The art (supplies) of war


Every year it’s like I’m engaged in the annual elusive Christmas toy craze except I’m not looking for a Tickle Me Elmo or pocket pets — I’m looking for pocket brad folders. The latter apparently as extinct as the dodo bird.

Plain paper folders are everywhere. You can buy 100 for a dime. Plastic folders with pockets and little brads to hold hole punched paper? Forget about it. Every year, without fail, the back-to-school supply lists feature at least one item that is not actually available for retail sale anywhere on the planet.


In elementary school they ask for boxes of 16-count crayons. Which are never, ever on sale. You can get 24-count boxes for pennies during back to school savings sales, but the 16-count are still $3.79 a box. I have never understood what we have against those other 8 colors? Were they bad?

Being cheap, I am just consumed with worry over wasting money paying more for the box that has less in it. Maybe I could buy the 24-count box of crayons and remove eight of them? I could send it to school with a note: ” It’s the 16-count box with room to grow!”

This year’s middle school class list specified that my student needed “one red, one green and one purple pen.” Do you know that those color combinations are sold in NO combination pack together. Ever.

To achieve this holy grail of pen perfection, I had to buy one fancy pack at $5 just to score purple and green. Red was a lowly buck. Pricey, but I persevered. They better use the heck out of those pens.


My perennial school supply Sasquatch is a 3-inch, three-ring zippered binder. Sometimes spotted but rarely seen in captivity, these large ring binders are necessary because students are required to keep all papers for all subjects for an entire semester with them at all times.

The three-inch rings will hold all that plus notebook paper and plastic folders with pockets and little brads without splitting.

We need a certain brand. What we get is stores loaded to the rafters with a cheaper, smaller version of what we have been instructed to buy. If one more person points me in the direction of an entire pile of binders exactly half as big as I need, I’m going to stab someone with the round-tip scissors.

Granted, by middle school the pressure lessens, somewhat, when the end user no longer gives a rip about what the binder looks like. No concerns about cartoon characters or color these days.

Boywonder says “Mom I need a binder, can I use one of these old ones from the attic?”

Me: (ever the glutton for punishment) “well why don’t we go buy you a new one?”

Boywonder: “Nah, this one’s fine.”

This opinion holds true even if the binder in question is just a series of doodles held together by a broken zipper and a loose thread.

Every year as we head out on a mission to procure the proper school supplies in the specified sizes and amounts, I remember the good ole days when I went to school with a pencil box (any kind, but I liked the paper one with my favorite cartoon character on it), five black or blue pens, 10 pencils, a sharpener, a small pack of crayons and some notebook paper and maybe a wooden ruler. And that was all! Frankly, we were educational Luddites.


Of course, there are exceptions to every nostalgic rule. My mother almost lost her hippie mind on my first grade teacher when the list specified a “green gum eraser.”

My mother, unable to find one at Woolworth‘s or Clarkin’s or where ever it was in our small town that one would shop for school supplies, made the risky move to purchase a standard pink one instead. It’s an ERASER, after all.

I can still recall the shame as my teacher, inspecting my brand new supplies, belittled me over it. “I hope you can follow directions better than your mother” is what I recall.

Not content to simply make a 5-year-old cry, she also saw fit to send a note home regarding the complete unsuitability of the interloping pink eraser. My mother was not amused.

Being young, I was shielded from many of the details of battle, but suffice to say the Great Green Eraser War of 1974 looms large in family lore. That also explains why it is unlikely I will ever fully abandon my quest for the perfect 3-inch, three-ring binder.

Hope springs eternal, even if oversized binders don’t.


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Kymberly Foster Seabolt lives in rural Appalachia with the always popular Mr. Wonderful, two small dogs, one large cat, two wandering goats, and a growing extended family.


  1. Your 1st grade teacher was the Teacher from H***. Never was I so glad to get you through a class without getting myself incarcerated…..


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