Holman Elementary 1954 – 1962: Sixth Grade

This was perhaps my most traumatic year of grade school. And my mother corrects me: the Scent of Death was Tabu.  On the plus side, it would be the beginning of the decade of coming of age music. But that is another subject for another time.

Sixth Grade: Mrs. Badeau

•    I wrote the teacher’s name just now and hair on my arms stood up. Not a good sign. I should have had counseling during and for years after sixth grade.

•    The Red Book was the bane of my existence. I could not keep up with my homework (it was somewhere in the mess that was my desk) so I fell farther and farther behind, as recorded in the Red Book. I soon came to dread school, but found there was a solution.

•    I spent a total of a month at home that year, after learning you can run an inexplicable low-grade fever by either holding the thermometer under warm water or, if you’re being watched, under the covers you can rub it briskly against the sheets and create enough friction to become sufficiently ill that you can stay home and watch Arthur Godfrey.

•    I was so far indentured to the Red Book but the end of the year that I was required to address my incompletes over the summer AFTER I had been promoted out of Guantanamo. Such a thing most surely is contrary to the Geneva Convention—unless you are Ruth Hill Carr Badeau.

•    My mother had this same teacher when she was Ruth Hill Carr. I think my mother would have been perfectly normal otherwise. Just kidding, mom.

•    Was it Estee Lauder? Shalimar? Whatever it was, the woman bathed in it. By association, the slightest vapor of it gave me prickly heat for years thereafter.

BigBassDrum300•    This was a year of morning rituals of regimentation to keep the troops in line. One thing for sure, I remember the 121st psalm. “I will look up unto the hills, from whence cometh my strength” and “A little man bought him a big base drum, boom! boom! boom!” We recited together like so many little wind-up toys. Or else! And I learned and still remember the Greek alphabet and the difference between Ionic, Corinthian and Doric columns. The woman was a Roman era groupie. Three years later, I took Latin in high school. I blame (or credit) Mrs. Badeau for that. In combination with Ms Long’s phonics and vocabulary, I was science-jargon primed for college.

•    This was the year some of my buddies discovered the climbing wall. The brick front of the school was such that about every eighteen inches, one row of bricks extended an inch or so beyond the others. If you were careful, you could scale the outer wall a few feet and jump back down. But where’s the fun in that? We decided we’d shoot for the moon: an open second story window, during recess when everybody else was on the playground on the other side. Maybe four of us were about to reach the window when Mr. Hall leaned over, looked down, and just waited. This was one of the first “Oh Crap” moments of my young life. I have had a few since where you’re damned if you climb higher and damned if you let go.

•    This would have been 1960 and the coming of the first new decade of which I took note. I think that was because the even number let me easily predict that at the beginning of the new millennium I would be 52 years old. I could not imagine the point of living so long. I still have moments of uncertainty in that regard. I still am a Lost Boy in NeverNever Land.

Percy Faith – Theme From A Summer Place – YouTube
See where this 1960s hit carries  you.


Holman Elementary 1954 – 1962: 4th and 5th Grades

This would have been 1958-9. Other installments in the series (hang with me, we’re more than half way now) are linked at the end of this chapter.

Four Grade: Ms Long

•    I have copious memories of Ms. Long. I’m sure we all do. She was much feared. I loved her. From her I learned phonics, vocabulary, and sarcasm.

•    She told the story of an irate mother who demanded an appointment with her to discuss what had been said about the woman’s son. She claimed that he had been called a “scurvy elephant.” To which, Ms Long, with her glasses down on her nose and expression of great disdain mixed with pity, told the woman…”I did not call your son a scurvy elephant. I called him a disturbing element.” I think I was one of those too, but she never threw an eraser at me at the pencil sharpener or poured water on my head asleep at my desk. Tough love. She was ahead of her time.

•    I stopped by Ms Long’s house in 1973 when I was working at the medical center and before we moved to Virginia the first time. I knew she was home; the same ancient dark green car she drove in 1958 was in the driveway. I knocked on the door. She answered it. I stepped forward and said “Ms Long, I bet you don’t remember me.” Drolly, she looked down her nose through reading glasses and said “That’s right.”

When I told her who I was, with a flash of recognition, she practically wept. We talked inside for an hour while she watered her beloved ferns. Which she pronounced FuhWeens. (Her classroom was always lined with them and I know there were days she much preferred them to human children.)

