September 3, 2019
On Saddle Shoes and Pee Chee Folders
The first Tuesday of September was always a day which struck fear in my heart. In fact, no other day of the year caused more anxiety and distress than this one.
The reason, of course, was due to the fact that when I was growing up school always started on this day.
Unlike in today’s world, where we are inundated with back to school ads for supplies and equipment beginning in late July, in the 1960’s and 70’s, we didn’t much think about going back to school. That is until one day in late August my mother would ominously announce that school started the next week.
So off we would go to get things. Our back to school supply list included Pee Chee folders, notebook paper, #2 pencils, and BIC pens. That was it.
For clothing, I was lucky to get one new outfit for the first day of school. And the most evil of all footwear ever invented: saddle shoes.
I’ll get back to those in a bit. First off, however, I imagine you are wondering about the Pee Chee. What is a Pee Chee? And why do so many people my age wax so nostalgic over a folded in half piece of cardstock? I knew it deserved Tuesday Newsday status. Since I couldn’t find the official day they were introduced, the first Tuesday in September seemed the perfect date to learn about them. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The yellow Pee-Chee All Season Portfolio was a common American stationery item in the second half of the 20th century, commonly used by students for storing school papers. It was first produced in 1943 by the Western Tablet and Stationery Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Pee-Chees were later produced by the Mead Corporation. (snip) These inexpensive folders are made of card stock with two internal pockets for the storage of loose leaf paper. The pockets are printed with a variety of reference information including factors for converting between Imperial and metric measurement units, and a multiplication table. The folders had fallen out of general use by the 2000s, but are available from Mead as of 2014.”
Note the words “multiplication table.” This was probably the most valuable thing a Pee Chee provided as we were expected to memorize this table. By the time you got up to the twelves, it got a bit difficult. The handy dandy Pee Chee came to your rescue. Of course our teachers knew this and we had to put our Pee Chee’s away during test time.
When I walked home from elementary school I only carried a Pee Chee and rarely any books unless it was one checked out from the library. By the time I was in Junior High and High School, books were part of the equation. Along with the Pee Chee of course.
That brand new, unmarked, non-dog-eared Pee Chee was the best part of being forced to go back to school. And paper, pencils and BIC pens, of course. Oooh, and Flair pens starting in Junior High!
The worst part? From first grade through sixth I was subjected to torture by being forced to wear saddle shoes. Whoever invented this shoe should have been required to wear a new pair every week for their entire lives just so they would know what pain they subjected multiple generations of girls to endure.
My mother would take me and my sister to Nordstrom’s Shoe store… in the 1960’s in Yakima that’s all it was… a shoe store. We would bypass all the beautiful shiny black patent leather shoes and the cute Mary Janes and go directly to the rack of clunky saddle shoes. There they sat, big, bulky, and ugly. They had brown soles thicker than a slice of French toast. Across their beige bodies was a second strip of stiff brown leather, with laces through the holes, just waiting to cinch your foot into bondage. Heaven forbid that you got shoes which fit… no, they had to be a bit big so you’d grow in to them and not grow out of them before the following June.
We would wear them around the house for several days before school started in a futile effort to ‘break’ them in. It never worked. The first few weeks of school our feet bore witness to the horrors of saddle shoes; oozing red blisters were covered with adhesive tape and we’d limp through the day. Eventually the leather softened and the blisters abated… usually by October. Kids today just don’t realize how lucky they are to have been spared the scourge of saddle shoes.
Even now the first week of September is my least favorite time of the year; despite the fact I do not have to go back to school nor do my children.
I am, however, very, very tempted to go hang out in the office supply store and indulge myself in the smell of paper and ink and the plethora of notebooks, papers, pens, and paperclips. Anyone who has seen my office knows that I have stacks of spiral notebooks, hundreds of colored paperclips (many with decorative tops), and a collection of G-2 pens of every hue. In fact, just writing about it inspires me to head to my nearest Office Depot Max to see what’s on sale. Unlike saddle shoes, office supplies never go out of fashion!
As always a couple of links:
Yes, it is true. In 1960 Nordstrom’s only sold shoes. The store in Yakima was one of only 8 stores at the time.