan­gu­lar shaped wooden pen­cil cases with a slid­ing door, which may have been a ruler? The year I was in grade four, I was so proud to dis­play the one that Santa had left in my stock­ing. I felt so cool (although we didn’t call it cool back then) with my pen­cil case sit­ting on my desk. I couldn’t wait for one of my class­mates to ask to bor­row my eraser (which we called a rub­ber) or pen­cil sharp­ener just so I could ma­noeu­vre the slider to re­veal what was inside. I felt like Dick Tracy or Nancy Drew us­ing a se­cret com­part­ment.

In Jan­uary, ev­ery­one had a new box of per­fectly pointed crayons in the eight ba­sic colours and a new colour­ing book. One year Santa got mixed up and brought almost ever y k id in Branch the same colour­ing book, one with two kit­tens and a rein­deer on the cover. Come to think about it, he even put some of them in the lo­cal shop where they sold for 10 cents each.

In my time, ev­ery­one knew that ex­er­cises were way bet­ter than scrib­blers for work­ing out your Cari­bou Arith­metic prob­lems or do­ing your Fri­day spell­ing test. Hence, ex­er­cises were more ex­pen­sive, mean­ing that most of us were rel­e­gated to scrib­blers. One year I was de­lighted when my stock­ing had a half dozen or so beau­ti­ful blue ex­er­cises with a pic­ture of a youth­ful Queen El­iz­a­beth II on the front and mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ta­bles on the back. I never touched a bit of scrib­bler pa­per un­til I had ev­ery scrap of ex­er­cise used. The same was true for the good HB Cana­dian pen­cils as com­pared to the in­fe­rior “Made in China” brand.

A new box of chalk with six shades was a sta­ple be­cause most girls had re­ceived one of those small black­boards for Christ­mas. Un­for­tu­nately, chalk got all used up in a few days be­cause we would go flat out writ­ing our own brand of graf­fiti on any sur­face that was re­cep­tive to the lit­tle coloured sticks.

I will never for­get the year I was in grade two and the sto­ry­book “The Run­away Bunny” was stuffed down in my stock­ing. I couldn’t wait to show my teacher, Marie (Power) Roche. She read it out loud for us and all the chil­dren wanted to look at the pic­tures. Years later when I was teach­ing pri­mary chil­dren, I would de­light in shar­ing that story with my class as well as an ac­count of my child­hood ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ah! My Christ­mases long ago were sim­ple but mem­o­rable. I’m sure the chil­dren of to­day re­turn to school in Jan­uary with very dif­fer­ent items of in­ter­est in their school bags or more cor­rectly, in their back­packs. Happy New Year, dear read­ers.

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