One of my schoolmates posted this picture of my grade school. I had been searching for a photo for years and was so glad to see this one.
The memories came flooding back. Memories I had forgotten entirely. As I recalled those days, some fondly, and some not, I realized how much they connect me to the person I am today. Links forged one by one into a chain.
This photo was taken about 10 years before I started school, but Lincoln School didn’t look much different a decade later. I remember that it was an old building at the time, built in 1893 for a whopping $15,000. To a 5 year old, it looked huge and castle-like, holding secrets I couldn’t wait to learn!
It’s long gone now, of course, replaced by something much more modern – probably with carpet and air conditioning – neither of which were in the building I attended. It was barely heated!
It’s hard to believe I spent 6 years in this building. It seems long ago and far away.
I learned a lot in that old school. Much of it not “book-learnin’.” Many things shape us in ways we’re not aware of at the time.
Grade school went from first through sixth grade, when students transferred to a Junior High School for 2 years, or in my case two different schools for one year each, before transferring to High School for the final 4 years.
Lincoln School was arranged with 4 classrooms on each floor with a center area that served as a central entry to all 4 classrooms. Each floor had one drinking fountain with four spigots that were turned on with a hand valve underneath. There was no fire escape. We never considered that a fire might trap us on the second floor, with only one stairway.
What was in the attic and tower? I never thought to ask or even realized there was an attic or tower. Of course, one good ghost story would have fixed that.
Restrooms were in the basement to which we descended on wooden steps worn thin in the center and curved over time by thousands of childrens’ footsteps.
The basement also held a room large enough to accommodate two classrooms simultaneously that was used to view movies. Movies were a treat and we all loved movie day! Not every family had a television, believe it or not. We didn’t until I was in second grade and then we only received all of 3 channels, on a good day, by adjusting the rabbit ears.
Those movies arrived in black reel canisters and sometimes much to our disappointment, the film would break, creating a loud flapping slapping sound. The lights would come on, the teacher would attempt to rethread the movie, and we would hope she was successful and that we hadn’t missed too much!
Ahhh, those were the days.
The Lay of the Land
Looking at the photo, above, my first and second grade classroom was the same room, located the back left lower quadrant with two windows showing in the photo. The two taller center windows on the left side were coat hallways, one per classroom.
My third grade classroom was on the second floor, immediately above the first and second grade room.
My fourth grade classroom was the top left front quadrant, with the turret.
I wonder why only one corner of the building had a turret.
My fifth grade classroom was the right top front quadrant.
My sixth grade classroom was the right rear quadrant on the top floor, out of view from this angle.
The playground was in the rear of the building. The school took up about 2/3rds of a block, with the playground taking up the balance of that block.
We didn’t have a public kindergarten. Most kids started school in first grade. It’s a wonder any of us can function today, without pre-pre-school, pre-school, pre-kindergarten and then kindergarten. Somehow we managed.
Oh, and another thing. We walked to school – and home for lunch as well.
Yes, at 5 or 6 years old.
No one kidnapped us and we didn’t get lost either. Times have certainly changed.
We crossed a street too. Or in my case, two streets. One of those streets was “paved” with bricks.
For really busy intersections, as defined by “busy” of those days, which is pretty much deserted today, we had safety patrols. Patrols were either 5th or 6th graders and they helped the younger kids cross safely. Being a patrol was an honor. No adults were involved. The intersection right beside the school had patrols on all 4 corners.
At school, we shared drinking fountains and played kick-ball outside at recess every day except for the coldest days of the year when we played inside instead.
I think, but I’m not positive, that this was the dress I wore on the first day of school. I was proud as punch to be walking all by myself. I didn’t turn 6 until a month or so after school started. I almost had to wait another year to start school.
I was oblivious to the fact that my mother watched me, from a distance, of course, the entire way to school. I’m guessing she cried as well, but I was way too excited and too busy to notice – focused on the future that day, and the school in front of me, beckoning with it’s come-hither promise of secrets soon to be revealed.
