My Most Important School Supplies

By JIM NICHOLS

Human beings have lives of rhythms. These come in different forms including biological and behavioral. Biological rhythms include such items as heartbeats and breathing rates, which have amazing adjustable abilities such as when we climb a flight of stairs. Many of these biological rhythms are obvious and are the topic of fascinating study to biologists. Perhaps not so noticeable are behavioral rhythms, including events and activities we associate with certain seasons of the year.

If you have visited a store recently, you may have noticed that school supplies are prominently on sale; it is that time of year. When you are a student (or parent), this annual event occurs so regularly that we include it in the year almost automatically. However, early in our school years the purchasing of just the right school supplies was one of the rites of leaving early childhood and becoming a true school child.

Many of those memories are fading quickly for me, but some of my early required school supplies still are clear in my mind.

Who can forget the brand new, unopened box of Crayola brand crayons? They came in all kinds of sizes from a box of 12 to a magnificent larger size of an almost uncountable number. Furthermore, this giant box had various shades of the main colors; how exciting that was. The school supply list, however, listed a certain size box to obtain, so it was important to get the same size as other children; peer pressure, you know. New crayons had a point on them that quickly disappeared from use; sometimes you had to peel the paper off to expose more crayon.

A dominant feature of those early years was learning to write. Every year my school supply list included a Big Chief tablet; its red color not only made it look good, but it smelled good too. With perfectly parallel lines we learned how to make both capital and small letters and when to use each appropriately. My pencil was black and large so that my small hand could deal with it more easily. This contrasted to pencils I had used at home, pencils that were narrower and, frankly, a bit harder for me to use. But those home pencils had something the big black did not have; they had an eraser on the end. That is, there was an eraser until it all wore off from use leaving only the writing part of the pencil.

Erasers were a wonderful invention since early writers make many mistakes both in content and in execution. Since the big black lacked an eraser, the supply list also added a Rub-Clean eraser. This was a green rubber cuboid, longer than it was wide or deep. It was always green; thus, the supply list requested we purchase a “Rub-Clean green eraser.” I was proud to do so. I even personalized my new eraser each year by writing my name on it in an area unlikely to be used much. The eraser was indestructible and identifiable. It helped me deal with the many mistakes I made. It was rather like academic grace for an early writer; mistakes could be simply rubbed away and corrected. My eraser went with me through several adventures.

In third grade our teacher would not allow us to use an eraser on our weekly spelling test; she said she wanted us to spell it correctly the first time. I thought that was unreasonable and basically mean. During the week of Halloween one of the spelling words was “jack-o’-lantern.” As I finished the test, I realized that I had put the apostrophe in the wrong place. What could I do? I clearly knew the correct spelling, but to erase and correct would be to break Mrs. Webb’s rules. Since I can remember the episode so well all these years later, it was clearly a test of conscience for me. Pulled between honesty and realism, I got out my Rub-Clean green and, as carefully as I could, neatly erased the apostrophe and positioned it correctly.

To my knowledge, there were no repercussions from this act. It was as if I had called upon grace in the form of my Rub-Clean green and both Mrs. Webb and God overlooked the infraction.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

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