She said she’d often wondered what happened to me and my brother who both endured her with much less terror and more cautious admiration than most of our classmates. She never got much love. She deserved much love. She might have been the most influential teacher of twelve years of my deep-southern education.  No, she was that.

Fifth Grade: Mrs. Davis

•    Mrs Davis was a coach maybe, I think, because I remember her wearing a whistle around her neck.

•    Girls as a group formerly not visible began to become visible in and out of class this year. Especially Ruth Schaeffer.

•    I got an upgrade that year from the Rocket crystal radio I had used to listen secretely after bedtime to Birmingham Barons baseball games with the wire clamped to my metal bed-rails. My Birthday-gift radio was a sweet piece of technology—turquoise, like the rock in Mr. Halls collection. It was so tiny—no bigger than a World Book encyclopedia. I was not supposed to take it to school. I took it to school and left it in my locker. I went back to get it, by which time it was already in somebody else’s collection. Maybe Mr. Hall’s.

•    This class was in the new wing (is that right?) with crank-out windows. I spent much time taking advantage of them and not so much the chalk board. Chalk. It is the medium of the age. And they have not yet discovered that all those years chalk dust  was lethal to small lungs–unless you got picked to clean erasers. Chalk dust lung–occupational pneumonopathy of grammar school.

•    Teddy Drake was a scurvy elephant that year. We did our best to keep up with him, but thankfully failed to do so.

•    A YMCA football team was blessed with my participation that year. It was not the brains (they’d heard about my earlier touchdown for the wrong team) so I guess it was the brawn. I exuded a certain Barney Fife wirey-ness. I played wide end, #81. I caught a touchdown pass once, intended for someone else, and I was already positioned properly cross the correct goal line. Hoyt Stovall was the quarterback, a real stud. But Ruth Schaeffer liked me better.

•    It was the year (maybe one of the years) I had consistent P’s for Poor in conduct. I was learning that if I couldn’t beat Hoyt Stovall on the turf, I would be funnier; more entertaining. I was told if I got an E for Excellent in conduct I would get a football. If David Gillespie could do it, I could, mom told me more than once. I got my E. I got my football. And I thereafter resumed my career in my comfort zone, farther down the alphabet.

•    By this year the front of the school property had been terraced. The rough edges of that lot was, before that, one of those few wilderness places in a tame suburban neighborhood. And across the road and down below ran Village Creek, an open sewer as it turns out, and probably a Superfund site now. We always wondered why the water smelled of rotten eggs.

You became a respected member of the Lost Boys if you rode your bike down all three terraces. I did, but feel certain Hoyt Stovall was chicken.

Part One: Grades One

Part Two: Grades Two and Three

Holman Elementary 1954 – 1962: 2nd and 3rd Grade

Second Grade: Ms Barnes  1955-6

•    The first thing I always remember about Ms Barnes was that she came to my house, and I was not in trouble. It was my seventh birthday party. You don’t forget stuff like that.

•    Was this the year we were introduced to “magic markers”? I remember the squeak; and the smell. I think I got high, which was risky. Get the tip too close and you’re marked like Rudolph for a week.

•    This was the year I got a flattop haircut and the year before I grew into my front teeth. I remember the smell of butch wax and egg salad sandwiches and soured milk whose odor never quite left my Lone Ranger lunchbox after the little thermos broke. Their glass liners were not designed with seven-year-olds in mind.

•    I walked to school, cutting across a vacant lot where one day, I found what I am convinced was a large piece of turquoise. I showed it to Ms. Barnes and she sent me with it to show Mr. Hall. He kept it. I’ve wondered about that since.
•    The playground was unimproved until maybe the next year. I liked it better the way it started out for us, with hedgerows of privets along the back and along the side by Leslie Smith’s house. I spent my first wilderness wonderments in those rough natural places.

Third Grade: Ms Terry

•    I have no recollections of Ms. Terry whatsoever.

•    I think I remember this classroom being upstairs in the middle of the building. Our coat closets were out in the hall behind large folding doors. You could look into the room from the vents in the closets and I remember “spying” unseen on my classmates once. I wanted to be a spy from then on. But mostly Superman.

•    I got a pocket knife that year. Briefly. I think it was a dull-pointed scout knife. I was not supposed to take it to school. I took it to school. I thought I would win points with my classmates if I terrorized Dora Kitchens because she was not in the IN group. I did the dead. I served the time.

•    We played football as rag-tag teams for the first time this year. I caught a long pass and ran for a touchdown. For the other team. Years later I learned the rules, but never became a great fan of the game. Give me dodgeball any day–with those big under-inflated ribbed red-rubber balls. Now that’s a sport!

