Point of No Return — Back-to-school marks a rare fun shopping trip

Date Published: 
Sept. 1, 2017

As a kid, there were three days a year I liked going shopping with my mother.


For clarity’s sake, I can’t stress enough that there were only three days a year I liked going shopping with my mother. This isn’t intended as a shot at my saintly Mommy, as shopping with anybody when I was a kid was akin to sitting at the table and doing homework for 12 hours straight while someone kept poking me with a sharp stick and reminding me that the Baltimore Orioles blew a 3-1 lead in the 1979 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and...

But I digress.

The first acceptable shopping day was my birthday. I remember vividly to this day walking in to Sears in the White Oak Shopping Center in Maryland with the promise that I could choose my own present. This was not a task to be taken lightly, and it carried a lot of pressure with the responsibility.

What if I chose something I hated two days later? What if I froze under duress and went with a pack of socks? What if Sears got rid of their toys and sporting goods and I was left with a set of mixing bowls and a socket wrench?

I stalked each aisle, not allowing any piece of merchandise to escape my eye, and then I walked the aisles again. I held a football in my hands, then a baseball mitt. Then a football again, this one packaged with a kicking tee. A basketball caught my attention and I began to make a move for it before I heard my mother’s nurturing words in my ear: “Pick out something before I grab you a pack of underwear and we leave.”

I loved that football.

And I loved going to the store each year to pick out a Halloween costume. Now, back then there weren’t these Halloween superstores that you see today, or if there were, the McCanns did not shop there. No, we went to the drug store and chose a box. The box had this plastic garb that went over your shoulders and a plastic mask that would attach to your head via a rubber band stapled to the back.

The mask had two eye holes and a tiny nose hole so you could breathe, but after hitting about three houses we all had that mask flipped up on top of our heads because it somehow acted like a convection oven, and would cause you to sweat more than Tommy Chong sitting next to Jeff Sessions on a cross-country bus ride.

But the shopping part was fun, remember? There was the thrill of becoming someone else, if even for a day, and the hope deep down in your heart that you would walk out of that store with the coolest costume of all. Then I would hear my mother lean over and say, “Pick out something before I grab you a pack of adult diapers and you can go as Baby New Year.”

I loved that Spiderman costume.

The third, and last, day I loved to go shopping with my mother was for back-to-school supplies. It was exciting to go back to school to reunite with people you hadn’t seen all summer, and, despite my consistent inability to focus very well on classes or homework, I always felt like new school supplies were going to be “the difference.” You know — fresh start, and all.

Oh, sure, you had that pesky list you had to follow, but those were the easy ones because you didn’t really care all that much what you got.

Protractor? Check.

Drawing compass? Check.

Band-Aids because I always stabbed myself with the stupid compass about 15 minutes after I got home? Check.

No. 2 pencils? Now, this is where it got interesting.

As much as I adore my dear mother, she never quite got her head around the fact that I needed a certain type of No. 2 pencil. To her, from the perspective of a teacher, if it said “No. 2” on it then it would work on a Scantron test, and that’s all there was to it.

To me, the person who would actually be using these pencils, there was more at stake. The pencil had to fit nicely in my hand. It couldn’t have one of those ridiculous green erasers on it. And it had to have a certain flexibility to it because I would be facing off against my friends in epic pencil fights where we would...

I’ve said too much.

But the pencils were just a precursor to the battle that would come — the Trapper Keeper.

To my mother, a Trapper Keeper was a Trapper Keeper. To me, the Trapper Keeper was a flag. It told people who you were, and what you were about. What did a plain blue Trapper Keeper tell people? That you like blue? That your mother picked out your Trapper Keeper?

No, no, no. Mine had to be “me.” I needed something that would make the other boys in school envious, and the girls all aflutter. For generations to follow, people would be sharing poems written about my glorious Trapper Keeper, and visitors from around the world would make a pilgrimage for a chance to steal a peak at the famous boy and his Trapper Keeper.

“Pick out something before I grab you a manilla folder you can stick all your papers in instead.”

I got the blue one. There were no poems. There were no pilgrims.