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Today's Family Magazine

MOMMY CHRONICLES: Here’s to the good NEW days

By Stacy Turner

Often, people reminisce about the good old days. They’ll go on and on about idyllic childhoods spent outdoors, left to their own devices, without hand sanitizer or screens and safe from gun violence.  But it’s important to remember that good old days weren’t always as idyllic as we sometimes recall. 

This idea hit me recently, as I used the last slices of bread to pack a PB&J for my daughter’s lunchbox. For no reason I can explain, the crumpled bag in my hand took me back to the cold winters of childhood.  Long before the weather chilled, Mom saved every bread bag so that by the time winter arrived, she’d have a stash of bags built up for me and my five siblings.  For those unfamiliar with the reason, the bags served as boot liners, adding an extra layer of protection between the boot and the boot wearer’s sock.  Or in the case of rubber galoshes, placing the bag over your shoes helped them slide in and out of the outer boot easier.  The plastic bags initially kept the heat in, helping the wearer feel warm and dry and ready for any polar adventure.  But after recess or an epic snow day, the plastic bags left cotton socks saturated with warm, moist foot sweat (ick -- I attribute this for my strong dislike of the word ‘moist’).  It seemed like the cure was worse than the disease, so to speak.

The burgeoning stash of bags meant that winter was nearly upon us.  So instead of the usual rush of prodding four school-age kids to wake up, get dressed and eat something, then send us out the door with faces washed and teeth brushed, the changing season added an additional step of adding coats, hats, gloves, boots, and bags to the mix.  I recall an older sister holding up our evacuation procedures one morning by insisting on two identical brand bread bags to accessorize with her outfit.  Because even if you’ve literally got garbage on your feet, you still need to look good in middle school.   

In elementary school, kids weren’t that choosy.  Each wintry school day, the hallways outside our classrooms were littered with colors and sizes of moon boots and rubber boots and a variety of brands of soggy bread bags.  Before entering the classroom, we were instructed to remove our wet boots and line them up neatly along the wall, so we’d be all set for recess later.  Wet boots were not permitted in the classroom, an effort to keep the floor dry and neat. 

It was a simple idea in theory – taking off boots in the hallway and entering the classroom in stocking feet.  But it was pure chaos, with more than 25 kids carrying coats and book bags, quickly shucking 50 soggy boots and moist bags, then dodging puddles in stocking feet to get to the (dry) safety of the classroom.  Most days, the hallways looked like a very selective tornado ripped through.  Mismatched boots, socks, and a variety of brands of bread bags sat in random heaps on the way to the classroom door.  By the time we reached our desks where we could sit down and pull our school shoes out of our book bags, soggy feet were shoved inside leather shoes and the day began.  Some days the school janitors would place giant fans at the end of each hallway to try and remove the moisture and foot funk.  If we were lucky, everything dried out just in time for recess when the process started all over again. 

A friend and I shared stories of northern winters and bread bags, while her husband, whose family hails from further south, thought we were making it all up.  What we considered thriftiness or good old Yankee ingenuity he considered backwards and just plain weird. Luckily, at some point during childhood, bread bags fell out of use as a winter staple; this may have coincided with improvements in winter weather gear, or maybe a rise in cases of athlete’s foot. 

Regardless, I’m happy my own stash of bags is relegated to holding acorns and other treasures found on nature walks and for cleaning up pet messes.  It’s no wonder (see what I did there?!) that when the snow accumulates this year, I’ll appreciate having warm, dry feet in my waterproof boots, with no bread bags required.