Skip to main content

Beacon Senior News

Back-to-school memories

Aug 31, 2018 10:28PM ● By Jan Weeks

Janet Fiser, middle, and her sisters in the school clothes their mom made for them, 1959.

For some BEACON readers, going back to school felt like a chore or like being sentenced to nine months in lockup. Others saw the first day of school as a new beginning, an adventure, an opportunity. No matter where students fell on the back-to-school scale, they all have memories of getting ready for that first day.

For Joyce Finley, 68, the ritual of getting ready started the first week of August.

“Mom, who taught Social Studies at the old junior high (now Chipeta Elementary School), took me and my three sisters to Penney’s on the corner of Fourth and Main. There were three levels, and we headed straight for the basement where the fabric department was. Mom turned us loose and we got to pick out patterns and fabric for our back-to-school wardrobes.”

Joyce Finley’s 1958 back to school photo.

Joyce Finley’s 1958 school photo.

Finley’s mother was a widow raising three kids, and the starting pay for female teachers at that time was $3,200 a year, so every dollar counted. Then the dining room at their home turned into a sewing room as Finley’s mother cut, stitched and fitted dresses, skirts and blouses on her girls, who ranged from elementary age to junior high.

“Mom taught us all to sew,” Finley said, “and when I reached high school age, I began to sew all my own clothes.”

Marie Hausermann, 53, had a different experience. She grew up in London and went to a private Catholic school.

“School uniforms were expensive,” she remembered, “so before the new term started, we went to a used uniform exchange, where we could buy used, but still good, skirts, blazers, and other kit.”

She saw the beginning of term as a new adventure.

Janet Fiser, now 71, remembered being eager to start school.

“To me, the first day of school was better than New Year’s,” she said. “It was a chance to make new friends and be the kind of person I wanted to be.”

She also loved shopping for supplies. “Richardson’s Office Supply was on Main Street, near Montgomery Ward’s at Fifth Street. I spent hours trying out pens and running my fingers over the different kinds of papers,” she said.

Most of her supplies, though, came from Campus Drug on North Avenue. Pale blue binders, college-ruled notebook paper, and the newest craze—cartridge fountain pens—were her idea of heaven.

Bob Hicks, 83, hated his first day at the one-room school so much he jumped out the window and ran home.

Hicks, who grew up in a rural area of New Mexico, said everyone was poor and no one thought less of anyone for having to use outhouses or taking biscuits in their lunch pails instead of white bread. It was common for students to ride horses to school.

He earned his spending money by trapping muskrats and selling the pelts.

“I couldn’t wait to get home from school and run my trap line,” he said. “Sometimes I made a whole three dollars a month!”

He did go back to the one-room school, and by the end of the year, he’d been promoted to the third grade. By the end of the second year, he had completed fifth grade and went to Farmington for high school.

Though school starts before September now, there’s still a feeling of new beginnings, new opportunities and new challenges that makes some students eager for school, and some not so eager. Boomers bought saddle shoes and penny loafers, poodle skirts and twin sets. Today’s generation dresses in shorts, halter-tops and sneakers, yet they have the same hopes and fears we did. It seems some things never change.