Mrs. Malone was my first grade teacher.
I was so excited to finally be old enough to attend school. Not to mention that I got one of the “big desks.” You can see that the desks ranged in height for the students. I was always tall for my age.
I’m the third row back, at the end of the row just to the left of Mrs. Malone’s left arm. I remember how much I loved all of the various exercises. Spelling, compound words, telling time. They were all my favorites! I carry that same type of love and enthusiasm for genetics today.
In the back of the room, the red perpetual calendar on the file cabinet was so much fun because we replaced the month name and arranged the days in the proper sequence each month. And those kites. Each student made one and we decorated the room before the photo was taken. Creativity flowed! It was springtime.
I loved to read the Dick and Jane books. I exasperated my teacher by reading the books right away, then had nothing to read with the rest of the class. By the time I was out of first grade, I had read all of the second grade books and the school was debating what to do with me. “Skipping a grade” in that school system at the time was unheard of. It was discussed as an option, but given that I was already the youngest child in my class, it was also pretty quickly dismissed.
Out of sheer boredom, I began writing my own stories. I still do. You’re reading one:)
In first grade, I learned just how much I loved to read and the world opened up before me. I read voraciously. National Geographic magazines in the classroom showed me how large and interesting the world waiting for me was. Now, I’m a National Geographic Genographic Project affiliate researcher, and the world is larger than I ever imagined, expanded exponentially by our own history written in DNA.
My favorite game was “duck, duck, goose.”
This photo is so painful. I remember those bobby pin curls so…painfully. And Mom cut my bangs too. I HATED that. Ugh.
I wouldn’t smile with my mouth open, because I had teeth missing! Now I wish I had.
In Lincoln School, we had a phenomenon called a split class. That happened when there weren’t enough students for two full classes of a grade, and too many for one. One poor teacher, who I’m sure lost some kind of straw-drawing event, got to teach half of a class of one grade and half of another.
The good news is that the students in split classes were generally the more advanced students in each grade, so there was less need for direct teacher contact. It was generally a smaller total student count too.
My second grade class was a split class between first and second, and I was VERY PROUD to be in a split room. Mrs. Malone was my teacher again.
This was the year I learned how good it felt to excel. I got to help the teacher a lot as well, which I loved.
This was also the year that a dog bit me outside the school before class, although I never understood why. I was frightened and told the principal who just happened to be standing near the steps. He took off running and followed the dog home so I wouldn’t have to take rabies shots. Bless that man. I had no idea what a favor he had done me until my own child had to take rabies shots a generation later.
Mom still cut my bangs. I still hated it.
Third grade wasn’t a good year for me.
The week school started, or the week before, my father was killed in a car accident. No one knew what to say, so no one said anything at all, including my teacher. Everyone simply acted like nothing had happened, but my world was turned upside down with grief.
I didn’t much care for my teacher, Mrs. Copley, not pictured here, and she didn’t much care for me either.
Mrs. Copley asked each child what they wanted to be when they grew up. Boys wanted to be soldiers, policemen, firemen and such. Girls wanted to be secretaries, nurses or teachers. Except me. I don’t remember what I said I actually wanted to be, except that it wasn’t a typical “girls” career choice. Mrs. Copley told me I had to pick something else. I refused by remaining stoically silent. I couldn’t think of anything on the “allowed” list that I wanted to be.
My other memory of that year, which is not fond whatsoever, is that another student was running in the hallway that ran beside each room. We hung our coats in those hallways, on hooks and entered the classroom from the rear.
Running was forbidden. The other student was running in front of me, and I knew she was going to get into trouble, so I dropped back a bit. I didn’t want the teacher to think I was with her.
