That's What She Said: Back to School list
- Dawn Dumont | September 15, 2015
Every summer, I’d daydream about going back to class with a Backstreet Boys backpack filled with every item on my school supply list. But budget constraints (i.e. my parent’s stinginess) meant that it never turned out that way. Instead, my school list went something like this:
1 pair of Sneakers (white soles only)
Because they were cheap, my mom bought dark-soled runners. One could make the argument that requesting only white soles was racist. But instead, I’d take my ebony-soled shoes and spend the entire school year trying to hide them. In gym class, I’d run softly, “Like a gazelle,” I would whisper, “like a light, graceful gazelle – leaving no black foot prints behind.”
The teacher could have been a jerk and insist that every one with dark soles take off their shoes. But then she’d have the poor kids running through the gym in their socks and who wants the headache of writing up the inevitable broken arms?
Number 2 pencils
Somehow my parents found number one pencils and stuffed these in our pencil cases. I suspect they were made in Russia from wood harvested from the Chernobyl forests. They were flimsy, broke all the time and smelled of gasoline.
If the teacher had asked for lined notebooks, then without fail, my mom would buy us the unlined, “Just draw the lines in, for God’s sake.” If the teacher asked for unlined, then mom would tell us to white out the lines. No matter how many were requested, we never got more than five each. We were told to write smaller and be succinct, like Hemingway.
This was taken off the lists in the early eighties when kids discovered the high that you got from inhaling “the white gold” (as it was known around schoolyards.) I never imbibed myself, although I was a fan of those markers that smelled like the colour. I had many happy moments with the grape flavor. Even though we never had the rest of our school list, for some reason, we always had white out. Apparently, my mom had some back alley, black market hook-up.
Every year I fantasized about one of those 64 crayons boxes with the built in crayon sharpener for those moments when you need precision point on your crayon. In addition to good ole racist “Indian Brown”, the box had colours I never even dreamed of. But what did we get? A box of eight. “Mix them together,” mom would advise. That may work with oil paints but with crayons, it just becomes a brown sludge, which oddly enough looked exactly like “Indian Brown.”
In grade three, my mom had bought 2 by accident for my older sister who was in junior high and she gave the extra to me. I gratefully added it to my meager collection of supplies. On the first day, the students laid out our supplies on our desks so that our teacher, Mrs. Hatchett, could shame some kids for not having the required supplies and applaud others like Cindy Lecomber for having every item on the list, plus an eraser that smelled like bubble gum.
I put my protractor on top of my pile. I was so proud of it even though I had no idea what it was used for (cutting pizza?). When Mrs. Hatchett saw it, she said, “That’s not on the list, Dawn, you will take that home.”
But I didn’t. I kept it in my desk and I would touch it from time to time. It made me feel special that metal pointy thing, because for once I had something that no one else had.
But it also made me nervous, having it right beneath the teacher’s nose. It seemed to come alive in my metal desk and I was sure that everyone in the room could hear it, scraping inside as if saying, “Here I am, proof that Dawn is a liar.” And then the worst happened, Cindy Lecomber lost her bubble gum eraser. We all had to empty out our desks. (FYI: Elementary school teachers are notorious abusers of the Charter.) All of my belongings were piled on my desk, except for the protractor. I attempted to put it under my shirt but as it was sharp, I ended up shrieking. This gave me away. My teacher demanded to see what was behind my back. I still remember how my knees shook as I showed her the protractor. With it you could draw perfect circles around my shame and her anger and the protractor would be where those two circles intersected. She asked me why I didn’t take it home, why I disobeyed her, why I was crying….
Before I could answer Cindy Lecomber proclaimed loudly that she had found her eraser, “in her pencil case, oops!” I was forgotten.
But as ordered, I took the protractor home and put it in my closet. I figured it would be there when I needed it. (It wasn’t.)
So to all you students who are going to school with missing items from “the list,” don’t sweat it – I made it through just fine. Your teachers may not want you to know this, but most of the time, half-assed is good enough.