Learning in the Fifties

I grew up in the fifties and sixties of the last century.  That sounds like so long ago, but to me it seems just like yesterday.  I attended a little school in a little town of about 400 people where the first through the senior classes were all in one building.  A two story brick school house with no air conditioning.  When it got hot, we opened the windows.  It was heated by a big furnace in the basement cared for by our one janitor, Mr. Mikesell.   I sat at desks where there were holes for inkwells  in the top though we didn’t use them anymore. My desk had carvings on it that other pupils had made while sitting in them.   Our books and yellow writing tablets were put underneath on a shelf.   The classroom smelled of chalkdust, paste and crayons.

We had a music teach, Miss Hower. She seemed like a little woman to me even though I was a little girl. She would come to our classroom once or twice a week to teach music. She was always wearing a dress with a full gathered skirt, a jacket or sweater and tiny heels.  She was soft spoken, but she taught us well. She had one of those pitch pipes she would blow to get the note we were to start on in a song.  Our favorite time in music class was when we could pick out the songs to sing in our songbook.   Now, I don’t know what crazy things they may or may not be teaching in public schools today, but our choice of music was not what I would think children should be singing in the classroom although I loved these songs.  One of our favorites was called, and I am serious, “There is a Tavern in the Town.”   I can still remember all the words.  Picture a classroom of second and third graders belting out this song at the top of their voices.

There  is a tavern in the town, in the town.

And there my true love sits him down, sits him down

And drinks his wine mid fancy free

And never, ever thinks of me!

Fair thee well for I must leave thee

Do not let this parting grieve thee

But remember that the best of friends

Must part, must part.

Adieu, adieu kind friends,  adieu, adieu, adieu

I can not longer stay with you, stay with you-u-u

I’ll hang my heart on a weeping willow tree,

And may the world go well with thee.

I can’t imagine what my father and mother thought of this song as they did not drink, but I am sure I sang it around our house. I loved it!

Another song we sang was “Barbara Allen.  A song that always made me sad.

I know there are several verses to it, but I can only remember three of  them

Twas in the merry month of May

When the green buds they were swelling,

Sweet William on his death bed lay.

For the love of Barbara Allen.

Oh, mother, mother, make my bed

Oh, make it long and narrow.

Sweet William died for me today,

I’ll die for him tomorrow.

And here’s where I would feel like crying…..

They buried her in the old church yard,

And they buried him beside her.

And from his grave there grew a rose,

And from hers grew a briar.

And the song from the war years, years before any of us were born.

Don’t sit under the apple tree

With anyone else but me,

Anyone else but me,

Anyone else but me, no, no, no.

Don’t sit under the apple tree,

With anyone else but me,

Til’ I come marching home.

I just got word from a guy who heard

From a guy next door to me,

The girl he met just loves to pet

And it fits you to a T!

So, don’t sit under the apple tree

With anyone else but me,

Til’ I come marching home.

We probably didn’t even know what petting was at that age, but we loved singing that song.  My question is, who put those songs in children’s songbooks back in the fifties?   I find it funny now.

We had three recesses every day. One in the morning. One after lunch and a third in the afternoon.  In good weather we would race to the schoolyard trying to get one of the swings before they were all taken.  These swings swung high and we’d swing so high the chain would buckle and of course we would jump out at the highest point.  There were teetor-totters and we tried bumping each other off them by dropping down hard on the ground while the other one was in the air.  I had the wind knocked out of me several times doing that.  Playgrounds looks so dull and uninteresting now and I wonder how the children can have fun in them.  We had a merry-go-round that the big boys would spin while the rest of us would hold on for dear life. I lost several dress sashes on the merry-go-round when they would get caught and I would fall off.  I look back now and wonder how we all survived, but we did.  And it was glorious fun.

If you have seen the movie, Christmas Story, my classrooms looked a lot like Ralphie’s  and his teacher reminds me a whole lot of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Retherford.    I loved school, but would cry every Sunday night when I realized I had to go back to school on Monday.   We had three reading groups, the Cardinals, the Bluebirds and the Robins. The Cardinals were the best readers and I was in that group as I had pretty much taught myself to read before I went to school.  I have never lost my love of reading.  I felt sorry for the Bluebirds who were struggling learning to read.   They all learned to read, though and that is what was important.

When someone would get sick in the classroom and didn’t make it to the bathroom which was in the basement of the building, Mr. Mikesell would come in with his mop and bucket and as we kids watched fascinated, he would mop up the mess without acting like it affected him at all while we kids went “eww” and “ick,” and when he left, our teacher would thank him and he would shake some good smelling powder on the floor.   It was a common occurance in our classroom, it seemed.

When it was too bad to take recess outdoors, we would play in our classroom, writing on the blackboard, coloring or jumping rope. I loved jumping rope and could jump hundreds of times before the rope would catch my legs.

Lunch time was the social time of the day as we would sit with our friends and either ate our lunch we brought from home or ate a hot meal prepared by the cooks, who were usually someone’s mothers.  The meals were delicious and we could go back for seconds.  One of the cooks baked homemade cinnamon rolls once in a while and you could smell them baking all over the school and by lunchtime you would be so hungry.  Friday was fish day for the one Catholic family who lived in our school district.  I loved fish day.

So many memories of my school days.  I pretty much loved learning and still do.  My second grade teacher, Mrs. Farmer, turned me onto writing and I thank her for teaching me how to write a good story.  My first story was about an apple and what happened to him as he was picked and taken to be made into apple cider.    I wish I still had that paper.

How was your school years?  Do you have fond memories or would you rather forget them?  Good teachers can make a big difference in how children look at education.  Here’s to those teachers who made us want to learn.  Bye.

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