She ran into the room, and quickly took her seat in the rear. Mrs. Copley looked up to see me enter the room. I hadn’t been running, but the teacher of course thought that I had. She took me into the hallway, called the neighbor teacher to watch and paddled me with a board. The entire school knew. Mrs. Copley knew full well I was not a student who disobeyed or lied, so why she chose to do what she did is beyond me.
I swear, she wanted to break my spirit.
I was horrified and humiliated. I felt dirty and soiled, even though I hadn’t been bad. And worse yet, many of the students in the rear of the room knew I had been wrongly accused and then disciplined, yet not one spoke up on my behalf. I saw them lower their eyes, pretending they had seen nothing.
It was in November of that year that Mrs. Copley and the rest of the teachers were suddenly called to meet with the principal. It was unusual for them all to be called at once into the center “court” between the classrooms, leaving no teacher to watch the students in the rooms directly. We could see the teachers and we knew something was going on, based on their body language. The principal was touching them, putting his arm around some, which was something we had never seen before. Some were holding each other.
Mrs. Copley returned and told us rather matter-of-factly that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas. Not one of us had any idea where Dallas was located. I remember staring out the window, into the sky. More death. In the last three years, both of my mother’s parents had died and my father 3 months earlier too.
We had lots of questions and she had no answers. She seemed cold, but I suspect she was trying to be strong. Children take their queues from adults. We knew our world had changed, but we were clueless as to how. Many were frightened. We heard crying throughout the school, and some parents came to get their children.
Third grade was also the year that I fell on the playground, chipped my front tooth and drove a piece of asphalt into the palm of my hand. That asphalt finally worked its way out about 10 years ago.
I was very glad for third grade to end. I surely didn’t look very happy in my picture.
This was the year that I learned life wasn’t fair. Thank goodness for 4th grade, or I’m afraid this year would have begun a downward spiral.
Mom still cut my bangs, but at least it looks like I talked her out of those awful bobby pin curls.
Fourth grade with Mrs. Wartenbee was much better and a very exciting year for several reasons.
First, we got to play the flutophone, also called a recorder and tonette elsewhere. That was a rite of passage. The school provided the instruments, so everyone received their own flutophone and got to play. We were so excited and so awful, to begin with, that we must have surely woke the dead.
Second, we had music class, which I dearly loved. Unfortunately, from third grade, the previous year, we could hear music class next door, but we had to wait until we were older. That had been torture.
This was the year I learned how music touches and lifts the soul.
Better yet was the spelling bee that occurred every May in Mrs. Wartenbee’s class. EVERYONE knew about the spelling bee and couldn’t wait to participate. We practiced for months. The whole school was abuzz about this every year so we had been looking forward to “our turn” for three entire years which seemed like an eternity.
The winners formed the royal court and there was a special afternoon procession. I was pleased for the winners, who were my friends, but I was utterly MORTIFIED by the word that laid me low.
I’ll, I (eye), apostrophe, l (ell), l (ell). Right?
No? So, I got to try again.
Because I knew I was right, I said the same thing a second time.
That was a mistake, because I was out at that point.
I forgot to say the word, “capital” before the I (eye) in I’ll.
Just the same, I was in the spelling court, sitting on the step at right in front. I got to wear my “Sunday” pink Easter dress, my new shoes, and my white gloves. The spelling court was a very big dress-up deal!
Ironically, today, as adults, several of us in Mrs. Wartenbee’s class remember which exactly which word tripped us up. And I’d wager we’ve never misspelled it again.
And yes, bobby pin curls AGAIN. My bangs were so short because Mom couldn’t cut a straight line. She kept lamenting that they weren’t even, and kept trying again.
Fifth grade was a split class again, between fourth and fifth. Mrs. Holtz was an awesome teacher whom everyone loved. She complemented every student about something regularly, finding the best in everyone.
Mrs. Holtz was either widowed or divorced. No one knew for sure. She was very mysterious, and we lapped that up.
She had lived and taught in Hawaii, and regaled us with stories of her life and students there.
