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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

School....1962 style

I started school in first grade.
There was no Kindergarten in our area back in the day.
Our school was small even by 1960s standards and was the same school my
mother attended in the 40s...nothing had changed....even some of the teachers.
6 grades, one classroom of each, all of which surrounded the auditorium.  25 kids in each class or in a bad year 30. No aides. In first grade, Mrs Jones had 7 Debbies....7.  No Danielles, Katelyns or Brittneys...we did have a Martha, Patricia, and Theresa, but no Ashleys.
We used a black board, read Dick and Jane, played on the monkey bars, swings and jumped rope.  We played hopscotch and every MayDay danced around a May Pole.  I'm still not sure why.
One bus served the school but did not serve our street as we were only 5 blocks away so we walked or rode bikes.

Lunch was served in the cafeteria and was, literally, homemade, even if bought...the bread was homemade, the butter real, and the chopped spinach yucky.  If you gave a boy called Mickey five cents he would eat strange things and you could watch...pats of butter, pencil erasers, lead, etc....
I carried my lunch in a red plaid metal lunch box.
I loved it.  I had a red plaid book bag and a red plaid dress my mother made...I must have liked red plaid.  In 3rd  grade, Barbie was queen and I wanted to replace the red plaid one with a Barbie lunchbox  There was much discussion about it and it was decided that the red plaid was still perfectly good and would do for some years to come. I did, however get the Barbie box for must have been a thrill because I still remember it after 40+ years. A couple years later with the Beatles all the rage, I saw a Beatles lunch box and  wanted one of THOSE, but my mother said two lunch boxes in 6 years was enough for ANYONE so I continued to carry Barbie.  When I reached seventh grade our family  had a yard sale and she sold my  red plaid one...I have never forgiven her...She was decluttering I guess.
Like most things from our childhood, Longdale School had certain smells that spelled
school to me...The library smelled like new books, the classrooms smelled like sharpened pencils (yes they have a smell),  boxes of crayons and paste, and the cafeteria smelled like baking bread...everyday.
The bathrooms smelled like disinfectant and the cake soap that was in
a turned a little knob and the soap came out as powder into your hand...  Then, you wiped your hands on one of those cloth towels that wrapped around some sort of roller and gave you a clean part on which to wipe them each time.  Mrs. Jones accompanied us into the bathrooms to see that everyone washed their hands but did not use too much soap. 

She also made us clean our fingernails and inspected them each day.  She was vigilant about clean hands and was always perfectly groomed and smelled of Estee Lauder powder.  She kept a little blue bottle of "Evening in Paris" cologne in her desk drawer, and if your hands looked particularly nice, she would dab a little on your neck...yes, even if you were a boy.  Mrs. Jones was.....a large woman who wore dark silky floral dresses with lace collars and stockings with seams up the back.  She had those orthopaedic black tie leather shoes,  and you did NOT want to refuse this offering...not if you wished to remain inside her classroom.

Unlike my own children in elementary school,  I never had a list of needed school supplies....I do remember  Mrs. Jones  asking each child to bring  a cigar box in which to store your pencils, pink eraser (which Mrs. Jones did not like...she had a thing about erasing mistakes and the big red pencils had no erasers) and the box of 8 chunky crayola crayons you were got one box and that was it, so you had to be very careful not to break or lose them.   There was red, blue, green, yellow, orange, black and white...there was one more but I don't remember what it was.  It was not sienna or azure.  I also had a pair of blunt scissors and a Smokey the Bear ruler a Forest Ranger gave to each student when he came to give a speech.  We were expected to keep these supplies throughout the year and hopefully for the next few years as well.  The farmer still has his Smokey the Bear ruler.
Even then, art was my favorite subject.  An art teacher came to the school maybe once or twice each month and we were then in for a real paper.  We were given lots of creative leeway...a suggestion would be made and we ran with it...I don't ever remember much in the way of art supplies except powered tempera paint occasionally.
For Back to School Night in second grade, we left decorated  handwritten notes on our desks for our parents to inspect welcoming them to our school...Mine said "Hell...we're glad you came"....Mrs. Cross had a sense of humor and was a friend of my parents...(my mother was mortified, but still has the paper.)  "Hello" was the proper greeting of course.
It is interesting to think how conservation and thriftiness were taught as a matter of fact.  We studied Johnny Appleseed and all went outside to plant some sort of little tree on arbor day.   Once, we made a terrarium from one of those super sized industrial pickle jars Mrs Jones got from the cafeteria.  We were each told to bring in something for the jar...moss, a figure, little plant, acorn or what have you.  We made ONE terrarium for the whole class to share and took turns watering it when necessary and changing it's position in the window.  We were not expected to each provide three boxes of tissues for the class but were expected to bring a clean hankie each day.  Apparently paste was a rare and valuable commodity because there were only 2 or 3 jars for the whole class to share and we were always admonished NOT to use ANY more than necessary....Mrs. Jones would inspect our projects and you did NOT want to be caught with a glob of wasted paste on yours.
Of course there was no air conditioning and if you were lucky, your teacher had a fan she brought from home.  Mrs. Jones evidently did not have a spare.  It was of little matter though because we did not have AC at home or church and since these were the only places you ever went, you didn't know you were hot.

