It was a big dark room, with dark squeaky wood floors, best I remember. My desk had been used by a hundred other kids before me and had an empty spot for an inkwell. Inkwells, even in my day, being long abandoned for #3 graphite pencils. We called them lead pencils but they were graphite. The bigger and intimidating 5th and 6th graders were on the other side of a central desk and a big, pot-bellied coal stove from us newbies. Also on the desk, one might say its central feature, was a fearsome looking pine paddle that kids of our day didn't have to be told the meaning of.
There was discipline in the school in those days. Kids listened to the teachers and for the most part did what they were told, when they were told, and with respect. We were told that very first day what to expect, and we were expected to remember it. One rule I remember was no playing in the coal pile out back. I had never played in a coal pile, but didn't think I wanted to investigate the possibility.
I rode to school with mom and dad that first day. Dad had an 8mm motion picture camera and I have actual film of me going in the front door of that old Church building that day. After that I was taught how to walk the route to school each day it wasn't snowing or raining. I walked with a friend up the street named Butch Campbell. Later when I was older, I occasionally rode a bicycle to school, but for the most part all the kids walked. In the 6th grade the exception was Troy Bazzel who had a real motorcycle, a slight smirk like Elvis Presley, and a cool black leather coat the rest of us guys would have killed for. They didn't let him park it on the school lot but he parked it across the street as I remember. I liked Troy he and I both built model airplanes.
In the 4th grad I walked home with a boy named Dale Rogers. I learned about life and death with Dale. We walked home one day, parted at the intersection of Bard Road and went our separate directions. He lived just over the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. When I got home I heard the sirens of an Ambulance and the Police. I looked out the back window and saw a train stopped and some sort of commotion back there. I hopped on my bike and went back to see just as Dale's mother came walking to the Ambulance, sobbing and carrying Dale's legs. Dale had tried to scoot and roll under the slow moving cars of the train, to get home quicker. He died quickly of shock. My classmates and I were Pallbearers, something I was not ready for at that age. But boy, did I find out about life and death.
Style was important, even back then. Troy Bazzel with his leather jacket, was the best dresser in school of course; but my mom made all my flannel shirts each winter, and trimmed all the sleeves off short for the next summer. She made all my sister's dresses too. My early childhood best friend was Dennis Janes. Dennis's Mother died during Dennis's birth because of a drunken Doctor. Dennis, his older brother, (street name "Mousie" who, owned a switch-blade knife, and had been to reform school), and two older sisters Janet and Gloria, "Gordie", lived with their aged great-grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Shultz. The very elderly Mr. Shultz worked at the local Dry Cleaners/Laundry. He hobbled to work and back each day, and the Janes kids were all, (girls and boys), neatly clothed in white dress shirts and freshly starched jeans left unclaimed at the Laundry. It was a huge embarrassment to Dennis as he got a little older, I thought he looked sharp, but he was envious of my flannel shirts, so we would swap for the day occasionally and swap back before we got home. Times were desperate for some folks in those days, but we seldom talked of such things.
We moved mid-winter or early spring, that first year, to the new school building with three actual classrooms and new desks and equipment. The building was a hexagon with the upper half wall made up of glass blocks and windows that slanted out. Lots of light compared to the old Church building. I got in trouble that first morning. It was a foggy spring morning outside. Our teacher, Max Edrington's mother, had to go to the Principal's
office and told us not to leave our desks. Bill Shaver said, "Wow!, look at the fog." I thought he said frog and jumped up to stare out the window, just as Mrs. Edrington came back. I was devastated to get in trouble in front of the little girl on the front row. Her name was Joy Boyd, a good reader like I was as the class read about "Bill and Jane", and she helped me discover girls that year. She was the love of my life for about 5 or 6 weeks or so.
We played ball and hop scotch, marbles, Woofie over the River (tag), as well as on the seesaw, slide, and swings. The boys also scalped the soil of moss and built moss-roofed forts and villages with stick fences and smooth roads and bridges (playing with what we had). I learned early on not to gamble playing keeper marbles. And I learned I was one of the slowest boys in school trying to not be "It" in Woofie. We could also bring cap guns to school as long as there were no caps in them, and the boys played cowboy's and quick draw without ever developing any kind of life-threatening character flaws. Bullies learned not to bully on the bottom of a pile of flesh, with a proud black eye for the smaller kid, and a fat lip and soul-shaking embarrassment for the Bully. I never did get in that coal pile.
Teaching in those days was intense. Every event was a Teaching Event. I remember in 4th grade when we listened to the News on the radio that Machine Gun Kelly had been executed in prison. Somber news but we learned crime did not pay. On Thanksgiving we learned what it meant to be thankful. Not just about the Pilgrims; though all the Thanksgiving Story Characters were on the wall. No, we learned why they were thankful. Scripture and all. And what a Thanksgiving Meal we enjoyed, in Character. Every play our students preformed was a History Lesson, every current event a geography lesson. No teaching opportunity was wasted.
Our 5th and 6th grade teacher and Principal was Mrs. Hollis. She was stern looking but we loved her. She made us memorize Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith".
The Village Blacksmith
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
We started classes out with Prayer, Salutes, and the Pledge of Allegiance. We were taught how to fold a flag and run it up a flagpole respectfully. We weren't taught how to take standardized tests, we were taught how to conquer life, how to accomplish something with our lives, and how to keep America Great. What has happened to today's school mission? Where did we go wrong? Where have our Teachers gone? Why are our School Boards purchasing Communist leaning textbooks with watered down American History? What in Heaven's Name has happened? Our Schools are bankrupt of Education. Our Department of Education is corrupt and foreign to the interests of our Children. Our kids don't even understand the Evils of Fascism, Socialism and Communism because they are wrongly taught as virtuous. Our kids don't even know who Adolph Hitler was. He was the original Socialist Democrat. Now we have Bernie Sanders a Socialist Democrat running for President and our Millennials have been raised, blind, clueless, and ignorant. The Death of our Educational System has been decades coming. We have missed the clues of its demise somehow. We MUST fix it soon. Very Soon, before our youngest kids forget what Civilization is.