She spoke about different cultures and the story I remember most vividly is one where she explained that one of her students had a “pet louse” that came out of his hair and ran around on his face. We were all utterly horrified, but she used that example to teach us about how people in different cultures perceive and believe things differently. My head itched anyway.
Fifth grade was the year I began wearing glasses. I loved them because I thought they made me look smart. Mrs. Holtz told me that! And like cat-woman too. Pretty cool for being 10.
I got to borrow my Mom’s special necklace for my school picture.
Sadly, I wanted to play in the school band, but we couldn’t afford an instrument. Such a letdown after the wonderful flutophone experience the year before. Thankfully, today rentals are available for students and schools provide some instruments as well.
This was the year that I realized how much money, or the lack thereof, shapes opportunity. Somewhere in the back of my kid-brain, I knew that I wasn’t going to let that happen to me once I had an opportunity to prevent it. Mrs. Holtz made it very clear that education was the vaccination against poverty.
And Mom was getting progressively worse bang-trimming.
Sixth grade was also a split class between fifth and sixth grade.
Our teacher, Mrs. Moss was wonderful and so inspirational. This might have been her first year out of college. She seemed more like us, closer in age. The girls talked to her about their problems.
This was the year that the school system changed to “new math” and no one, not even the teachers understood new math. Everyone, including the teachers hated it. I recall vividly, in sheer and utter exasperation, asking Mrs. Moss if I would ever in real life need to use base 8. She pondered a bit, and finally said no, she didn’t think so. I then proclaimed that I was done with base 8 and shut the book with an air of finality.
Of course, years later, when I was studying computer science, I needed to learn base 8 and programmed using base 8 as well as hexadecimal. Karma, I’m sure.
Sixth grade was the year of standardized testing and I remember when our results came back, Mrs. Moss took each of us aside individually and explained what they meant.
No matter what the results revealed, she was very positive, highlighting each student’s strengths with upbeat suggestions about what might help as well. Everyone looked forward to their turn receiving their test scores and no one came away disappointed or upset. That alone is an amazing accomplishment for a teacher.
Mrs. Moss told me that my capabilities were exceptional and that I could be anything I wanted. I learned right then and there what percentile meant and how ranking worked, although I must admit, I was shocked at where I placed. I took her at her word, however, and emboldened once again, pronounced that I wanted to be an astronomer. (Take that, Mrs. Copley.)
Mrs. Moss looked rather stunned, swallowed a couple times and told me that I wrote very well too. She said that I should be a scientist that writes and said she wanted a copy of my first book. She told me she expected great things of me, although looking back now, she probably told every child that, because that’s the kind of person she was.
Self-expectation is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This was the year that I realized my potential was boundless and life was an open book, literally. A ripe fruit waiting to be harvested.
I wonder if Mrs. Moss would be interested in a DNA report or would like to subscribe to my blog. Not exactly what she had in mind at the time, but authoring has changed dramatically, as has science.
My “first book” was actually a computer science paper, years ago, presented at a conference and included in book format in the conference proceedings. The next books were technical manuals. The first book that was what she probably had in mind was about Y2K in municipal government. I’m not thinking she was interested in that either. The common thread was and is making complex subjects easy to understand. She nailed that one!
I don’t even want to discuss these bangs. Or those horrid spit curls.
It’s OK to laugh!
The fall of 1967 would see all of the former 6th graders from Lincoln School walk another few blocks to Pettit Park. We still walked past Lincoln School, mind you, but we were much too old and mature to even notice. Lincoln School was so last year!
One big change was that we ate lunch neither at home nor at school. Pettit Park, like Lincoln School, had no cafeteria, but it was too far to walk home and back in the allotted time, so a few of us who lived most distantly ate at a small diner/soda fountain type restaurant near the school.
I learned about budgeting my lunch money for the week and that I could buy a large pickle for less than a sandwich and get just as full. I learned about priorities, like shakes instead of hamburgers, for example.
