Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to School Way Back When - Memories of Me Monday

{Franklin Park - formerly Franklin Elementary School; Redondo Beach, CA.}
TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Describe the grade schools you attended (what were the buildings like, the area; did you walk or bus), and physical descriptions."

Most of my grade school years were spent in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  All southern California elementary schools looked alike in those days.  Three or four classrooms were strung together in long rectangular buildings separated by concrete walkways and some grass and trees.  At one or the other end of the classrooms were the bathrooms, and sometimes an audio-visual room.  One row would also have the library, which was the same size as the classrooms.  Another long building usually stretched perpendicularly across one end of the row of classrooms, with space between for walkways.  This was the administration building and the front of the school.

There'd be a huge square of asphalt behind the school, that was the playground.  It was partitioned off into a number of zones: the kindergarten play-yard was always separate from the other kids; there was another fenced off area where we parked our bikes and which was closed and locked during the day; an area closest to the classrooms held the playground equipment (slides, swings, monkey bars, parallel and chin-up bars, teeter-totters, and a merry-go-round); there was a grassy area in a back corner with a baseball backstop where we played ball games; the rest of the playground was either open space, or were painted with lines designating basketball, tetherball or dodgeball, hopskotch, and foursquare.

There was no cafeteria.  We all brought lunch from home and if you forgot yours, hopefully your mom would bring it to you, or the teacher or other students would share theirs with you.  We had metal lunchboxes with thermoses and our moms packed tuna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, and fruit, and milk.  No one had yet come up with the bright idea of installing soda or snack vending machines on school grounds.  You ate what your mom packed or you traded with the other kids.

That would've been a pretty typical California elementary school in the 1960's.  All of the students walked to school, or rode their bikes.  No one lived so far away that they had to be bussed or driven to school.  We went to school with the same kids we were neighbors with.  Our parents all knew each other.  Our moms were active in the PTA and were our Room Mothers.  Our dads volunteered in the Boy Scouts, put us to work in the yards or garage on weekends, and did all the home repairs.

There were no drugs at school, except maybe an aspirin from the school nurse if you were running a fever.  But even that was rare; our moms were at home so if we got sick, they came and got us.

 {a school similar to how I remember Eden Prairie Elementary School}

I attended the 3rd and 4th grades in Minnesota where the schools were very different.  Instead of rows of classrooms with outdoor walkways, in cold-weather Minnesota the elementary schools were one huge multi-floored brick building.  Classrooms lined either side of long dusty hallways.  The bathrooms, or washrooms, as they were called, held rows of stalls (at least in the girl's, I never saw the boy's facilities) and, in a large open area at one end was a round, free-standing sink, about belly-height to a 9-year old.  Girls could gather all around the edges of this sink, step on a chrome ring that circled it at floor level, and hold their hands under the sheet of water from the round faucet in the center.

I loved that sink!  It was very social.  We girls would stand there letting the warm water run over our hands, and chat.  We had a great time in there, sharing secrets and giggling.  There was a lot of camaraderie.  The teachers often had to run us out of there.  I've rarely seen "communal" sinks like that since those two years in a Minnesota grade school.  It's really a shame.

In California we had huge windows on both sides of our classrooms, a hard sheeting on the floor that always seemed dusty, and a small closet for our coats and lunches. You could tell what time of the year it was, or what the class was currently studying, by the drawings and projects taped to the windows.  The teacher had a large desk at the front of the room, where huge blackboards covered the wall.  There was a white projection screen, and maps, that could be rolled down out of metal tubes above the chalkboard.  Our desks were one piece with plastic chairs, a laminate surface for the desktop. and a basket under the chair to hold our books and papers.  I can't remember for sure whether the laminate tops were hinged and opened into a storage well, but they probably did.

Our desks in Minnesota were similar in that they were all one piece, but there was no basket underneath, and they had had a very deep well for our books under the hinged wooden lid.  The lids had inkwells so obviously they'd been around a long time!  Just inside the well was a tray for our pencils and crayons but we used them for another purpose as well.

Eating powdered Jell-O gelatin was very popular then; we'd sneak a box out of our mom's kitchen and take it to school.  There, we'd carefully pour a small mound of the green, red, yellow, or orange powder onto a corner of the pencil tray.  Then, throughout the day we could slip a moistened finger inside our desk and then nonchalantly bring that finger to our mouths for an sneaky treat.  It got so popular that it was bound to be found out, and jello was soon banned from our classrooms.  I remember well my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Lindgren, striding up and down the rows of desks checking every student's fingers for tell-tale stains!

