WOSTER: Back-to-school excitement
Long ago, when I served as editor of a Pierre newspaper, the cover photograph on the back-to-school edition featured my son riding a skateboard.
No, I wasn't playing favorites. It wasn't even my idea, although it turned out to be a good one. The advertising guy came up with it. He was looking for a kid, preferably mid-to-late grade school, to feature in an orange circle that included drawings of books, pens, slide rules (yeah, it was long ago -- I said that), lead pencils and block erasers, footballs, beanies, apples, loose-leaf binders (a way long time ago) and a pair of sneakers, the kind you used to be able to buy for $8 or $10.
He called a couple of folks he knew who had children of the age he sought. Those folks showed no interest. (Non-newspaper people tend to think it's a lot bigger deal to get their name or mug in the paper than do newspaper people.)
After striking out two or three times, the ad guy stopped by my office to say, "You have a son who goes to Washington, don't you?''
"Yup, I do,'' I said. "He's not all that keen about the end of summer, either.''
"Maybe he'd like to pose for the back-to-school cover,'' the guy said.
Well, I didn't think he'd like it all that much, but what's an editor to do? We needed a cover photograph. I had a kid who fit the specifications the ad guy had in mind. Why ask, I figured. I'll just go break the news to the kid, and he'll do it. (Newspaper people tend to be fairly goal-oriented when deadlines are approaching and there's a hole to be filled in the publication. It's like on election night, a reporter might still be polishing a story, but if the press is warmed up and the delivery trucks are lined up at the loading dock, the story goes with a little less polish than desired. Same exact thing with a back-to-school edition.)
Long story short, the publication went to press with a picture of my kid on the cover. He was wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey (No. 12, Roger Staubach, I think), frayed, cut-off jeans, knee-high tube socks and the $10 model sneakers. His arms were spread wide, he was smiling, and he may have been missing a tooth. I can recall the cover as clearly as if it were yesterday.
It wasn't, of course -- yesterday, I mean. It was probably 35 years ago, back when Nancy and I had two kids going to Washington Elementary School just four blocks down the street from our home. It was a comfortable little neighborhood school, just right for a couple of half-shy kids. Our kids were well-served by teachers and other staff at Washington They started the kids on a path that led them through the crazy, melodramatic world of junior high and on to the challenges of Riggs High School.
Sometimes I wish it were yesterday again. The back-to-school time each year was an exciting thing for parents. Maybe not always so much for the kids, although once they got there and settled in -- after surviving the first week's blast of late-summer heat in a brick building without air conditioning -- they made the most of their days, both in the classroom and on the playground.
I worked out in Rapid City last week during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. One morning, the guy working next to me showed me a picture of his two kids and started talking about their back-to-school activities. The guy is considerably younger than I am. (Those two kids of mine I talked about? They're probably older than this guy.) He was excited about the snippets of school—preparation news coming from the hometown, and I could tell he was wishing he didn't have to work half a state away from where his kids were starting another excellent adventure.
I found myself envying him. I wasn't envying him his relative youth. Gracious. Who'd want to go back and do life over? I was envying him the excitement he felt over what his kids were experiencing.
It was such a grand time, and I have the cover shot somewhere to prove it.