Go ahead, open the box. Sniff. Sniff again. Take a deep breath, and hold it, hold it. Amazing, isn’t it?
I so love the smell of fresh crayons.
Just in time for the annual back-to-school shopping season, I’ve been sniffing around my granddaughters’ book bags like an addled addict. It’s a ritual I treasure, a ceremony of comfort that prompts confusing and contradictory emotions.
I’m wistful for a time in my childhood that is long gone, a time when the shavings of a freshly sharpened pencil and the blank neatness of lined paper held infinite promise. Every new school year meant the possibility of beginnings, of reinvention — a feeling I find hard to recover the older I get. It has been tempered, if not totally obliterated, by experience.
I’m nostalgic for the days when, lists in hand, I wandered the store aisles with my own children, loading our cart with pencil pouches, glue bottles, composition notebooks and wooden rulers. Later they would graduate to more serious stuff: binder dividers, graphing calculators and ink cartridges.
But frankly, eau de crayon brings a sense of relief that the harried pressure of child-rearing is over.
Still, the scent of crayons, the colorful sturdiness of construction paper, the flexibility of pencil-top erasers brings such bittersweet recollections.
I mentioned this longing to a friend who looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
“I can’t remember the last time I bought a packet of loose-leaf paper,” she said, and her grin was one of pure gratitude.
Without grandchildren to anchor her to the rhythm of the school year, she has surrendered her senses to other matters. No more look-backs at blunt-tip scissors and book bags for her, no more strolling the stationary aisle to check on the price of pocket folders with fasteners.
Yet, I truly believe that every adult, regardless of their aptitude as a student, remembers at least one school item with fondness. Surely Trapper Keepers have their devotees. As do Lisa Frank notebooks, boxy plastic lunchboxes, stencil letters and mimeographed workbook pages.
In my case, slide rulers will forever hold a special place in the pantheon. They were so useful in physics and calculus — and you never ran the risk of running out of batteries. Whatever happened to them? Does anybody still use them?
I recently read that shopping for back-to-school supplies is climbing out of the recession-induced doldrums. Parents are expected to increase their spending by 33 percent over last year, for an average total of $1,642, according to the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker.
The National Retail Federation, which also keeps track of such things, issued a lower figure but predicted a similar upswing. Families with children in grades K-12 will cough up an average $673.57, up from $630.36 last year. This isn’t chump change, and many families simply can’t afford all, or any, of the items on the classroom list.
I suspect a good portion of that money goes toward electronics. If my elementary school-aged granddaughters are any indication, tech devices are essential for homework nowadays. As they should be. For all my whining about the death of cursive and the demise of red-and-blue lined handwriting paper, the move to tablets and mobile is necessary in these times. We’ve got to remain practical.
But I do worry about the future memories of today’s school children. You simply can’t sniff a laptop to evoke a sweet remembrance. I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried.