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WRITE TEAM: Back-to-school memories

Riverfest and summer sidewalk sales remind me it's "back-to-school" time!I see the yellow school buses and the memories come flooding back.

"Let's drive by the school," says my husband on our Sunday drive to church. And so we drive by McKinley School where Don taught for many years, and I recall the times I watched him cross that playground at the close of a busy day.

Don taught in the Ottawa Elementary Schools for 31 years, beginning at Lincoln, then Shabbona, Central, and finally many years at McKinley, retiring in 1991.

Reminiscing about those back-to-school days, I recall how I shopped sidewalk sales, hoping to find bargains on school clothes and supplies for our three school-age sons.

\One fall I ordered three pair of jeans from the Sears Roebuck catalog for our oldest son, back in the day when blue jeans were not yet allowed – but you could get a pack of three other assorted colors, including brown, green, and burgundy. Those were OK! But not blue!

A new pair of Converse All Stars was the highlight of the shopping trip for our son, Paul.

The downtown stores included Montgomery Wards, J. C. Penney, and Sears Roebuck. Those were our favorites!

In the summers, Don worked for the Ottawa Recreation Board on the various school playgrounds – mostly McKinley, but also Shabbona, Washington, Lincoln, and some of the city parks, too.

When our boys were bored in the summer, I often said, "Why don't you bike to the playground and see your dad." The game of washers was a favorite, along with softball, tag, basketball, touch football, mini-golf, volleyball and crafts. We lived only a few blocks from Shabbona playground, so it was most convenient.

Since we lived so close to the school, Don came home for lunch. This was true even after school picked up in the fall. I had "lunchers" for many years!

In those days, I was a SAHM – that's a "stay-at-home-mom." That doesn't mean I never went anywhere, but we only had one car. I kept it one day a week to run errands and get groceries for the week. I left the grocery store with meat for each evening meal, plus staples, fruits, vegetables and assorted items, totalling around $50 a week. It was the '70s, nearly 50 years ago!

Summer vacations included a week with Grandpa and Grandma Ledbetter in Murphysboro, and sometimes a week at Kentucky Lake.

According to PEW Research, stay-at-home moms and dads account for about one in five U.S. families today.

I left my job at the courthouse the year our oldest son was born. We planned that I would return to work when he was ready for college. In 1980 I answered an ad in The Times and became administrative assistant to the president of Ottawa National Bank (now Midland States).

I recently asked Don what he looked forward to each year when school began. He said that even though he enjoyed the children on the playground, he liked getting back to the daily routine of the classroom.

"Where did the time go?" asks Don.

"We spent it!" I reply.

Yes, we spent it! Day by day, season by season. Like we all spend the days of our lives – one at a time, faster and faster as time goes on!

I'm not sure why time seems to go faster as we get older.

I only know that when I see sidewalk sales and school buses, I recall those back-to-school days with nostalgia.

CAROLE LEDBETTER is a lifelong Ottawan who finds every day an adventure. Her books are available at Prairie Fox Books, Ottawa, or online from Amazon or Redemption Press. She can be reached at

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