Alonzo Weston

It’s never hard to tell the first day of school when you live near one as I do. You wake up with cars parked all around your house, youthful chatter and school bells ringing. You come home to a yard full of homework assignments and papers home to parents.

But that first day of school is always special. Young kids barely out of the toddler stage being coaxed into classrooms full of strangers, beginning a new life adventure.

This year is extra special because it’s my grandson, Jace’s, first day of school and my granddaughter, Asia’s, first year of college. Two blessings in one school year.

It reminds me of my own school years long ago when things were much different than they are today. I don’t mean horse-and-buggy different. One difference is that most kids today get rides to school, whether in parents’ cars or on buses. Until I got old enough to drive, I walked to school. My old Horace Mann elementary and middle school was just a few blocks east from my home on South 16th Street. Central High School was about 15 blocks away.

Walking to school allowed you to see your neighborhood. In autumn, you swooshed through the leaves. In winter, you sloshed through the snow.

In grade school, everyone gets a Valentine. We had Halloween parties that no one thought satanic. Our Santa Claus looked just like our janitor.

If you acted up, you got swatted with a wooden paddle with holes drilled in it called “The Board of Education.” You also got a whipping at home with a belt or a switch. No one called it child abuse, just discipline.

School lunches were like what we ate at home. The cooks made things from scratch like pies and a baked casserole called John Marzetti. I always wondered why the dish was named that. I found out much later that it was created by an Italian immigrant named Teresa Marzetti in a Columbus, Ohio, restaurant. She named it after her brother-in-law Johnny.

The corn in school lunches always swam in lots of butter. The desserts had real fruit. We all got enough to eat. Health guidelines call that unhealthy today.

I know these are different times where abuse is real and so is kidnapping and malnutrition, but poverty is not new. The only difference is in my day was we kids didn’t know we were poor. We all dressed like everyone else, most of the time in hand-me-downs. We had school clothes and play clothes, and you never played in your school clothes — you changed as soon as you got home. Play clothes were last year’s school clothes that were either ripped or too small.

We had no designer anything, just Levi’s and Converse tennis shoes.

Many of us were raised in single-parent homes, but we also were raised by our neighborhoods. Every adult looked out for every child and had the right to discipline you, too. It helped that most of the teachers lived in our neighborhoods. My grade-school principal lived a block over.

Today the boogeyman is too real. Kids can’t walk to school alone. Things have changed yes, but one thing I believe hasn’t changed is teachers. Teachers care about their children as much as they did long ago. I see the teachers at the school across the street from my house on the playground interacting with their students. School is home for many kids, and teachers make it so.

Tomorrow I’ll complain there’s no place to park again and about the school trash in my yard. But I know the kids are in good hands, and the playground cacophony is like music to me.

It’s been said that one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.

Here’s to a good school year.

Alonzo Weston can be reached

at alonzo.weston@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.