What’s On Your Backpack?

By Ellen Rothberg

Backpacks are icons of personalities. One would never consider carrying a backpack emblazoned with a picture or caricature of something or someone they were not connected to in some shape or form. The advent of the backpack is a real nineties phenomenon, one that obviously earned tons of money for an industry previously employed by Colorado hikers. Have you ever thought about what we carried our books around in before the big backpack bang? I had a red rubber book band. It had two metal doohickey things on the ends that sort of connected to each other and tried to keep the books sort of together, but didn’t actually work well in the New York winters. It didn’t help that I had a pretty long walk to and from school in those cold winter months either because the red rubber band invariably froze and disintegrated on the long, snow-laden treks home. This musing is not, however, actually about my school experience or how I managed those miles and miles of walking in the snow . . . it is about the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the apparatus chosen to, well, lighten the load that students have to bear.

Back in the nineties, my children were introduced to backpacks depicting the Transformers and Strawberry Shortcake. There might have been a Batman one school year and I think we might have done Barbie once. There were Nike bags when in middle school and cartoon characters were no longer cool. We had a Jansport era in high school, I think. I can visualize the many backpacks, but there are no photos of them. I don’t think that we record those items the way we do Halloween costumes and holiday sweaters. If I were to ask my son and daughter to name their favorite backpack, I know they would give me that look. The one that says, “Oh, she’s writing something about us” or “Oh, she’s about to remind us of the trials of growing up in an apartment with only one bathroom”. This musing is not, however, actually about my children’s school experience or how their backpacks defined or didn’t define their school success, popularity or ability to roll their eyes at things their mother says. . . it is bout the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the heavy-duty canvas surrounding their load of books.

Now tht I have a grandchild, I know that the backpack phenomenon is coming full circle. Will students really contiune to need backpacks? After all, one only needs to have a small tablet computer, right? Do kids really need a whole backpack just to carry their electronic device to school? The answer is a resounding YES! The backpack is here to stay. My precious granddaughter, age 4 1/2 has three current backpacks. The first was purchased at her birth and has the beautifully embroidered words “Aggie Class of 2033” underneath her name (courtesy of her Texas A & M parents). The second one came from Pottery Barn Kids and also has her name embroidered on it (a very Twenty-First Century thing). The third one and her favorite, was purchased at Walmart and has the cartoon character Sofia the First beautifully screen printed across it. It ranks up there with the Strawberry Shortcake and Transformer ones. This musing is not, however, actually about my granddaughter’s school experience or how the more things change the more they stay the same. . . it is about how each generation is cherished by the ones that came before and how, when you get right down to it, we will always be carrying something to school in something that is popular at the moment. Oh, and that we love grandchildren!

And . . .speaking about books, Come out and Celebrate Local Authors at the Maud Marks Library, 1815 Westgreen Blvd., Katy, Texas on Saturday, October 24, 2015 fom 12:30 PM — 5:00 PM. Mingle with local authors of children’s and adult books. Books can be purchased and autographed. The library will also host presenters reading excerpts from a variety of genres. Attendees are eligible for door prizes! Come in costume for a bonus door prize ticket!

Advertisements

Time and A Soldier’s Gift…Let’s Remember On This Day

memorial day

By Ellen Leventhal

In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to share a few memories. I post this every year, and I hope it helps you remember all who have served.

The story starts many years ago; just one moment in time. The place was Belgium on the road to Bastogne.  The soldier was brave, but had no idea what lie ahead of him. The date was New Year’s Day, 1945.  He believed in the fight, and he believed in his orders. But despite the best laid plans, war, like life, doesn’t always follow a set path. He was to lead the attack, but when he looked around, all he saw were enemy tanks and machine guns. Time stopped, but duty didn’t. Looking out through blurry eyes onto the devastated scene in the frozen distance, the soldier saw two wounded men. One was carrying another on his shoulder. Sticking out of the walking man’s shattered leg was his bone, or what was left of it. The soldier ran and carried both men to safety. He left them at the aid station, fearing that death was a certainty for these men. When he returned to his tank and had time to look, he saw that it was in ruins. All that remained was a picture of his high school sweetheart.

Time passed. The war ended, and miraculously, the soldier came home. With him he brought medals, injuries, hope, and too many memories.  But still, he knew the memories would fade, and he had his life ahead of him. As the soldier stepped off the train under smoky blue skies in his familiar New Jersey city, he took a breath and reveled in the excitement of the welcoming party.  But there were doubts, pain, and memories. But time, the gentle healer, would take care of that.  He was sure of it. And time passed.

He and his sweetheart married, set up house, went to work, and raised two children. And the soldier told stories. Sometimes the stories were told between bites of steaming buttermilk pancakes in New Jersey diners.  Other times, on family trips, discussions of historical monuments and natural grandeur were peppered with casual comments about how this café or that group of young men reminded the soldier of his war days. The stories were familiar to the family. They were woven into the tapestry of their lives. At first, these stories were about buddies and a loud, blustery fellow named Patton. But when they were old enough, the children heard about that New Year’s Day. And slowly, very slowly, the soldier shared the horrors of the concentration camp he helped liberate. Even time wouldn’t allow him to forget that. The images stayed with him, surrounding him as much as the air itself. They were not just stories. They were part of him and a part of history. But they were in a different time.  Life went on. But still, there were the memories. While others planned their New Year’s celebrations, the soldier’s thoughts were filled with the memories of a bloody New Year’s Day. He thought of the dead soldiers and the soldiers he carried to a brief safety .He knew in his heart, those men didn’t survive. Each New Year’s Day he made a toast to those who fought with him that day and to those two strangers who surely did not make it home.

But time went on. The soldier tried to find some meaning in the deaths and injuries. He himself did not escape unscathed, either physically or emotionally, but life and time would go on. He counted on time. So much can change in one brief moment.

And then it happened. Another moment in time changed the soldier’s life once again. Forty years had passed and the soldier was busy working at a popular publishing house. The phone rang and grudgingly he answered it. It was a ghost. It had to be. “Do you remember New Years Day, 1945?” said the phantom on the other side of the phone line. “You carried me to safety.”

The color drained out of the soldier’s face, and another point in time appeared as if no time had passed at all. It was a reunion of soldiers and a blending of time. Each man thought the other was dead, but through a series of unlikely events, time was tying things together. They talked and found out they had many things in common, not the least being that they survived when so many others didn’t. They also found that they lived near each other, and they soon became close friends, as did their wives. Several years after the reunion, the man died, and the soldier helped look after his widow. He knew that he was still saving the man in some way.

The soldier has since passed away, and with him he took many memories and much pain. But time does have a way of healing and tying things together. The wives stayed friends and speak every day.  They talk about the miracles of their husbands finding each other, and in turn, the miracle of their friendship. The story continues, and yet each day is just like that day so long ago, just one moment in time.