In Minnesota, like in California, we taped our special papers and projects to the windows.  But the windows were a lot smaller and when your classroom is on the 2nd floor there isn't going to be anyone walking by outside to see the papers, so we taped them facing in toward the class instead of out.  Our classroom floors were wood, and so were the long hallways.  Inset into the walls outside each classroom was a long bench with hooks above and space underneath.  This is where we sat to remove our knit hats, mittens, scarves, boots, and snowsuits when we arrived at school on a winter morning, and where we again sat at the end of the day to bundle back up.  The same routine was repeated to go outside to the playground, where we went on all but the coldest of days.  There was also a large glassed-in display window, similar to what you'd see at a department store.  The back opened into our classroom.  There were glass shelves.  This is where we displayed some of the projects we worked on; usually art projects.

Once, during a arts and crafts period, I got creative and made some 3-dimension animals out of construction paper.  I had horses and cows, dogs and cats, and even an elephant.  Mr. Lindgren was so impressed he dedicated the display window of our classroom to my creations for two whole weeks.  I was very proud.

Minnesota was much more rural than where I'd lived in California.  Houses were further apart from each other, there was no little corner store, and school was definitely not within walking distance.  We were bussed from our housing subdivisions to school.  Can you imagine how long it must have taken my mom to get three of us out of the house in full winter regalia?  Not to mention keeping an eye on my two little sisters, who weren't in school yet.  Actually, it was just Mike and I who took the early bus; Steve was in Kindergarten, and his bus came about an hour later.  Which was a good thing because whenever Mike and I didn't manage to get out of the house and over to the bus stop in time, we simply waited and got on the bus with "the little kids."  That was embarrassing, though, and we had to take notes, from mom, so we'd be excused for arriving late.

I didn't like riding the bus, either one.  I was so shy that it was a daily challenge to screw up my courage and climb those steps.  Our bus was crowded and I never knew if there'd be an empty seat next to a child who wouldn't tease me or pick on me.  Boys were the worst, the 6th grade boys, a terror.  Bullies gravitate to children who are timid so I got my share of pokes, jeers, and rude comments.  They often tried to get me to talk but I'd grit my teeth and just stare straight ahead.  I don't remember ever saying a word on the bus.  My brother told the other boys that I only had  half a tongue, and that's why I never spoke.  They all wanted to see that for themselves but I never gave in.

Our bus passed by a golf course.  Every day I'd stare out the window and try to see down into the ditch between the road and golf course.  The older kids had passed the rumor that there was a decapitated corpse in that ditch.  I wished desperately to catch a glimpse of it, but was also terrified of that wish might coming true.

In Minnesota we had a huge cafeteria at school.  My brother and I usually brought lunch from home but now and then we were thrilled to be given 25 cents to buy the school lunch.  You collected a plastic tray at one end of the long metal counter.  As you moved down the counter you were handed a plate of food, perhaps a small dish of jello, and a piece of fruit.  At the other end was the cashier who also presided over racks of milk cartons.  You were allowed one carton of milk with your lunch.  If you wanted another carton of milk it cost a penny.

Yes, a penny!

There was a small white dish at the cashier's table for us to put the pennies in.  This way she didn't have to stop ringing up the student's lunches, taking money and giving change, and could keep the line of students moving.  We also didn't have to wait in line again.

I don't know where I got the bright idea that I could just pretend to put a penny in the dish.  I like to think it was my brother, Mike's, idea, but I have to confess I think it was actually all my own.  I only did it a few times - I'd walk up to the cashier when she was very busy. I'd have my thumb and first two fingers pinched together as though I were holding a penny.  Then I'd pretend to place it in the dish, at the same time giving the existing pennies a little swirl to create the tell-tale rattle of coins. 

Then I'd pick up my carton of milk and head back to the lunch table.  I thought I was pretty dang clever!

Yeah, it's hard to believe I was brave enough to do that.  It seems totally out of character but maybe it was a way to make myself feel better after the crap I'd get handed on the bus nearly every day.  A way to prove to myself that I wasn't a complete retard.  I wasn't brave enough to ever tell anyone, though . . . 'til now. . . gee, I hope that school doesn't come after me for their three cents.

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Describe at least one family tradition that you remember from childhood.  Do you have a favorite tradition?  Describe that one.  Which did you like the least?  Describe that one, too."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was really fun to read, Debbie. I wish you had told me about those bullies on the bus. I would have done something about it! Maybe Michael did the right thing telling them about your tongue. Made you a kind of mystery woman, like the corpse in the ditch! Love you, Mom