Sometimes I wish my mind would shut down and stop dragging out the pieces of "Before." Well, it won't but if I write it down it will help some. I know that - so here goes....
Ya know, I got to thinking about how much my schooldays have formed me and the memory of grammar school is becoming more and more vivid as I age. I wonder why that is? Would you believe that I remember most of my teachers and their names and their traits through grades K-4? Let’s start with my first day at school.
It was quite a walk to get there, up the road, through the woods, across a street, and up a flight of concrete steps to the actual brick school. There was a crossing guard in front of the school for us “walkers.” On my first day I didn’t want to go at all. My mother walked with me and promised a lunch of her homemade split pea soup when we got home after school. That did it! My dress was a homemade pink one with little white puff balls making the pattern. My shoes were freshly polished, not new, but polished white buckle type. I already knew how to buckle them myself and was proud of this feat.
My kindergarten teacher was Miss DeVega. We learned to read by using the Dick And Jane and Spot books. They weren’t ours but were passed out each day. When we read our assigned page well as a class accomplishment on a day, we were treated to a song called the “Whistler and His Dog” that she played on an old horn-type phonograph. We all as a class, loved that song and the reward. It made us feel happy and cheerful. There was also a dog statue on the table beside the player.
Betsy wet her pants almost every day. She was the only one who did that. John’s clothes were almost always scruffy, and another little girl seemed to have something strange about her actions and speech, but we learned how to get along together quite well that first year. I was very observant and the next year things stood out more. I took it all in.
In first grade I walked back and forth to school no matter the weather with three other girls from my neighborhood. Sometimes we skipped and sometimes we ran. I remember the teacher being strict. Our lessons were conducted on the large chalkboard. It was a privilege to be asked the slap out the chalk from the eraser just before the end of the day. We went outside and beat them on the brick wall of the school. One time the teacher dropped a piece of chalk on the schoolroom floor. I was in the front row and she asked me to pick it up. That didn’t set right with me so I got up and smashed it with my foot. Shocked everyone. Then I was asked to clean it up and when I was done I was punished by having to put my head down on my arms on the desktop. Do you know why I smashed it? My reasoning was that if you drop something you pick it up. If you break something you clean it up. It didn’t seem fair at the time but I didn’t mind at all cleaning it up! She didn’t even say “please.”
I even parted my own hair!
In second grade we were all very close and knew a lot about each other. We learned to knit 5" x 5" squares “for the soldiers” to make blankets to send overseas to keep them warm. All of us did that and we rolled torn sheet strips to make bandages. Every week our dime cardboard savings books were passed to each of us and our dime, if we had one that week, was put in to learn how to save and the books were returned to the teacher. Cursive handwriting began. Coloring time was done as a reward after accomplishments in reading and writing. Crayons were shared by all.
Third grade was a rough time for teachers, kids and parents. There were air raid drills and we were marched in line to the school basements and had to sit on the floors with our heads down and arms around our legs and be silent. The basement pipes were covered in white asbestos and it was musty smelling there. Polio struck a few students. We even went to the iron lung ward at the hospital to visit classmates who were victims. It was scary to hear this noisy machine breathing for someone with only their head sticking at at one end. Not all children stricken by polio had to be in the iron lung. Daniel was fitted with a leg and back brace and played with us on the playground and we were very careful to not knock him off balance. But! I was becoming a scrapper when teased or challenged in the recess periods. I somehow had learned that fisticuffs was an activity I excelled in and that, if I pressed my thumb behind an opponent’s ear, they would faint and I was the winner. I think I learned to defend myself because I grew up with many boys in the neighborhood and they did a lot of scrapping. I remember a boy named Tracy actually kicked the teacher when he didn’t want to do something she asked and he tore her stockings! The entire class was shocked and she just grabbed him and marched him to the principal’s office for punishment. The boy behind me pulled my braids. I learned to ignore him.
We all mellowed out in 4th grade. Learning was fun! Large geography maps were pulled down from the ceiling and a wooden pointer stick was used to learn about the world and the country. An accomplishment that we ALL learned was to be able to point out each state and name it on another pull down map that had no labels. Lifetime friendships were formed and Valentine’s Day was a big deal. The teacher showed us a technique to relax and go to sleep easier at night. I still use it.
By now we kids all knew who Roosevelt, Churchill, McArthur, Hirohito, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and others were and what they did but we DID NOT learn about them in school. We learned from our parents and our friends.
From there I went to a Junior High School and it was the best school a kid should ever have. Fifth through ninth grade - art of all kinds, woodshop, band, choir, orchestra, dance, home economics, typing, shorthand, gym, track, volleyball, this school had it all besides English, History, Geography, Math, and the teachers were the wonders of the best lifetime education a kid could receive.