There was little diversity in Longdale Elementary school...most of us were some variation of middle class, lived in the same neighborhood, knew all the kids and teachers because they too lived in the neighborhood and probably taught you in Sunday School as well....I did not know what the word "divorce" meant until very late in 6th grade when some kid mentioned someone who knew someone else who got one...I thought it was a disease.  I never heard of day care
as my mother stayed home, drove an old car, made all my clothes and her own.  We could take piano lessons OR ballet, and borrowed books from the library.  We cut our own grass, raked our own leaves cleaned our own house and rarely ate out.  My brother and I each had a bike (mine was second hand) and if you wanted a light or a bell, you saved up till you could buy one or got it for Christmas.

  Accountability was major in that if you did misbehave not only would you be sent to the corner or principal's office while at school, but you could expect swift and appropriate discipline when you got home. If you happened to be going home with a friend and someone spilled the beans to those parents, you probably got yelled at by them too.   If the offense was severe enough, your teacher threatened you with the possibility of your transgression showing up on your......

 I didn't know exactly what that meant, but once my fingernails did not come up to Mrs. Jones' high standard and she assured me that if my hands EVER looked that way again, it would be on my


 To this day, my nails are kept short and clean....

Even in l962 I think time somewhat forgot Longdale Elementary, and for my 6 years there, we flew under the radar. No one told us not to climb the trees in front of the school for fear of a law suit;  Easter egg hunts were held at the home of a student who lived close by and permission slips were not needed to walk there and back.   Naughty children were sent outside to "walk the blacktop" alone and no one thought a thing of it.  

Last week, I rode past Longdale.  A County employee was cutting grass in preparation for the beginning of a new year.  Air Conditioning was humming and the huge school "campus" was manicured around the beautiful expensive playground equipment.  I wondered if Dick and Jane were there, because I am all but certain I saw Mrs. Jones.

Happy School Year....


  1. I love this post!!! Impressive how you remember all the details. Especially entertaining is the reward (or punishment) of the "Evening in Paris" cologne. I can just smell the lawsuits if a teacher did this today. You painted a very vivid image of Mrs. Jones! And yes, I'd happily adopt you!!!
    Have a great Labour Day weekend!

  2. This was an amazing account of a different era and such a far cry from what children experience today. I thoroughly enjoyed every detail you managed to remember and describe as if it were yesterday. And yes, you are right, sharpened pencils have a very distinct smell.

  3. Sounds so much like the elementary school I attended in the 60's. One classroom for each of the 6 grades. Tthe art teacher came round to your room as you said once or twice a month and I loved getting to paint with the powdered tempera paints. For music we got to move out to the auditorium which took up the center of the building, that was of course where the piano was. And yes the cafeteria served homemade food with those wonderful fresh made rolls. We had that chopped spinach too, no one ate that. Yes a much simpler time, making do with what you had and only getting new things when they were needed or at Christmas. Sometimes I miss so the way was the last crayon color purple?

  4. Great post. Brings back some school memories for me also. Public school is so different now than it was back then.

    ReplyDelete happy to hear from you.........