Cactus Hill Observatory #101 1940s Highway 14,
7 miles East of Fort Collins, Colorado
My first year of school was so exciting and important to me as I had made new friends, learned how to read and write the alphabet and print my numbers. I wrote on every. I did not understand why it was so easy so for some of my pals to learn the basics while everything was so difficult for me! Here is why!
I was the only pupil in the first grade, so I was grouped in with the second grade, sometimes third and fourth grade depending on what was being taught at the time. It was a two room school, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th were taught in the “little kids room” The second room was the “big kids room” 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th with accordion like wooden doors dividing the rooms, to be opened for the school plays.
I really did not know I was the only one in my class in all eight grades until I got into the big kids’ room. The first year in the big kids’ room was very confusing and trying, but in the 6th grade there were younger kids (or the same age) than me in the same room so it wasn’t so bad. And the other thing I did not know, I started first grade when I was 5 years old so I was a year younger than most.
Miss-a Thayer taught until to the 4th grade and then left with great sadness on my part. It was almost like my Mother was leaving! Mrs. Williamson taught little kids school and her husband, big tall lanky, always smiling Mr. Williamson taught big kids school. He laughed, he joked, he showed us crazy pranks and always at one o’clock after lunch and recess he read to us. He read the Virginian — all chapters — Huckleberry Finn with great expression and much emotion. He read most of Mark Twain’s books and all Robert Frost and Robert Service poems. We didn’t have to put our head down on the desk for a nap but we did have to pay attention or he would slammed the book shut and we had to do arithmetic! He was a great teacher of geography and history. I learned to spell through his great efforts. Arithmetic for me was so confusing and he was very patient until I finally “got it!”
Halloween was a big event; we decorated with crêpe paper, made orange pumpkins, black cats and white ghosts. We hung and pasted them everywhere. Never, never were there any bought out of the store decorations. Mr. Williamson loved holidays and always made it fun. He also told scary “ghosty” stories. He incorporated the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow into his story telling time with a great deal of body motions, lowering of his voice and them jumping up and screaming other passages. We loved it!
Thanksgiving was when we studied about the Pilgrims. I loved Thanksgiving stories. We made pumpkins, carried corn stalks from our Daddy’s corn field and dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians. We made turkeys out of our handprint. We put on a play the Friday before Thanksgiving for all our parents. The Mamas brought pumpkin pie, real whipped cream, apple pies and apple cider. Mr. Williamson was first in line for all the goodies!
Christmas was even more exciting as we had a tree in our room. We decorated it with various colored construction paper rings, stars with glitter glued on them. Each child would bring an ornament from home to decorate the tree. It stood in the corner (no lights) while we practiced a play each year which usually was a Nativity scene with my classmates dressed up as camels, donkeys, cows and sheep. Every year an eighth grader got to be Mary sitting beside the manger with a baby doll she would bring from home. An eighth grader also was chosen to be Joseph. I was the only person in the eighth grade — so I was chosen to be Mary. A seventh grader had to be Joseph. We took our roles very seriously and as we sang Silent Night, Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, Noel, Noel and other Christmas song with much importance on a Friday evening before Christmas. We also ended the skit with Jolly Old St. Nick and Up on the Roof Top. Then Santa showed up with a pillow slip of goodies that our parents slipped to him as they were coming in the door. My Dad played Santa more than once…and sometimes we recognized him and sometimes we did not…however we NEVER told anyone that was our Dad!
After he passed out the gifts for each child and a gift for each sibling in the audience he would give each and everyone a popcorn ball that our whole family had made at home the night before, tied in waxed paper and a colorful green or red ribbon, because Dad raised popcorn for Safeway and Mom had the best popcorn ball recipe. That is a different story! We also ended the whole program with the song Little Star of Bethlehem with the audience joining in.
In preparation for the big night of plays and skits, the desks were pushed to one side and folding chairs were put up for our parents and siblings to sit and see us on our very best behavior and our loudest singing voices. Mrs. Sutherland, my piano teacher always played the piano. Some of her students, including me, would get to play a solo Christmas song on the piano. I was absolutely petrified to get up in front of all those people and try and play piano perfectly! That never happened! I loved the quietness and the applause after. And of course we all were dressed up in our finest Christmas dress or suit.
So with fall here and Halloween around the corner, I thank you for all the comments about “the first days of school” and enjoy talking to each and everyone of you and listening to your childhood school experience — somehow they are so similar to mine!
Next week more grade school stories. I welcome your comments.