The Early Years
I have been busy trying to remember all the good times of growing up. I have come up with more blank places than detailed memories. Often it is more about ‘feelings,’ than specific events that come to mind. I’m missing most of my recollections about my elementary education. Since that was a little further back in my history it is probably normal to have limited recollections of that so long ago. I also suspect that because these early learning experiences were just a little traumatic I may have blocked out some unpleasantness from those days. It wasn’t the kind of trauma that is usually associated with that word, but a reaction to a high amount of life-changing stimuli that seemed to come from all directions. No longer was I home in my momma’s arms, but rather I was thrown together with a bunch of wild, untrained children of varied backgrounds. The teachers were now my main authority figures and I barely knew them. I got little comfort from those poor ladies that struggled daily to make classes fun, instructive, and under control. For me, sometimes it was just a trail of confusion. I was rather in a haze of some kind. There were times when I wanted to rebel and run home to a nicer environment. I doubted others had the same feelings. They didn’t express them to me or I would have had a kindred spirit, for sure.
There’s no doubt that the level of maturity among the students varied. Those with no experience of attending any social functions such as Sunday school, church, scouts, or even hunt clubs, taffy pulls, or barn-raisings were put into the classrooms to figure out their own ‘pecking order.’ Behavior of students so richly endowed with energy and with lack of discipline made for exciting times. Some wanted to test how much mischief might be endured by the adults before going too far. They usually found out by a visit to the principal’s office.
We also had to deal with the influx of new information in form of academic lessons, but there were social training opportunities, too. Whether it was shooting marbles, playing on the few pieces of playground equipment, a game of dodgeball, musical chairs, or merely chasing others around the playground, we learned stuff that became important foundations for adding what was to follow.
Questions asked by the teachers were often answered best by the ‘wise for their age’ boys or several smart girls. While we would never openly admit to such a thing we began to accept that girls were smarter when it came to school things. They certainly had more discipline and sweeter dispositions. On the other hand I figured that they would be of little use hunting or fishing. I came to admire that rare girl that would bait her own hook or prove to be an ‘Annie Oakley’ with her shooting. I saw them as too wiggly and prone to squeal to be good at any of the ‘manly’ activities I enjoyed. I had to admit though, they were cute, especially when they were all prettied up acting so prim and dainty.
You see, those times were different. There seemed to be a marked difference between girls and boys. I don’t mean to say one was more valuable than the other, but that we saw things differently and fell into traditional roles if life. Young girls wore dresses or a more informal skirt and a blouse. Later a skirt and sweater would become the uniform of the day. Except for a certain cab driver, and perhaps one or two more ladies somewhere in town, all women wore skirts, dresses and often an apron. When going downtown, a dressy hat and white gloves would be added to their ‘Sunday’ best. No one would ever dare to go outside with curlers or without makeup.
Boys on the other hand tended to wear khaki, corduroy, or wool trousers. Those from the county tended to wear jeans of either the western or bibbed variety. In warm weather I wore cotton sport shirts, but only buttoned up the front when the occasion demanded. When it cooled down I switched to wool. When I complained of itching, mom would have me wear a t-shirt under the outer garment. It had to be really cold before jackets or heavy coats were draped over my boney shoulders. I had a cub scout uniform that mom and I bought in a Huntington department store. I knew the name back then, but it’s run off to hide in those dark recesses. There’s an advantage in having a place to store such things, for not everything is worth remembering.
I have asked the readers to send me some memories from their grade-school years. I’m talking about happy memories that bring about a nostalgia, not those things we regret. Sharing regrets bring about hurts that hide under the scars of growing up and do little to restore that which was lost. On the other hand fun, laughter, and fellowship restores and makes pleasant and worthwhile memories. I have searched high and low and can’t find pictures of our grade school or even the outlying schools. If you have any, please share them.
I remember Quincy Childress ringing the grade school bell. A small man, he would be pulled from the landing into the air as he hung onto the bell rope. He sometimes allowed me to join him with both of us riding the lanyard high in the air. What a fun thing!
I remember the smell of lunch cooking downstairs on the first floor. I didn’t eat there more than a couple of times because I lived just a few short blocks away. It was in the cafeteria that I first tasted margarine on a hot freshly baked roll. We always had butter at home, which was brought to us by the ‘butter lady,’ every Saturday. Today, I still love butter, but have to admit I went through a time of preferring margarine.
