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Tales of Xenia: Lincoln Elementary School

12 Nov

Let’s sing a song of praise for Lincoln, our school so fine and grand. We want the world to know we truly believe its the best school in the land. Because it gives to us the best way to live the way of Golden Rule, so everyone just shout HURRAY for Lincoln School.. Lincoln school song, words and music by Louis Rhodes

We did praise Lincoln, and I praised it more than most since it was my neighbor. George “Pa” Davis, the school custodian lived right across the street from the school in a large two story house. Pa Davis wore clean, starched, pressed, striped overalls everyday. His wife Bess was the best cook I have ever encountered. Both of them were terribly fond of me, and one reason I am not a slender woman to this day can probably be traced, at least in part back to her making chicken pie for me and calling to me across the street to come and get some chicken pie. She would put the flaky crusted pie on a paper plate and hand me a jelly jar full of creamy, yellow chicken gravy with some waxed paper on top to take home with me. Between her and our next door neighbor Thelma ” Mama Thelma” Robinson I was fed within an inch of my life with chicken pie, pecan pie, lemon pie, pound cake, sweet potato pie and more succulent and sweet dishes than I care to name. Actually, I gained more weight after I became aware of weight as a pre-teen and stopped eating the gifts they provided. Maybe if I want to lose weight I need to find a new Miss Bess or Mama Thelma. But again, I digress.

Lincoln was an old school with lots of wood that Pa Davis kept shining and marble floors in the hallways. There was a grand staircase from the first floor to the second and everything was spic and span all the time. All of the students were black and all of the teachers were black.

I had Mrs. Johnson in kindergarten, she was six feet tall, gentle, smart and dedicated to her students.

I had Ms. Madison in first grade–a rather ditzy woman that I had some relatively spirited discussions ( read arguments– I was an arrogant child) with, including one in which she tried to convince me that 1 x 0=1.

My second grade teacher was Mrs. Castleman an aristocratic, elegant woman who married late and was, therefore, known to many even until the day she died, as Miss Peters.

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Howard, we had two Mrs. Howards, Blonzetta and Catherine. Catherine was my third grade teacher. A sharp tongued tyrant she was a no-nonsense kind of woman and ruled her classroom with an iron hand.

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Bayless was ( and is, she is still alive) a kind and gentle soul. My primary memory of fourth grade is when one of my classmates brought a cocoon to class and left it in his desk, the next day we had tiny praying mantises in all of our desks.

My fifth grade teacher, Mr. McGee aka Firpo ( I do not know why) was detached and no real interested in us.

My sixth grade teacher, the inimitable Miss Taylor I have already described earlier.

Seventh and eighth grade were unremarkable except for Mrs. Waterman who taught gym and geography and paddled students who did not get good grades on her test. I always got good grades, so I liked her.

Because Lincoln connected to the high school a lot of us were able to see our older siblings  during the school day. My sister, Barbara, 11 years older than me, used to bring me my sweater that I routinely forgot or something else my mother had asked her to bring. Although Barbara was a regular visitor to my first grade class, probably using the sweater or other item as an excuse to check on me for my mother, Ms Madison never recognized her and had to be told each time whose sister she was.

In the first grade we sat in old desks, Lincoln and East both were routinely given furniture and books and supplies that had been discarded by the white schools. The desks in first grade provided seating for two kids with an attached bench with a back. My seat mate was Sharon C, who is still a good friend, but was rather a high strung first grader. One day she put her pencil in her ear, twisted it around and broke off the lead. She immediately panicked and began to grab me and scream. The equally high strung Ms. Madison pretty much panicked as well. She tried to drag Sharon out into the hall to get some help, but Sharon had a death grip on me. Sharon was my best friend and out of solidarity I curled my ankles around the iron framework that connected the bench to the desk. Ms. Madison could not pull us both out off of the bench, especially with me having the leverage of the ironwork.

Excitement was often around our first grade class, no more so than when it was time for shots. The schools of the era provided inoculations for school children. Your parents did have to sign agreeing to let you get them, of course and those of us who could read in the first grade were sorely tempted to put the permission slip down a sewer grate. My mother, knowing I could read and knowing I was not the most trustworthy of children when it came to things like avoiding needles through chicanery, gave my sister the permission slip to deliver to Ms. Madison. It took Barbara several minutes to explain to her who the slip was for.

Sharon was deathly afraid of getting a shot. Mrs. Mary Langan, the only white person whose name I knew, besides Mrs. Harris, who was married to a black man and lived across the street from me, would come to the school and everyone would line up and get their shots. When she walked up the long walkway to the elementary school from where she had parked her car on the street a tremor went through the entire building. The kids tall enough to see out of the window could see her coming and the imminence of her unpacking her torture instruments, as we saw it, rippled through the student body without any words being exchanged.

