School Back in the Day
In 1950, with my sixth birthday falling long after the cut-off date for beginning first grade, my parents placed me in private school. Mrs. Bode's School was a two-story white stucco house on Monroe St., just behind our house on Madison. If I stood in the back yard and looked across the alley and between two duplexes, I could see the school.
There were two rooms and two teachers. One of them informed my father I'd memorized Dick and Jane, but the fact of the matter was, my maternal grandmother was deaf, and in order for the grandchildren to communicate with her, we had to be able to write. Thus, she taught us how to read long before we went to school. My father told the teacher to give me the next day's newspaper, which he'd make sure I didn't see at home. She did, I read it, and we settled the question.
The Korean War (or "police action" was raging), so in our spare time at school, we drew "war maps", consisting of colored squiggles and spaces on a piece of paper. (Two years later, I remember being about to walk out the back door of my grandparents' house next door to ours and hearing the breaking news bulletin on television that a truce had been signed.)
In second grade, my father did some wheeling and dealing with the school superintendent, also a member of our church, and got me transferred to Lamar, a smaller school than the one all the private school students were assigned to. Lamar, a boxy tan stucco building with a red slate roof, was one of the first four 'ward schools' in San Angelo. Originally, it had been West Ward and sat on the dead end of where Pecos intersected with South David. It was separated by a narrow alley/drive from Cox's Funeral Home on the left. The right was open area for a playground and ran down the hill to a group of shanties from which we drew some of our school population. The PTA mothers always made sure those children had shoes and coats in cold weather.
The school, presided over by veteran educator Miss Lida Gibbs, a tiny no-nonsense lady, had one of each grade. First, second, and third occupied the ground floor with a large room euphemistically called "the music room", while fourth, fifth, and sixth were upstairs with a library and the bookroom. The classrooms were large with tall windows on one side and heated in winter by radiators. If our socks got wet for any reason, we took them off and hung them over the radiators!
Our janitor, Manuel, didn't speak much English, but he took good care of the school. Each room also had a 'cloak room', a long narrow space with one window at the end and hooks on the wall for coats and a shelf above for lunch pails. Being banished to the cloak room for talking too much was a disgrace. We also had to stand at the blackboard with our noses in a circle, but nobody screamed about our self-esteem being damaged or our civil rights being violated. If we got in trouble at school, we generally got in trouble at home. I suppose Miss Lida had a paddle, but I never heard of her using it. Still, we didn't cotton to being sent to her office for anything serious.
There was the boys' side and the girls' side so far as restrooms, water fountains, and playgrounds. We had morning milk break (6 cents for white, 7 cents for chocolate) on the boys' side. The milk came in glass bottles and was delivered daily in wire crates.We had the standard playground equipment: swings, merry-go-rounds, see-saws, swinging rings, and eventualy a jungle gym with bars, thanks to the PTA. We played jacks and jumped rope. There was a concrete slab for dodgeball and a baseball field. If we got hurt, a teacher patched us up. Nobody sued over a skinned knee or even a broken arm. Those disasters were just part of being a kid.
We had a full hour for lunch. We brought our lunch or went home. My mother made taking my lunch a special once-a-week treat. Otherwise, I went home to eat vegetabes instead of a pressed ham sandwich and packaged cupcakes.
At Halloween, fathers volunteered to build wooden booths (which had to be knocked down immediately afterwards) for the annual carnival. We had a fish pond and a haunted house in the 'music room' , where we all shrieked loudly even though we knew the 'witch' was really one of the mothers who wouldn't hurt a fly.
At Christmas, we had a tree and drew numbers to exchange gifts. For Valentine Day, some room mother would sacrifice a round hatbox to decorate, and we put our cards into it. They were passed out on the 14th. We always had a big party on holidays and sometimes for birthdays with sweets galore. We didn't worry about obesity in those days as we all played hard at school and went home to play outside again until dark. Few people had television, and video games didn't exist. Neither did 'fast food', at least in the availability of today.
The library was a wonderland of books. We might also manage to sneak a peak at the latest National Geographic for pictures of scantily-clad natives in far-off lands! I remember being sent to the book room on an errand once and getting locked in when the door blew shut. A "big sixth grader" rescued me when my screams reached epic proportions.
Unfortunately, the schoolboard closed Lamar just before my sixth grade year and turned it into the first special education facility in San Angelo. I was sent to Stephen F. Austin, a much larger school, where being the new kid on the block turned into something of a nightmare. I made cheerleader that year for the Little Olympics (before that I'd always been in the Pep Squad), but other than that, I remember just being glad the year was over.