I remember Bill Cheek bringing us fruit such as pears that were wrapped in a greenish tissue-paper in a cardboard box. I’d grab one of those and attack it as if I were a hungry beast of some sort. I think he brought apples, and maybe peaches, but I couldn’t pull up more than a dim memory. There were times when I was in high school that he drove his red jeep to outlying schools to take fruit or other supplies and he’d take me along. It is those very schools that I’m hoping someone will tell me about. So many of my classmates started their schooling in small, or even one-room schools. I can’t write about things I haven’t experienced, but I can pass those stories along for others to enjoy. Telling about those good times will keep them alive and help the following generations understand how our generation lived. Frankly, I wish my grandmother, or great grandparents, had written down some of the stories of their day. Can you imagine what their memories might have been?
America, and especially eastern Kentucky was undergoing major changes during the years I grew up in that area. Roads were being built that would remove the river as a major resource for business or travel. The corduroy roads in the low wetlands disappeared as bridges were added. Access to the hollows and ridges of the county became easier. Those early scary bridges, especially the ones made of swinging ropes, became rarer. Rustic log cabins were modernized with additions and in some cases covered with slap-board. New inventions like TV’s and cars became part of life. Yes, I saw horses pulling wagons into town on Saturdays to pick up grain and other essentials. I would see a lone rider occasionally trotting down the street, and I’d see model A’s and model T’s. Some were fashioned into trucks, but more commonly I saw the cars of the late thirties and forties. During the war years older cars just had to do. Detroit was making airplanes and tanks. Afterward, the models became more modern and the roads were improving so travel to distant places was more common.
I remember when Frank Webster was principal at our grade school. He left to teach at the high school, so Rev. Charles Perry served as principal. He was the preacher for my church. I remember Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Hayes, Mrs. Burgess, Mrs. Jackson, and others that taught at Louisa Grade school. I think it was in fifth grade that my mouth got me into some trouble with Mrs. Burgess. She grabbed her paddle and came up the aisle toward me. Anticipating a painful event, I hung onto my desk with all my might, trying to keep my bottom in contact with my seat. She lifted me and the desk up into the air until the chair fell away. Whap! Oh, I was sooooo sorry. I made promises to behave through my tears and she turned and returned to the front of the classroom. I learned to pay attention in class. My grades started to reflect that I had turned the corner from bad to good. Well, maybe. It was short-lived if true. I had other paddlings later in other grades.
I know some of the teachers I knew in high school had started at country schools, sometimes as a teacher or a principal. It was in the seventh grade that the influx of students from out of town rode into Louisa High School. These kids made up more than half of the kids in my class. I had known the town kids all my life, but these new students brought with them new ideas and foreign experiences that enriched our experiences. The diversity of backgrounds gave us new appreciation for other points of view. We learned lessons we would use the rest of our lives.
By coincidence the eighth and ninth grades marked a time that interest in the opposite sex became a new factor. Once shunning those sissy girls, many of my friends had started to seek them out for companionship. At first this created a problem for me because my friends were busy just when I wanted to break my boredom by playing ball or doing something; anything. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand their new-found interests because I was finding girls to be fun, too. I may have actually taken one or two to the Garden Theater, or maybe to Dee’s Drive In. I do know that I was invited by a young lady from Webbville to a school dance. I went and had a great time, but sadly I ended up ruining the evening through some stupid behavior with another girl that night after the first had headed home. I have regretted it since, because I really liked her. It was peer pressure that set me up. I learned, but it was a hurtful lesson for several of us.
The old brick grade school had a two-story front section with a wide staircase near the front by the principal’s office. Half-way up was the landing where the bell lanyard hung. A few years prior to my attending the school a two-story addition was added to the rear of the building. The lower floor contained a dining room, a kitchen, and restrooms. The old school before my time originally had outhouses. It was a wooden structure that had a wall inside to divide two long rooms. Boys entered one end and the girls, the other. I think it may have originally sat behind the school, but I remember seeing it up on a rise on the south side where there were no doors. I remember when they tore them down, but I did use them at least once during a recess during my first year or so attending classes there.
I’m not at all real sure but it seems to me the classrooms in the old section had pot-belly stoves for winter heat. I don’t think the newer section had them. The back section also had a staircase, but instead of wood my memory makes me think these steps were concrete. The readers may be able to add more details. I remember the concrete wall outside the back door. We used the wall to clean erasers by banging them against the wall. This left white chalk marks that would stay there until the next rain. When doing a lot of them it was hard to breath because of the chalk dust.
Please write of one or two memories that I may share for future generations. The next class of kids who stumble upon the writing will be so grateful. You may tell me to share or forgo your name, as you wish. It is the meat of the story that will be added to the lives of others. Those who love history will understand and marvel at how we struggled with so little to end up in the world with its staggering inventions. We are blessed. We should be proud and say so. Write me. firstname.lastname@example.org