“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” —Alphonse Karr, 19th Century French critic, journalist and novelist
It’s September, the gateway into Fall and a month marking changes. With several seasons behind me now, I’ve seen a few things time has changed since one September in 1960.
As it always did, school started after Labor Day that year. Good friend, David Neeley, and I were just a few days into junior high. Looking down the road to that rite of passage called a driver’s license at age 14 rendered special reverence to September for young boys then. It was unveiling month for next year’s cars.
Import dealers were a change that was still a few years away in the U.S., and American car manufacturers kept new models a closely guarded secret leading to the highly anticipated and publicized unveiling date. As that day approached, dealers hid new models in warehouses out of public view while sneaking one car into the showroom by dark of night but keeping it completely covered to increase the mystique. Advertising hype added to the excitement by teasing the unveiling date with slogans like, “Coming September 12, the all-new Ford beautifully built to take care of you.”
That September school day was “new car day” prompting David and me to forgo lunch hour for a foray to see the new Fords Joel Steed Motors had on display at North Jefferson and 8th Street, a distance of some eight to ten blocks from the school. We skipped lunch at Bullington’s Drug Store downtown where a grilled-cheese sandwich and a mug of root beer was a quarter without sales tax, another change that was yet to come in Texas in 1960.
Surveying styles, colors and most importantly, engine options were so memorizing that we decided to meander on up to Sandlin’s at the north end of town to “See the USA in a Chevrolet.” Sandlin Motor Company was, and still is today, located at Jefferson and 16th, about the same distance we had already hiked. From there, we thought surely hoofing it back in time for Mrs. Moore’s fifth-period art class after lunch was doable.
Mary Margaret Moore was short in stature but tall in sophistication and perfection. Her command of the English language was impeccable and her artistic signature made John Hancock’s look like scribble. She was by the book, never wavering, consistent with one expression and tone of voice, pleasantly steadfast in the face of any event. She was one of my favorite teachers.
Common sense did not run rampant in 12-year-year-old boys then. Once done drooling over chrome and whitewall tires at Sandlin’s, our “we can do this” confidence lost its luster when it became apparent that we might be a little late to Mrs. Moore’s class.
Absentees were reported in those days via names of the missing jotted on pink slips posted outside each classroom door for office monitors to collect. Sneaking past that slip bearing our names, we quietly took our seats.
Mrs. Moore was quick to point out, however, that school policy required a tardy slip from the principal’s office to remain in class. But before sending us down the hall to Mr. Robison’s office, she paused to ask us why we were late.
When we detailed our noon-hour hiatus to her, she looked at us in complete silence for what seemed like an eternity, never changing her expression, first at me and then at David. “You boys walked all the way to Sandlin’s and back,” she asked slowly?
“Yes ma’am,” we harmonized.
“Incredible,” she said calmly. “Forget about an excuse, just take your seats.”
Things do change. School bells are ringing by mid-August now, lunch “hours” and leaving campus are a faint memory, “next year’s” cars are introduced all year long and no one gets excited because they all look alike. But thankfully some things do stay the same.
I still get excited thinking about Fall in September, and I would still skip lunch and walk a mile to see a 1961 American-made automobile.
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