Clipped Perspective: A 60s R-FH Area Back-to-School Era

It’s a different kind of back-to-school week this pandemic-affected school year. That’s for sure. Students were back to school, part virtually and part in the classroom or outdoor class, in the Rumson-Fair Haven area this week. Those classic first day of school shots were plastered all over Facebook.

And more than half a century ago, or 51, to be exact, in September of 1966, while 91,000 students and 4,700 teachers headed back to public school classrooms in Monmouth County (13,014 to parochial), according to a Red Bank Register story of Sept. 6, 1966, the anticipation of the photo taken with that Brownie camera mounted as that picture of the day developed — taking weeks at times.

And those photos were classics … Mom-styled hair gone awry, buck-toothed and missing tooth grins, shiny Mary Jane shoes, Buster Brown penny loafers and, well, cheesy fashion in which to pose and say, “Cheese!”

At Knollwood School in 1966, half a century ago, there was a first-grade class, headed by Mrs. Ginny Kamin (deceased Red Bank Register editor Art Kamin’s wife) and filled with some area kids who ended up becoming entrenched in the community. One of those kids was me.

Some are no longer with us. Others have moved away, but keep in touch. Others, still, have stuck around and raised their children here, too. One common thread is that none of them have forgotten their hometown and likely that walk to the first day of school so many decades ago.

For me, the memory of the badly side-combed bangs kinda sticks like the Dippity-doo that was in them. Sorry, Mom. So do those little faces that seemed to loom like the Man in the Moon back in that slightly nerve-wracked elementary school daze.  And it seems like yesterday. Yes, that’s scary. It’s especially scary since it wasn’t, in fact, yesterday.

Back in those days, we walked to school with a buddy. No such thing as a congested car drop-off or blocked-off Third Street. We just walked. With a buddy or two.

For me, those buddies were my best friend and neighbor Pam Young and Jeff Lang. Pam and I met up with Jeff at the corner and the three of us walked the rest of the way together. Sometimes Debbie Smith, from around the block, would join in.

Yes, Jeff occasionally would carry my books. I remember that vividly. He and Pam are gone now, but that memory is a vivid and enduring one. Firsts. They’re always first in the mind’s archives. So is the memory of Mrs. Lang waving to us from the front porch and reminding him to do just that — carry those books.

The neighborhood tradition continued into the next generation. When my son took his walks to school, Mr. Lang always looked for him and ran outside to slip a “don’t tell your mom” extra snack into his backpack. Neighborhood. There it stays. Here it stays. No one can take that away. Snapshots, caught droplets of frozen time, do that, too …

The first day of school photos were taken on the front porch, in the front yard or on the sidewalk before the first stroll back then. And there were usually groups of neighborhood kids all in a row. That trend has long gone and given way to the front-yard or porch individual photo. But, pics are instant now.

Back in the day, there was that wait for the film development. Remember that? Then there was the wait for the annual class photo, like the one above, when the picture people grabbed a comb from a tub and gave all the kids a really bad comb through before that elementary school grimace moment. Not a good hair day for most of us little kids subject to Mom’s fashion whims.

It’s all a walk down a Fair Haven memory lane with a stumble or two for good measure.

What’s your first day memory? Stumble? With whom did you walk … or stumble?

— Elaine Van Develde

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management