It’s Backpack Time Again

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 15, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

It’s that time again, — when summertime-dormant public school students heave on their heavy backpacks and head back to their institutions of learning. Some, this past Sunday, prepared themselves by attending a “blessing of the backpacks” service at their church. These blessing services are very popular today just about everywhere.

            Ah, yes, backpacks! Today’s backpacks come in sizes reflecting today’s technology, — sizes to fit 11” laptops, 13” laptops, 15.6” laptops, and even 17” laptops. One advertisement just announced 21 different types of backpacks, saying that “not all backpacks are created equal.” Teen Vogue printed an article entitled, “19 Trendy Backpacks for the 2019 School Year,” most of the illustrations showing very bright colors and bold designs.

            You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you? Back in the good old days when I attended Dime Box Rural School in the 1940’s, we just carried our books under our arms, though a few girls had “school satchels” (“Oh My Gosh!” gasps today’s generation). A “book satchel” is a briefcase made out of canvas rather than leather. Before my time, when my parents were in school, boys anyway, carried their books strapped together with a leather strap.

            Can you believe it!? It wasn’t until the 1980’s that kids started using backpacks for school. Prior to that time, backpacks were used for hiking, camping, skiing, and war, and were called “rucksacks.” Today, the distinction is made between the two, opining that the rucksack is larger than the backpack, and while there are other names for this bag on your back, “backpack” is the trendy name.

            Historians of trivia say that Dick Kelty invented the backpack in 1952 (but not for carrying books and laptops to school), and, at that time, it was also called a packsack, a sack, a knapsack, as well as a rucksack.

            Having just read an article somewhere, saying that this year, even bullet-proof backpacks are available for parents worried about school safety in light of the many campus shootings, I searched online to see if I could verify that. I did find one retailer offering for sale a backpack called, “Military Tactical Assault Backpack for men,” but the item description did not actually say it was “bullet-proof.” It is a sad commentary on today’s world that even the idea of a bullet-proof backpack for children would be thought necessary precaution. For me, the thought brings a great feeling of sadness on the day school opens, always having been a very happy day for me as a child who loved school and learning.

            The church service I listened to Sunday on KULP had a beautiful backpack blessing service, wherein the kids brought their backpacks, either new or old, came to the front of the chancel area, and received the blessing. As a retired teacher and a retired pastor, I found it a very touching ceremony. My freshman-in-high-school granddaughter was excited about her newly purchased backpack; and I must admit, it is very attractive. However, I just hope it’s large enough to carry all of the school necessities high school students need to take. One good thing about it, our children will develop strong backs, lol!

  So, how do teachers carry all their stuff (textbooks, timers, Kleenex, grading pens, cell phone, laptop, DVD’s, gradebook, lesson plan book, TEA rule book, Tylenol, band aids, bottles of water, energy snacks, and Advil (if the Tylenol doesn’t work) to school nowadays? No doubt they take a wheelbarrow! Just kidding. Having been there and done that in my lifetime, I know the mixed feelings of joy and anxiety teachers feel on the first day of school. Teaching school is the most splendid job that God calls very special people to do. My blessings on the backpacks and the wheelbarrows!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

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