The recent passing of a classmate caused me to reflect upon my school days growing up in the small central Mississippi town of Madison.

From what I understand from her family in Florida, Liz Henle Martin fought a courageous battle with cancer and lost.

The years have flooded by, but I remember she was one of the first girls in junior high that I ever slow danced with to the sounds of “Dream Weaver” in the old high school gym.

We never danced that closely because Miss Sue Butler, our part Sunday School-part English teacher, would gently pull couples apart if they got too close. Liz, I would imagine, is dancing with the angels now. Fifty-two is far too young to depart this world.

The school days of long ago seem almost magical now.

Each new school year began in brand new fashion, bright with promise, hope and expectation.

I recall from my younger, elementary school days that the first day of school was a time when there were freshly-scrubbed blackboards — my daughter asks me what a blackboard is now — the pungent scent of Pine-Sol, Elmer’s Glue, the waxy smell of crayons and usually a fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling.

My first day of kindergarten was memorable — I twisted my ankle in a large haystack and was nearly eaten alive with red Mississippi fire ants. Not to mention, I was lampooned and ridiculed for making my eights by drawing two large circles, one on top of another, instead of a freehanded, looping figure-eight configuration.

Flash forward to high school when the high school art teacher, Mrs. Frances Braswell, ironed my graduation robe sixty seconds before I was to go onstage — I had just removed it from the cellophane package a few minutes earlier.

Wrinkle-free, scrubbed clean and bright-eyed, I bravely stepped off that stage and into a world that I could scarcely imagine nearly four decades ago.

To paraphrase an old Bob Seger song, it has been a world punctuated with “deadlines and commitments … what to leave in, and what to leave out …” ever since.

For the 33,000-plus DeSoto County students starting back to school, there will be triumphs and successes, failures and disappointments, humiliations, big and small, and plenty of skinned knees, wounded pride and bruised egos.

Your principals, teachers, classmates and parents, too, will need a few days to get past the grumpiness, the irritability of adjusting to a new sleep cycle, fighting traffic, buying endless supplies, etc.

We are blessed in this county of having the very best private, parochial and public schools of any other county in Mississippi, not to mention a dedicated group of home-schoolers.

Wishing all of these young people the very best in the new school year ahead.

ROBERT LEE LONG  is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at or at 662-429-6397, ext. 252.

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