By Joe Rector
The other morning, Facebook filled with photos of children posing in new clothes and shoes and with the latest back packs and lunch boxes. The official first day of school for Knox County and some other area schools brought in hordes of kids and teachers. I still don’t understand why the school year begins in the hottest month, but most students don’t know of a later starting time. Looking at those little ones on social media conjures up plenty of memories of the good things of school.
Because Ball Camp was a small school, only two classes for each grade were necessary. We children were interested in whose classroom we would spend the next year. Some teachers were caring and understanding; others were tired, fussy, and, at times, downright mean. A couple of times, I landed in the classrooms of the hateful teachers, and the years were long and hard. One of those ogre teachers did step in a hole and break her ankle during a fire drill, and that brought welcome relief to we second graders.
Although they were infrequent, new items at Ball Camp did arrive. Years when the county bought new textbooks were special. The smell of a new book and the feel of the crisp pages almost made learning fun. Desks used for years were replaced with newer ones. Seats were plastic, and the storage shelf underneath was made of metal bars. I always felt the disappointment of having to put my bottom in an old desk when a few lucky students got the new, sleek models.
The Ball Camp community consisted of houses spread out over several miles. I don’t recall a single subdivision in the area until 1962. Summer break meant not seeing most classmates for the next three months. Oh, a gang of boys rode bikes up and down the roads to join in games of baseball or to fish, but most of our school friends lived too far away to visit. So, the first day of school always meant renewing friendships and meeting a few new children at the school.
As unbelievable as it might seem, children were heartbroken when a large portion of the school burned. We were sent home until a plan for holding classes in a nearby abandoned hardware store was finalized. The returning to school proved to be much like a second beginning day that year. We settled down in cramped quarters with one small bathroom for boys and one for girls. We spent our lunch periods in the rooms and ate sandwiches and other things we’d brought from home. To some it might have seemed a hardship; to us students, it was an adventure.
Back in the good ol’ days, schools consisted of classes from 1st through 8th grades. Our last year was a time when we could be the “big men and women on campus.” By then, Ball Camp had been rebuilt, and our class ruled new classrooms, cafeteria, locker rooms, and gym with parquet floors. The first day and every other day brought wonderful times when we were on top of the world.
By the time that we reached high school, the excitement had waned. Over the summer, our class had gone from ruling the school to being the lowest life form in the high school halls. By then, my friends were much more interested in girls, sports, and cars than in new school items. Classes were something that most of us attended but never let them interfere with our education. For some, the excitement of a new school year never returned. Only when the first day of college came did those exhilarating feelings return for a smaller number of students.
I’m glad that kids still feel the excitement, mixed with just a dab of apprehension, at the coming of another first day of school. I’d like to have that excited feeling for the year to come, but these days, I experience those emotions for few things, none of which involve school, new clothes, or classrooms.