•    We had our own desks—for the first time—where we could organize our own collection of books and things. One PTA meeting I was acknowledged to my mother as the keeper of the most disorganized desk in the class. This inspired me to become the slob that my wife accuses me of being even today.

•    By now we were reading quite well. We had “library period” with some regularity—once a week? I read all of the thin green volumes that were biographies of famous people and spent much time at the Woodlawn library in the science fiction section, fascinated with stories about the future. Now I’ve been there. They all got it wrong. I want my jet pack!

Part One ~ Holman School Days 1954 – 1962

Holman Elementary 1954 – 1962: First Grade

I would never have spent my morning pages last week doing this had not I been prompted by a classmate who was penning some memories of those times for his grand children. We both attended Minnie Holman Elementary in Woodlawn Highlands. The building was demolished in the early 90s.

The writing out of these ghoses of memory was an interesting dive back into the Wayback Machine, and I have since remembered more as the first fragments go on to twig into related bits, while some hang just beyond the grasp of recall–at least for now.

So I’ll serialize that rambling remembrance here, FWIW, and recommend such an exercise for your own morning pages, writers and grandparents out there in the blogosphere. — Fred


Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 10.04.38 AM
Minnie Holman Elementary ca 1927

First Grade: Ms Britton

•    First grade began in tragedy. I did not get placed in the same room as Jane Ann Martin. We were already betrothed, I thought, after a year in Mrs. Hodges’ kindergarten. The scars healed, mostly.

•    Fat pencils. Impossibly thick lead. We did not do much with them that first year that I remember but make black smudges on very wide-ruled pulpy paper and work in our reading groups. Look Jane look! See Spot run. That we did not die of boredom….

•    Smells: the lunchroom smells dominated the aromasphere, from anywhere any floor in the building; and cleaning compound, its resiny-industrial fragrance barely dominant often over the top of upchuck on the waxed hardwood floors; and the smell of hot metal radiators under each of the twenty-foot windows. There was a lot of light, no air conditioning, but I don’t remember ever being too hot. Alabamians once upon a time took heat much better, I think, than they do today. We have acclimated to a very narrow temperature range, but may have to rethink that in the future.

•    Johnny Norton broke his leg. Maybe that was second grade? I did not know such a thing could happen to people I knew. Could it happen to me—on top of not being in Jane Ann’s class? Life took on a new seriousness.

•    We took naps and had large towels from home in a chest in the back of the room for that purpose. I once hid in that chest, for reasons I cannot recover from memory, to be frantically sought when I was not among my classmates after lunch. Carol Elam found me. I was the center of attention—my fifteen seconds of fame. Was I that needy then?

•    The playground, where upon being told it was too muddy to go there, Brice Campbell and I thumbed our noses at such restrictions because we had black floppy galoshes. The principal came and hauled us in by our collars. We did it our way.

•    I remember Ms. Britton sometimes wore her hair in a bun. Maybe always? She looked like the teacher in Calvin and Hobbes. She was a gentle and kind woman, and we could not have had a better start on a journey that for many of us, would take us in a pod through twelve grades and dump us off at the edge of the world.

The Way We Were: Time Marches

I only have a few minutes of peace and reflection at the computer-with-coffee this morning. The reason is dental.

A gold crown came off while water-picking. As seems to be typical of dental emergencies, the timing was not convenient–on the night before a major snow storm, which was also the night before a planned trip out of state, which was also the night before Friday when the dentist office is closed anyway.

I barely managed to not lose it down the bathroom sink drain. I stuck it back in place. That was three weeks ago. I’d better not press my luck any longer, so off I go to the first available slot on the dentist calendar.

So in my hurried quiet moment this morning, I wondered about “this time last year” in a not-quite-infinite regression through blog-time. I do that not uncommonly–using the web-writing as a convenient and almost-always-rewarding, searchable memoir of life events.

And after sampling from from the WordPress Wayback, this morning, I invite you to make your own “Where and Who We Were There And Then” celebration of the Marches in your life.  How many can you remember?

And oh–one more March memory not in the linked March 28, 2012 blog post, this bit of trivia.

March 28, 1968 (the Early Pleistocene I think it was): My first date (blind, and with other handicaps to boot) with the woman that was to become my first wife. I think of her often.

She’s in the next room fixing her morning oatmeal.

See also, just on Marches unfolding since coming to Goose Creek:
Spring Will Win in Our Field of Dreams