Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My First Backpack

By Guy Sharwood, Groovy Reflections Team Member

J.F. graduated Bullard High in 1970 two years before me. These days he lives in the foothills and plays with an acoustic group. I knew J.F.'s whole family of origin, including his brother Lee, who was my age. Back then, J.F. was already making a name for himself as a bassist/vocalist in a rock band that underwent various names and personnel changes.

About the last quarter of the '69-'70 school year, J.F. started strolling around the BHS campus with a canvas backpack strapped onto his shoulders. What was so unusual about this, one may ask? Simply that nobody else did this back then. We kept everything in those school lockers with combinations we had to memorize--a different one each year.

But two years later it was catching on and more students began carrying them around and I wanted one, too. For years now they're so commonplace that people like actress Lydia Cornell from Too Close for Comfort was making use of them. My wife Lynda uses one. But in 1972 it was still a comparative rarity.

I'm guessing J.F. might have picked up the idea of using one from reading Jack Kerouac, who started using one in the '50s (he called it "a rucksack") while keeping company with Gary Snyder ("Japhy Ryder" in The Dharma Bums). Then again, I could be wrong. J.F. himself discontinued the practice after a short time. But gradually, the concept caught on.

I just wish that had been the case while I was growing up. I never liked lugging a lot of books, plus my Pee-Chee folders and binder, underneath a single arm. It was especially a pain while trying to maneuver a bicycle. 

At one point I asked Dad if I could get a metal basket attached to the front. He said "No," baskets were "just for girls." Dad would never admit to it, but he was something of a misogynist and he didn't think "real men" should have a "feminine side." But witness these days how many guys ride "girl's bikes" with no one thinking anything of it. In fact, so have I.

But the compromise he came up with was a total farce. Namely a clamp fastened above the rear wheel. I hated that thing so much because my books would keep sliding out of it and falling onto the ground, leaving me to stop, stoop over, pick them up and put them back into the clamp--that is, until the next time they slid off of it!

I still remember the Saturday morning I woke up preparing to start the Freddy the Pig book (by Walter R. Brooks) that I had checked out from the library over on Fountain Way near my junior high school. So I began searching around and thought "Uh Oh." 

I got on my bike and rode it toward the school, using the same route I had taken going home. As soon as I'd gotten a block or two away from the school, I found the book, sitting in a mud puddle from a recent rainstorm. Mom had to pay the library a fine of $3.50.--thanks to that worthless clamp on my bicycle. And I never did get around to reading that particular book, fond as I was of the "Freddy" series.

I eventually started walking to school more, rather than bicycling. The distance to school wasn't that great. Not until I started High School, anyway.

So when my 18th birthday came up in the spring of 1972, my senior year, I requested and received my first backpack. I carried that thing around pretty much everywhere. It became something of an appendage. I eventually stopped using my locker at school, and that saved a lot of time for me getting around between classes. And I started bicycling to and from school again, having both arms free to maneuver the bicycle made a tremendous difference.

I don't even want to count up how many backpacks I've made use of over the years. Suffice it to say a lot of them. I still like to be able to lug a lot of different things around at once. I still like having both my hands free. Except when I'm holding my wife's hand.

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Anonymous said...

Great story Guy! I loved it, I was prior to the back pack generation, but sure would have used one if they'd been available (and cool of course) LOL

Guy Sharwood said...


Guy Sharwood said...