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Something big was going on down at Dr. Strait’s old homeplace.
Since it was only three houses up Chesterfield Avenue toward town, I decided to mosey down there to see what all the commotion was about.
After talkin’ to some of the working fellas, one of ’em spilled the beans.
“Son, they’re gonna build a brand new grammar school right here on this hill,” he said.
Boy, that was good news for me. It meant I wouldn’t have to go across town to Central School.
I ran back home and rushed inside to tell Mama.
Bless Pete, it was sort of disappointing when she told me that she already knew.
I couldn’t wait for each day to begin. I was keeping up with every load of red brick from Ashe Brick Company in Van Wyck and big long boards coming in from Mullis Lumber Company on the far end of West Meeting Street. There was a bunch of stuff all over the place. Metal windows with the panes already in were stacked to one side waiting for the walls to go up.
The building was really taking shape. One day, a truckload of fellas armed with picks, shovels and hoes arrived and started digging out a slopping driveway in the red clay bank.
Somebody said the men were government folks from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Well, whatever that was, the fellas dug, chopped and dug some more until they formed an first class driveway for the school buses to drop off children at the new school.
Yellow straw was scattered all over the place and grass seeds and fertilizer sowed over the red dirt. In no time at all, green sprigs of grass stated popping through.
September was rolling around and the new school would be ready to start.
Me and Mama argued whether I was old enough to be in the first group to attend the school. Years later, she said I raised a real commotion when I saw children going up the street for school and I wasn’t quite old enough to go.
Maybe so, but that second year was my time. I had arrived. I was 6 years old and chomping at the bit to have my very own first grade desk.
Everybody was 6 and on the same level, so to speak. None of us had been exposed to day care or kindergarten
Right before school started, Mama sat me down for a serious “talkin’ to.” Mama wasn’t mean, but I could tell she was serious.
“Your teacher’s name is Miss Eugenia Adams,” she said. “I’ve known her for years and she knows me a long time ago, too. You had best behave in her class.”
My reply was simple.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
We walked uptown and stopped in Bucklelew’s dime store. I picked out my book satchel which came complete with a pencil box.
It was more like a treasure box, though. It had eight Crayola crayons, a 6-inch wooden ruler, a pink pearl rubber eraser and two pencils with a little bitty pencil sharpener in it.
Then we crossed the street and got a couple of school books from Ben C. Hough’s Jewelers. Mr. Ben sold some books which the state didn’t have on hand.
That early September morning finally arrived. With my book satchel in one hand and my Mama’s hand in the other, down Chesterfield Avenue we walked. Mr. Dave Belk of the police department was standing in the middle of the street stopping cars to let children cross the street to climb the steps leading inside the schoolhouse.
My first grade classmates included Jack Neal, Carol Bowers, Madeline Blackmon, Jane Grey Williams, my cousin, Mary Frances Evans, Ollie Humphries, Barbara Dabney, Tarza Morrison, Dickie Isley, Toy Rhea Gregory, Johnny Willis, Earl Bailey, Malley Varnadore, Marion Tenant, Bobby Parker, my best friend Billy Pipkins and many others.
To tell the truth, seeing some I knew and meeting the ones I didn’t know that first day had my nerves jangled.
I was grateful Mama was only a few doors down as I took my seat in Miss Adams’ classroom.
Miss Adams was a really big woman who didn’t smile much.
From the looks of things (and Mama’s talkin’ to), I was already dreading what would happen if Miss Adams got mad at me.
Then she smiled and told us how pleased she was to have us in her class.
After a few days, a routine got set in and Mama cut me loose to walk to school all by myself.
Of course, Billy lived next door and walked with me. I reckon you could say we were in the same boat.
Learning to print my ABC’s on that double-spaced Montag Blue Horse tablet was tough, but with time, and Miss Adams’ encouragement and patience, it got easier.
Before long, she had me reading about Dick and Jane and their pet monkey, Winky.
School was hard but when fall arrived, we found time to cut out paper leaves and made autumn scenes. Pumpkins were all over the place in October and when November arrived, we did our best to draw plump turkey gobblers. December was a short month because we got Christmas holidays, but we had time to draw snowflakes, snowmen and Christmas trees.
When Mr. Dave was back stopping traffic in January, Miss Adams had plenty of schoolwork for us. She had us readin’ about Bunny Boy, Paddy Boy and the princess who didn’t cry, as well as Dick and Jane.
Thank goodness for February when we got to make valentines and send them to our secret sweethearts.
Times were tough on many families, but shucks, we kids didn’t know that. Everybody got along real good. Sometimes when parents had to send in a little change for something, some of my classmates didn’t have any change to spare.
Miss Adams always had this mysterious way of making sure nobody got left out.
Our principal, Mr. C.D. Williams would regularly read the Bible to us from the auditorium stage and pray for us.
We enjoyed it when a magic show visited our school. One time, the South Carolina Health Department had a program on brushing our teeth. Everybody got a brand new toothbrush and a tube of Ipana tooth paste.
Life was hard, but life was good.