One day when she came, with her black bag firmly in her hand, Ms. Madison announced it was our turn to go get our shots. We were to line up in the hall outside and go one, by one, lambs to the slaughter, into the room where Mrs. Langan, in her sensible shoes and with her matter of fact demeanor, was waiting to save our health with her hypodermic needles.

Sharon freaked as soon as we got in line and escalated her freak the closer we got to the nurse. She had my arm in a death grip and was alternately crying and moaning and trying to drag me backward to keep the line from moving towards the inevitable. I, who did not like shots, but kind of like Miss Mary as we called her, was trying to go get it over with. So, we approached the Kraken , at least in Sharon’s eyes, with a kind of eccentric gait. I would take a step, be pulled back half a yard by my desperate friend and then drag her forward. Because Pa Davis did such a good job keeping the floors shined and she had on shoes with leather soles ( we would no more wear sneakers to school than our pajamas) I was able to tow her along rather easily.

We finally got to Ms. Langan, two teachers pried Sharon off my arm so I could get my shot, which was over in a second and then Miss Mary turned to Sharon who was being held up at this point by the ones who had detached her from me. Miss Mary prepared the needle and went to give Sharon the shot and Sharon fainted. I do not know if she ever got her shot, I was hustled back to my classroom and Sharon came in still shaking some time later. I did not see the tell tale band-aid on her arm, so maybe she got a reprieve. She seems healthy now, lives in Asheville, so if she skipped her vaccinations it has not done her any harm.

My second most vivid memory of my elementary days happened when I was in the 8th grade. Mrs. Blonzetta Howard was our Home Economics teacher. She either did not like to cook or could not cook, we never could decide which it was. As a result we spent most of our time sewing. I actually think, on reflection, that she could leave us safely at our sewing machines, but knew she dare not leave us cooking, at least not for long. She liked to get us started on projects, check in on us periodically and spend the intervening time in the teacher’s lounge.

One, exceptional day she told us we were going to cook a meal the next day. She explained the menu, the recipes and told us because it was a meal we could bring soft drinks if we wanted to. So the great day came, we were all excited, we got to cook!! And eat! And then we realized no one had brought anything to drink. This was an era when having soft drinks with meals was a real treat and we had been looking forward to it massively.

Now our meal was going to be less than perfect. We began to whisper and plot. The recipe we were making required some time in the oven. We speculated that Ms. Howard would absent her self for at least the 20-30 minutes the dish took to cook. After all we would have it in the oven and would be strictly told not to open the oven until the proscribed time.

Mrs. Smith’s grocery was around the corner from Lincoln and fortuitously the Home Ec room was on the second floor in the part of the building closest to the store. The only things between us and some grade a Kool-Aid was the playground and two houses. The only thing we needed was a pigeon to convince to leave school grounds to procure it for us.

We hit upon Gloria P. a very chubby young lady with very bowed legs. She was pretty much picked on by virtually everyone ( yeah I know but 8th grade girls are merciless). We decided she could be sweet talked. After all we had sugar and water, all we needed was some of that magic powder and our meal would be perfect. After five minutes or so of convincing her how grateful we would be and how friendly we would be to her after she saved the day  we had her convinced.

Some one ( maybe me– I was pretty much known as a goody two shoes and therefore rather proof against teacher suspicion) scouted the hallway for signs of Ms. Howard and signaled the all clear. Gloria took off with our amassed funds for Mrs. Smith’s. We tried to relax while she was gone, but it seemed to be taking her an inordinate amount of time to come back with the goods. Mrs. Smith was known to be slow, she lived in the back of the store and sometimes took a while to come out and wait on you. Also, she was a single lady who sometimes needed some company so she would chat and get what you wanted very slowly.

After about ten minutes–the time we had estimated the deed could be accomplished in, we began drifting over to the bank of windows that faced the direction Gloria would be coming from. Pretty soon several of the windows were open with the heads of girls sticking out, craning our necks to see if we could see anything. After another two to three minutes we saw Gloria round the corner, bow legs churning, head down, clutching a small brown paper bag.  A cheer went up and we began to cheer her on, forgetting we were not supposed to be doing anything but cleaning up the kitchen and getting ready to eat.

Just as she made the last leg, the playground, the classroom door swung open and Ms. Howard stalked into the room. Busted! We did not have Kool-Aid. We did have detention.

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Posted by on November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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