When I started school my new purchases also began in the summer. I stayed for several weeks with my Grandfather and Grandmother or Grammie and Grampie as we called them. As we got older that changed to Gram and Gramp but I could always count on new shoes, a suit and a white shirt from them. The suite was always black or dark blue. We looked pretty similar on Sunday mornings as Gramp preached to his congregation.
I began my school years in tiny Arthur, Nebraska which is about fifty miles north of Ogallala. We used to say there were about 700 people in Arthur County 100 of whom lived in Arthur. Not much has changed. My first school was a two room school house. I’m not sure of the breakdown of classes but they were probably kindergarten through fourth grade on one side of the wall and fifth through eighth grade on the other side of the wall. The high school age kids, grades nine through twelve, went to the new high school on the hill.
There were one or two other kids sitting in my row of desks who were also in Kindergarten. I remember having to fill out some work books and listen very closely as the teacher taught the higher grades. I’m not sure if the teacher told us listen and learn when the other kids were learning but that’s what we did. In fact, that was one of the advantages of the one and two room school houses. The younger kids were exposed to what the older kids learned which led to my being a year ahead when I went to another school the following year.
In the school in Arthur, we had to raise our hands if we had to use the facilities and signify one finger or two depending on what we had to do. That wasn’t unusual. I had to do that at other schools too but I’ve thought over the years why was it the teachers business what we had to do. Was it only to gage the time we’d be gone depending on the fingers we raised or was there a more sinister reason which escapes me now.
We had outside plumbing at that school in Arthur which meant we went to one of two outhouses behind the school. One was for the boys and one for the girls. Since our duplex was not far away, I usually went home and used the inside plumbing. We lived across a field about half way between the high school and the grade school. Dad worked at the high school while my sister and I went to the grade school. It was convenient.
Recess was a big time for us and we played on the equipment next to the building. We had swings which were hung by chains from a large pipe supported by two other pipes on either ends. I remember the wooden seats on the swings allowed us to go pretty high and were very easy to bail out from when we jumped from the swing. I’m sure there have been plenty of accidents to cause the replacement of the wooden seats with straps. I notice I can’t swing as high or jump out as easily with the leather or rubber straps but it could have something to do with my age. My grandson does just fine.
We had a large Merry Go Round that allowed you to climb as it went around. It was kind of a combination Jungle Gym and Merry Go Round and was exhilarating to climb to the top as it whizzed in circles. I suppose a little kid must have fallen while the contraption was moving so those kinds of Merry Go Rounds were removed from most locations. Several years ago I took my son to Arthur while we were videotaping scenes in communities in Western Nebraska. There, sitting next to the same two room school house I had gone too, was the same Jungle Gym/Merry Go Round I had used as a child. Both were still in use.
We moved to Lincoln for my first grade year. Dad took classes and worked at the University. I went to College View Elementary School. One of my first memories was a boy stuck to a bar on the playground. He had apparently been trying to lick the frozen sheen from a Jungle Gym or something when he got stuck. Years later I spoke with someone who was a grade behind me at the same school and said she saw the same thing.
Most of all, I remember the games of chase we played with the girls. I was so proud that I was never caught and kissed. I now know the other boys allowed themselves to be caught. A concept I had trouble with at the time apparently. I’ve tried to tell me grandson how the game works but he won’t listen. Maybe its genetics but he hasn’t been caught yet.
I was in second grade when I sat in a long row next to the windows at College View. There were two events that I remember from that year. One was of a boy who sat behind me. He tried to make it too the lavatories to throw up. He didn’t make it and was promptly excused. The teacher went on teaching. Soon a janitor showed up with a bucket of saw dust and he cleaned up the mess while the teacher kept on teaching. As an aside I remember how excited I was to learn the school had lavatories. I had visions of test tubes and beakers. It wasn’t long before I found out how important a “b” and “v” can be.
The other event I remember occurred on a cloudy day in the fall. It was 1956. We were told that we were going to have a drill. When a specific siren went off we were told to climb under our desks and not to peek. Those of us next to the windows were told again we were specifically not to look outside. I, however, did take a peek. I heard an explosion and saw a large white cloud of smoke rising into the air. We stayed under our desks for five or ten minutes. When we were finally told we could come out and sit at our desks, the teacher started to teach again. Latter, we learned that we at gone through an Atomic Bomb drill because we lived close to the Strategic Air Command headquarters or SAC as they have since been called. I don’t see what the drill proved but at least we did something. I’m not sure anything would have saved us but hiding under our desks gave us a sense of purpose and probably made those in charge feel a little better. It was the threat of the Atomic Bomb or the Hydrogen bomb in the fifties, sixties and seventies that shaped my life. I remember watching the wall come down in Germany and I realized the threat was gone. I told my kids to watch and remember but in truth it was me who needed to watch as all of the memories came flooding back.