Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 22, 2013

Ed Hungness: Dust off the lunch box

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Can you believe the summer is over?

Two weeks ago we observed Labor Day which is considered the final hurrah of the season. For the third year in a row I, along with a few friends, participated in the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk. Some folks celebrated with picnics, cookouts and one last trip to the beach. Many northern visitors could be seen streaming southbound, heading back home, their vacations ended. For the youth, yearning to advance their education, it is back to school.

Maple trees beginning to change to their fall colors, remind me of my grade school days. I knew summer vacation was coming to an end when the late afternoon buzzing of the locusts could be heard and cooler night breezes drifted through the bedroom window. Reality was contained in a letter received from the grade school principal. It included a list of school supplies which students were required to bring on their first day of class.

chool shopping was an annual activity that my mother and I shared. It was an all-day event which included procuring the required classroom supplies and a few new clothes to replace those that fell victim to summer play. Like most families of that era, we were a one auto household so Mom and I rode the city bus downtown. I was never an enthusiast of clothes shopping but have fond memories of shopping for the school supplies. I suppose it was just the idea of getting some new stuff and at the age of six or seven that was a big deal.

With list in hand, we visited the local stationary store. In the 1950s Walmart and Target stores didn’t exist and in our town the shopping options were narrow. I already had a dandy Hopalong Cassidy tin lunch box. It had a hinged lid emblazoned with the image of my western movie hero. I looked forward to getting new Crayola crayons since my old ones were mostly broken with some colors missing altogether. The new box had a handy sharpener built in and contained all of the colors one could think of.

Every student needed several No. 2 pencils and a pencil box. The popular design of the day had a sliding lid which doubled as a ruler and pencil sharpener. A small pair of blunt-nosed, stab-proof scissors was required for art projects as well as a compass and protractor which seldom were used for their intended purposes. Next on the list was the ruled writing tablet. Boys sought one with a picture of a cowboy on the front cover, always wearing a pair of pearl handled six-guns.

Girls favored a picture of horse or puppy to grace the cover of their tablet. To round things out, everyone needed a big eraser. The little erasers on the tips of the No. 2 pencils wore out quickly. We made a lot of mistakes learning how to write and while working math problems. Occasionally, the big eraser doubled as a handy missile to be thrown at a buddy across the room when the teacher stepped out.

I have two daughters, one teaches at the elementary level and the other has children in grade school and middle school. They were invaluable sources of information as I researched back-to-school shopping in the modern age.

It seems that some of the items that were on my list still are as vital today as they were back in the 1950s. Other items now required that didn’t exist in my time include are Post-it notes, glue sticks, low odor dry markers, Ziploc bags, wet wipes, and highlighters. The list is a lot longer than what I had. My only concern is that the current list includes no mention of a metal Hopalong Cassidy lunch box or a nifty plastic pencil box with a sliding ruler top.

I guess that’s why our generation calls them “the good-old-days.”

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed’s retirement. He can be reached at or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633.