Friday, November 22, 2013

Those Old School Smells

When I was a kid nothing reeked of going back to school every fall like the smell of a brand new pair of Buster Browns.

You remember Buster Brown.  He was that odd looking little boy with that peculiar bow around his neck, who lived in a shoe with a dog named Tige and you could put your foot in too….

Presumably crushing them both to death.

I mean who lives in a shoe?

There was also the smell of brand new crayons, Number 2 pencils, soon to be defaced loose leaf binders, black & white marbled theme books, brown paper book covers, Blue Bic pens, Black Bic pens, Red Bic pens—


They all smelled different to me…especially the red—and if your parents were totally clueless, those little oblong ink cartridges that some of us used in pseudo fountain pens, which were great for spotting up all those pretty white uniform shirts we all had to wear.

Even the building itself had its own unique smell. Not a bad smell—unless it was right after the annual sports dinner, when all the halls reeked of garlic and homemade spaghetti gravy.

No…it was more of a signature smell of freshly oiled blackboards, floor polish, glass cleaner and old metal desks that had baked through the long days of summer, waiting for their minions to return.

Even the staircases, especially the staircases in the older building of the two that comprised my Parochial Pris—uhm, school—had their own aroma, melded from a fragrant bouquet of decades old shoe scuffs, gum wads, chalk eraser dust, wool winter coats and sweat generated from after school basketball and in-school Math quizzes…not to mention Science, English, Geography, Spelling, Reading, Religion and whatever else the guards—I mean nuns—could think up to throw in our faces, just to keep us from getting too “Prideful”, in our third grade brilliance.

The staircases in the new building—which we still, even now, call “new”, even though it was constructed and opened sometime around the last days of the Eisenhower’s administration—were somewhat more sterile and not as remarkable in their aroma history.

However, one particular staircase did offer the more adventurous among us an opportunity to slide down its smoothly honed aluminum, double centered railings to the landing below, where we hoped, optimistically, not to crash head first into the green cinderblock wall waiting below. 

And if we did hit the wall, ahhhhh…what’s a little body fluid among 6th graders?

Plus red and green make a very festive combination, no matter what the season.

So, yep…these are the smells that I remember most when I think of fall and returning back to school; these and a kid named—well, it doesn’t matter. I’m sure it wasn’t his fault.

Of course, even better, after the smells of fall had long since dissipated, the best school smell of all was the hopeful aroma of warm fresh air, trees blooming and fresh mown lawn wafting in through open windows and doors, come spring.

Once those same school doors, both ancient and new, slammed shut on us in fall, those were the smells we waited for all year…the smell of freedom, once again waiting for us, just around the corner of June.

And speaking of sliding, I must admit, albeit reluctantly, I’m proud to say I still hold the after school record for distance sliding down a freshly waxed hallway, in both new building and old.  And please don’t listen to any of those bitter naysayers who say I was waxing my knees.

And what if I was?  No one said I couldn’t…

But don’t tell Sister Kathleen about any of that, because I hear she’s still on the prowl, although possibly in disguise.

I don’t need another mark on my permanent record, which I hear is still on file.

Know what I mean?

And if I don't wish Z a Happy Birthday...that's really going to leave a mark...permanently....



  1. Happy Birthday Z! I remember the "smells", great memories, thanks for sharing! I loved sliding down those halls also!

    1. Nice to see you on the blog, K. They were some pretty loooooong halls...and even loooooooonger days.


Retort to the Retort -

“Is there anybody alive out there…”