Even though I enjoyed a fairly idyllic childhood, there aren't many things about it that I long to revisit. One exception to that is the first day of school. The beginning of the school year was right up there with Christmas and birthdays in my list of things to be impatiently anticipated.
Most kids (and I was no exception) consider summer vacation to be more or less endless. The days flew by in a blurred stream of sunshine, swimming lessons, picnics, bicycle rides and lazy hours reading or playing card games with my sisters. The Fourth of July came along sometime near the middle of it, and the circus came to town somewhere near the end of it, but for the most part, my real clue about just where we were on the calendar came home to me when Mother took us to Brown Shoe Fit Co. to buy each of us a pair of stiff brown oxfords. Ugly. Hot. Confining. The shoes were miserably uncomfortable after a summer of going barefoot. The only thing to recommend about the whole procedure was the fun of looking down through the \X-ray machine\ that showed the bones in my feet – right inside the shoes! Feet didn't look anything at all like their insides from the outside. I might add here that I could observe the same phenomenon in my hands by holding a flashlight tightly against them in the dark of my bedroom closet. Hands, however, weren't nearly as fascinating. You could easily see how the bones worked and where they were joined together from the outside. Feet were an entirely different thing.
Those new brown shoes were part of the ritual of getting ready for school to start. Mother spent several weeks assessing skirts and blouses, sweaters and dresses, making sure we had a week's worth of school clothes ready and waiting. There were shopping trips to Oskaloosa, which boasted both Montgomery Ward and Sears and Roebuck stores, while Knoxville had only a J.C. Penney store with a limited girls' clothing department. They had a good selection of fabrics, though, and Mother made a good many of our skirts, blouses and dresses. She also cleverly altered hand-me-downs as we grew and outgrew serviceable articles of clothing. This was a tricky business, as my older sister was slim and well proportioned, while I was short and chunky and my younger sister was thin and small-boned. Winter coats were checked for fit and sent to the dry cleaner. Once the new shoes were bought, winter overshoes were checked to see if they fit over the new shoes. We were encouraged to wear the new shoes to \break them in