It was my first year of attending a real in-town brick schoolhouse, a half-century old three-story brick building that sat proudly in the middle of town.
Of course, I’d walked the three blocks from our new home on the west edge of Duncombe to scope out the building that would be my educational home for the next two years. I was in third grade and no longer would I be educated in a single wooden building, nine grades of elementary children kindergarten through eighth grade, all being taught by one stern, matronly teacher.
There were many “new” things to be learned, the first of which was that, although I would still be under the tutelage of one teacher, I would be in a classroom that included only kids in my grade. It was wonderful – no longer was I one of the youngest kids in school, no longer would I be subject to the bullying of older kids (older kids always bullied the younger ones in country schools).
And, I had my own books. I didn’t share with anyone, even though I couldn’t take those books out of the school. I kept them in a not-so-neat stack inside my very own desk.
There were plenty of other new lessons, as well, lessons that a young boy must learn when attending school in town for the first time. It was a treat, and one often repeated, to be able to walk in the hall and stop at the water fountain. It was almost magical to twist a handle and, voila, a stream of water would flow into an arc that, once mastered, provided a cool drink. I was more accustomed to a bucket of water with a ladle inside from which all the kids drank.
One of the biggest new in-town gadgets which was a little difficult, at first, to master was a bathroom with running water. At country school, if nature called, you were instructed to silently raise your hand and, when acknowledged, you would hold up either one or two fingers to let the teacher know what type of bathroom break was needed. Naturally, all the older kids saw that, too … ah, yes, more bullying ensued.
Now, you were among peers, kids your same age who were far less prone to snickers and/or sneers when you held up your hand. And, you now had your very own bathroom, at least one shared only by the boys in your class. There was a big “BOYS” lettered on the door leading into the bathroom. In my country school there was only one bathroom, an old two-seater outhouse that had seen its better days. It had been the target of vandals during several summer months when kids and the teacher were away and the necessary repairs were seemingly made by an adult who knew little about the art of carpentry.
Everything was new – my desk even had an inkwell and I was proud to drop my store-bought ink bottle into the well. Back then, the only writing utensils allowed in school were ink pens – no pencils, no ballpoint pens, just fountain pens. When you’re a “newbie” with a fountain pen, accidents happen and they did quite often. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only kid in class to go home with ink-blotched shirts and pants in those days. Now that I think about it, we never were allowed to use ballpoint pens during the entire time I was getting my el-hi education.
But, even with all those new experiences in school, the thing I remember most about my first full year of attending school in town was an event that happened the very first year. Told about it in class, I couldn’t wait to get home and ask my mother, “Mom, what’s a paper drive?”
I quickly learned that paper drives were something that lots of organizations such as schools, churches, civic groups and the like, used to raise money. Kids were urged to collect all their scrap paper, and to scour the neighborhood for more. Then, with the help of the more adept hands of parents, the paper would be bundled, tied with twine and brought to a designated place in the school.
“Don’t forget, kids. Tomorrow is paper drive day,” I remember our teacher saying one day. “Oh, don’t worry, teacher, I wasn’t going to forget an important day like paper day,” I felt like shouting.
I was a very proud third grader that day. Not only had I saved every issue of our daily newspaper, tossing into a pile, for a few weeks, I’d also gone to all our neighbors’ homes – those without kids in school, at least – and begged for more. I’d been rewarded with so much paper, most of it old newspapers, that I’m sure my parents were very happy when the day of the drive finally arrived.
One wagon load wouldn’t handle all the accrued bundles of paper I’d stacked around the house. Mom woke me up early that day and I set about moving the stack of paper one wagon load at a time the three blocks to the school. Four trips later, as I recall, all my collected paper had been hauled to the school, deposited there in a corner of the small old gymnasium. I’d been joined by a number of kids on each trip.
I think of all the lessons I learned in my first year of what I considered “real” school was that lesson of people working together toward one goal, filling the school with as much scrap paper as possible. When our teacher smiled and told us how proud she was of us all, it was easy to imagine she was talking just to me.