Pettit Park isn’t a lot different today, although it’s an elementary school and not a Junior High anymore. The red quonset hut type structure was the gym and the entire facility was a much more contemporary building than Lincoln had been.
It seemed quite large and sophisticated at the time.
The big change, aside from the school itself, was that we would rotate classrooms every hour. We had lockers and home rooms, but no more class pictures.
My home room teacher was a man, Mr. Michner, and on one of the first days of school, he dropped a “hall pass.” Both of us grabbed to retrieve the slip of paper before it hit the ground, and wound up clasping hands, missing the hall pass entirely. Both of us were horribly embarrassed, and the entire classroom, including Mr. Michner, laughed until we were in tears. At 12 years old, EVERYTHING is embarrassing. I wanted to DIE or at least shrink out of sight.
We had gym class, and horrid gym outfits with miserably embarrassing communal showers, but no more outside recess. Lincoln School never had a gym, so that was new, but not something I enjoyed except for volleyball and square-dancing. Although I hated to square-dance with the boys in those horrid gym outfits.
We were becoming young adults. My mother finally allowed me to wear nylons that year.
This was the year I learned to sew and I began making my own clothes which I dearly loved. Eventually, I made quilts from my clothing scraps. I continue sewing today, but mostly quilts with fabric purchased for that purpose.
And yes, just in case you wondered, I finally got old enough to refuse to allow mother to cut my bangs.
My mom gave me the special ballerina neckace, which I cherished for many years until it was stolen a decade later.
In 8th grade, we changed schools again and walked another mile or so to Lafayette Park. Lafayette Park had a cafeteria and lunch cost either 30 or 35 cents, I can’t remember which. Students weren’t allowed to leave at lunchtime, which seemed odd since the year before, we ate out unsupervised.
I learned that rules often have nothing to do with logic.
The school was flat and nondescript, but the social environment wasn’t. Now three schools had been merged into one, and there were more friends, sports, clubs, opportunities and tween-age drama.
I entered the world of boyfriends, much to my mother’s chagrin.
We had these awkward social events called “sock-hops”, dances in the gym, where groups of girls would cluster together chattering like magpies and boys would egg each other on to approach the girl-cluster and ask one to dance.
Then, both people got to embarrass themselves in front of everyone else on the dance floor. God forbid a slow dance would start. What to do? What to do?
Or, horror of horrors, she might just decline the dance invitation – in front of everyone. He would be humiliated and ruined for life.
Sometimes, kids would “go steady” too. The boy would give the girl a masculine ring of some sort and she would wrap it with angora floss because it was too big to wear otherwise. That ring was an unbelievable status symbol and source of pride. We even carried toothbrushes in our purses, not to brush our teeth, but to brush the floss on the ring. Oh and the floss had to be color coordinated with our outfit of the day too. There were rules you know!
Sometimes she gave him one of her rings too, and he wore it on his little finger or on a chain. Breakups rivaled the worse soap operas in the media today and hormones were raging. Much sobbing occurred and everything seemed like a matter of life and death. Then it all started over tomorrow.
There is not enough tea in china to convince me I want to be an 8th grader again!
At the end of 8th grade, a true transformation took place. Not only were we now officially teenagers, we also would transition to the high school for 9th grade. There, we were “freshmen” not “9th graders” and we would no longer walk past Lincoln School on the way to and from school each day. Once again, we would be free at lunch, which became yet another social event.
Lincoln School was part of the childhood we were racing away from at breakneck speed, eager to be 16 and drive and then grown up – the land of being able to do exactly what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it. Or so we thought. Little did we realize that freedom came with a pricetag.
Lincoln School was all but forgotten, and wouldn’t be remembered again until many years later, when her students, scattered to the winds, would once again begin to gather on Facebook.
A special thank you to John McClain, my Lincoln School classmate for providing me with the class photos. None of mine survived.