The Elementary Years

Before we leave Arkansas for the unknowns of Arizona, I want to back up and talk about what was for me the best part of my childhood – school.

Who can forget first grade! Mrs. Estes was a wonderful teacher and I remember loving to learn. I do not recall the precipitating event, but I do remember a ruler across my knuckles for what must have been a grievous infraction of first-grade protocol. My teachers had a low tolerance for disobedience and a wide berth for dealing with transgressions. I was never invited to the principal’s office, but I can assure you students feared that possibility.

What a promotion it was to enter second grade because that classroom was on the second floor. How grown up I felt climbing those stairs and entering a large room with an imposing gas heater anchoring the front right corner. Mrs. Abercrombie was a tall, slender mature lady with a nice smile. The one memory from second grade is of Mrs. Abercrombie warming a can of corn tortillas (yes, that is correct – the tortillas were vacuum packed in a tin can) so that we could all taste this Mexican staple. They were very bland and no one wanted seconds! It was many years before I knew tortillas came any other way.

It must have been that the post-war baby boom was having its impact on the school system, for all I remember of third grade was the room being filled to capacity. After two days, three of us were deemed capable of performing at fourth grade level and were moved to join Mrs. Davis. So added to the list “Things Most People Do Not Know About Me” is the fact that I skipped third grade.

Fourth grade was such fun! I was learning multiplication and division, but it was the reading I was able to do that brought the greatest satisfaction. Books with stories of heroes and living happily ever after made indelible impressions in my heart, as did a boy named Glendale Taylor. He loved to chase the girls at recess, and he was “in love” with a different one every day. Glendale and I seemed to have a special connection. One day at recess, he asked me to marry him and placed a ring on my finger. I was the happiest girl in fourth grade. Glendale Taylor had picked me above all those other girls! The euphoria was brief as my finger began to both swell and turn green. Alas, the engagement was broken when I was sent to the cafeteria where there was equipment to cut the ring from my finger. Glendale was very sad at losing that ring!

Mrs. Rowland was one of the most feared teachers at Brady Elementary. I never understood why she had earned that reputation as I enjoyed being in her class. She read the Bible and had prayer every day in our classroom, along with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Each student took a turn leading the pledge.

Sixth grade brought my first male teacher who also happened to be the school principal, Wayne K. Carter. He was not married, so naturally all the girls had a crush on him. I remember a geography lesson discussing why Africa was so inaccessible for trade and development. I have never forgotten that it was because of its irregular coastline. I have carried that nugget of knowledge with me for my entire life! Also firmly entrenched in my memory is of a sixth-grade chorus program. It may have been a Christmas program, but the chorus was arranged on steps that flanked both sides of the stage. Being one of the taller ones, I was standing on the highest step when my failure to eat a good breakfast resulted in my fainting right in the middle of the program!

A graduation exercise was held upon completion of sixth grade. A cap-and-gown was not used, so the boys wore suits and the girls wore nice dresses. Prior to this event, I do not recall a dress ever being purchased for me to wear to a special occasion. My dresses were either homemade or handed down, but I will never forget this dress. Most likely it came from J.C. Penney, but that detail escapes me. The fabric design would be characterized as stripes and flowers. Overall the dress was a pale pink sheer fabric with vertical rows of tiny pale pink and green flowers. To this day, any diagram of my personality comes out to “stripes and flowers.” There is a side of me that is very straight to toe the mark (stripes) and another side that is adventurous and enjoying (flowers). After graduation, it became my Sunday church dress until I outgrew it.

Many of the major changes in our lives as a family began taking place during and after my sixth-grade year, as best I can trace. Mother divorced Daddy, he was committed to the state mental hospital, Mother met and married Vernon, we moved to California, then back to Arkansas. Now we are about to embark upon the move to Arizona. The next post will detail that trip about a mother driving alone with ten children in a 1946 Plymouth sedan, pulling a trailer holding all our worldly goods, trekking to what she hoped would be a better life.

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