1940’S At Cactus Hill Observatory District #101
On Highway #14 east of Fort Collins, Colorado.
I was five years old when I started school, no pre-kindergarten, no kindergarten, no preschool. (And that was really the name of the school!)
My first day at school I had no idea what school was. I could not write or read, I only knew how to color in a coloring book and could count a little, maybe to 10! And the hardest part about school in the first grade was setting still! Or maybe it was setting like little girls should with cotton starched dresses, cotton under skirts, cotton underwear, high top socks and brand-new shoes that hurt my feet! My mother curled my straight as a string, white-blonde hair with bobby pins in real tight “pin-curls” the night before. It was combed out with an old bristle brush. She gathered up the sides and tied a ribbon so tight that I am sure my eyes were slanted all day!
The instructions were running around in my head that came from my Mom and Dad-set still, listen to your teacher, don’t pick your nose (my Dad) be polite, play nicely with other children and eat all your lunch.
I was actually afraid of other kids my age as I was the oldest girl in the family and grew up with older uncles and cousins, every one of them boys! So when it came to swinging and teeter totter and the slide – I had not idea what to do. Girls squealed and were picky. I could Kick the Can and throw rocks and climb trees just like the boys.
My first grade teacher was Miss Thayer. We all called her Miss-a Thayer. I have not idea why. She rang her little tiny brass bell for all to come in and hang our coats in the coat closet hallway. On a shelf next to the closet was a big crock jar with a dipper in it. If we were thirsty we just dipped water out of the jar, drink as much as we wanted and put the dipper back in the jar. Oh yes we did!! And at lunchtime a basin of water was dipped out of the jar and each one of us washed our hands in the same water as the previous person and dried our hands on the same towel. Oh my how times have changed. Before school was out it was up to a bigger person to throw the water out. In the morning a pail of water was pumped from a water cistern and carried into the school and poured it into the crock jar.
Lunches were always special for me as my mother made the best lunch in the whole world. A nice homemade bread sandwich, with mayonnaise, lettuce and sliced roast chicken or beef, wrapped neatly in waxed paper. We would unwrap the waxed paper, smooth it out, re-fold it and put it back in the lunchbox for tomorrow’s sandwich. No wadding it up and throwing it away. It was used three or four times before we got new waxed paper for our sandwiches. She made little pockets with the wax paper for a few potato chips, her home made pickle, one or two of her wonderful homemade cookies or a slice of cake. Sometimes we got a little jar of home canned peaches with a spoon tucked in beside it. In the wintertime we had homemade chicken noodle soup in thermoses or chili or beef stew with a biscuit and lots of butter in between wrapped in wax paper. We also had, most of the time, fresh fruit, like a banana, an apple, or an orange that had been peeled. And always a jar of milk or juice. We ate lunch at our desks and had to be very careful not to make a mess. That was very hard for this little five year old girl.
When we were through with lunch we could spend the rest of the hour playing in the schoolyard. We played hard and pushed and shoved to get the best swing and the best place on the teeter totter or on the Merry-Go-Round, so we would not have to be the one that pushed. We also had a ball on a rope attached to a pole – like a tether ball – but we called it a May Pole Ball. On May first it had crepe paper attached to the top and we all went over and under to decorate the “May Pole.” We also used Crepe paper strips to hang from the ceiling of the school room for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We used those same strips to decorate for everyone “graduating” into the next grade on the next to last day of school
When Miss-a Thayer rang her tiny brass bell at one o’clock we came in – took a drink of water – passing the dipper from person to person and filed into the class room – all five grades in one room – probably about 18 to 20 kids. It was nap time. We had to put our heads face down on our arms on the desk and close our eyes. No peeking! Miss-a Thayer would read to us for half and hour – that was my best time as I loved to hear stories from those words coming out of those big books. And sometimes she read poems. That is exactly why I wanted to learn to read! Then time to open the work books to arithmetic, writing or spelling. We all had a lined tablet and one pencil – if you had to sharpen your pencil – you raised your hand and asked your teacher. Same was true about having to go to the “outhouse” – yes, even in the winter time! She would watch the clock and if you were not back in 5 minutes someone would was sent to get you because you probably were “dilly-dallying.”
The afternoon went fast if you were understanding and learning what the teacher was trying so hard to tell you – and some times it drug along as it was so hard for me to comprehend the new art of setting still, listening, not talking, or watching someone else instead of the teacher. When 3:20 rolled around Miss-a Thayer would ring her little bell, which meant that you gathered up your lunch pail, you coat, hat, gloves and “galoshes” in the late fall and winter. In the early fall it was your lunch pail and the home work assignment, usually learning to write your numbers or the alphabet. What a struggle that was for me and once I caught on I loved it and wrote on everything! I perfected the alphabet and loved to make it perfect!!
We all walked home from school. Very few Moms or Dads came to pick us up. We walked always on the right side on the dirt-gravel road – kicked rocks – ran down in the ditch and picked cat-tail and smacked them at each other. Crossing the bridge, we went down under where no water ever went – we could get lots of cat-tails there. We arrived home full of cat-tail fuzz and smiles and dust on our shoes. Sometimes we would get a ride with a neighbor who would go out of his way to take us home – and Mom would always say – “did you say thank you?”
Bob grew up in Sinclair, Wyoming – a refinery town. They had a big nice brick school. They all walked to school and walked home for lunch time. He was more interested in girls than studying and once got paddled for hiding behind a piano so he could hold a girls hand. The paddle was big with holes in it. When he was told to bend over the table to get paddled, he moved so he got two smacks!
My friend says that she went to school on a bus and was dumped off at school into a room full of kids. They lived in the country and other than church there were only close neighbor kids to play with. Special needs kids were just kids and accepted in the school room. She also said that she was in the “White School” and the black people went to a “Negro School.” The words and times have changed a lot today! Her husband was an only child and he was raise and worked on a farm. He was happy to be in school and had kids to play with, unlike at home. He loved recess – it was like heaven playing with everyone, until the bell rang and they went back to class.
My poor kids when they started school had to endure the fact that I sewed their dresses and dressed them like frilly little dolls. My oldest daughter, Gail, ended up taking her clothes off at school because she was too hot. The teacher called me more than once to tell me “we have to talk about your daughter, she took off her shoes and socks again and I cannot get her to put them back on.” But the day the teacher called and said she had taken off her dress on the playground. That was it – she was back in pants and tee shirts and she was happy and so was the teacher and this mom!! Susan loved to be dressed up and David liked to have new pants and shirts – but most of all he loved his cowboy boots ‘just like grandpa’s!
I hope this takes you down memory lane, back to the “good ol’ days.”