(Welcome Back to School Reflections)
The Crossroads shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska was born the same year I was—1959. Located within walking distance of my house, I must have visited the immense indoor center hundreds of times during my childhood, carelessly spending idle hours and weekly allowances. One vivid memory of the mall occurred in 1966. My brother, sister and I were part of a crazed Crossroads crowd who waited hours to catch a glimpse of our new television idol—Batgirl. Much to our chagrin, the television actress who played the curvaceous, cowled, caped crusader appeared late, sans costume, and with an entourage who kept obscuring our view.
Crossroads was also the home of Corbally’s Shoes. Corbally’s was sandwiched between Calandra’s card shop and Occidental Savings and Loan, an institution that hardly attracted my attention or allowance. Corbally’s had the largest selection of children’s shoes in Omaha. Every August, my mother drove us, filled with anticipation, to the store to buy new footwear for the new school year. Every year Helen, a sales clerk with flaming red hair and school marm shoes, greeted us by our first names and then proceeded to schlep out boxes of blasé Buster Browns and lackluster Hush Puppies. And, every year, being the youngest, I would be the last to stand up straight and place a tiny foot on a cold metal scale to have my shoe size calculated. While I waited for my siblings to be fitted with their drab-yet-supportive shoes, I was allowed to wander around Corbally’s. Two items always sought and caught my attention.
The first was the shelf of kids’ cowboy boots. I loved holding the tooled leather boots and running my fingers over their intricate stitched patterns. With my mother’s attention focused on her other kids’ feet, I was able to put the boots on the floor and wiggle into them without her noticing. I wanted more than anything in life to own a pair of rootin’-tootin’, dosey-doe-in’ cowboy boots. Before Batman and Batgirl, I had been a diehard devotee of the Lone Ranger and all things western. Furthermore, as a resident of the Great Prairie, I thought it was my birthright to wear cowboy gear. My mom thought otherwise. She felt cowboy boots would cause my feet to become a podiatrist’s paradise, greatly mess up my posture, and adversely affect my intellect. No matter how brilliantly I utilized my tool box of youngest child tactics (sulking, begging, whining, tantrum throwing) my mother held fast to her belief that no Hoffman would ever dress like Howdy-Doody.
The second item that caught my attention was the Corbally’s parrot. The colorful bird was perched on top of a pagoda of mirrors located in the center of the store. The mirrors enabled kids to see their new shoes in all their stylish glory. The parrot corroborated the mirror’s message by constantly and cheerfully cawing, “Looking good, looking good.” I would try to make it say something original like, “Polly wants a cracker” or “David wants a pair of cowboy boots,” but the bird never took the bait. It simply stared at me with a sideways glance and complemented, “Looking good, looking good.” In all my years as a Corbally’s customer, I never heard that bird say anything more original or less flattering.
Looking back now with jaundiced eyes and aching arches, I believe that bird was either mocking me or just trying to make me feel good. It knew I would be leaving the store with my annual pair of non-descript, floor scoffing, thick laced, round-toed, extra narrow, below-the-ankle, faux leather pair of shoes. While my friends would be sporting the latest Corvette of footwear design, I would be walking around in Plymouth four-door sedans. “Looking good, looking good” my feet!
Over the years, I’ve discovered that starting a school year is a lot like buying new shoes at Corbally’s. There’s a great deal of anticipation as students enter “the store.” They ask, “Will this be the year I finally get cowboy boots?” Those boots could take the guise of a special teacher or a better understanding of a challenging subject. They want a good fit (classmates, schedules, and instructors). Students seek honest and affirming feedback. They hope that school adults will remember their names like Helen did ours. They hope that they will not be regulated to “last-in-line” status as I was with my siblings. They want to be given the confidence and opportunity to walk around and try on new things. When they gaze in the mirror of self-reflection, they want to be pleased with what they see.
As with new shoes, it takes a short while to break in a new school year. New routines, subjects and people may cause a bit of discomfort at first, but, over time, the newness and rigidity become as comfortable and pliable as a favorite pair of footwear. The school year provides the support and experiences students need to successfully grow into their next pair of shoes.
Every school year is indeed a Crossroads experience for children. They will have the chance to stand in front of divergent paths, forks in the road, attractive enticements, and competing choices. They will make decisions that enrich their lives, promote growth and foster learning. Like the Corbally’s parrot, I am confident that throughout the school journey, their inner voice will constantly and happily be chirping, “Looking good, looking good.”
Here’s wishing everyone comfortable shoes and a productive school year.
Respectfully,David HoffmanPrincipalIsland Park Elementary