School in 1951
My educational involvement began when I was a few weeks shy of turning six. That's when I started first grade at Huff Lane Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia. We didn't have public kindergarten or preschool in those days. All our early education happened at home where we mainly watched grown-ups and tried to emulate them.
Huff Lane was almost a brand new school—it had opened the year before on property that used to be part of the Huff farm. (I blogged about a third grade trip to that farm here.) On the first day, Mama walked me the three blocks to school and took me to Mrs. Willhide's room. Mama told me she'd wait in the front hall (which was quite a distance from my classroom) and walk me home to lunch. Sure enough, she was there. And she was there when school was out, too.
I was unimpressed with school—the only noteworthy thing that happened the first day was a girl named Jean wet her pants—and I asked Mama when I could quite school. She said I had to be sixteen; that was the age she quit to go to work during the depression. Quitting at sixteen became my goal.
Before the week was out, I caught Mama in a lie. She wasn't in the front hall. When I went through the front door, I spotted her coming up the sidewalk. Because I refused to walk with her, it wasn't long before she found a sixth grade girl who lived on Dorchester to walk me to and from school.
I think I took my lunch for a while, at least until I was pretty secure about how to get home. Then I started walking home to lunch again—but by myself. There were only two ways to go home: right on Huff Lane (a gravel road) for a block, then left onto Floraland for two blocks; or straight on Dorchester, right onto Grandview, and left onto Floraland; or straight on Dorchester and left at our vacant lot. All of the ways meant crossing two streets, but there was almost no traffic. Sometimes I didn't see a car at all.
But back to lunch. The Huff Lane cafeteria was pretty depressing. The linoleum-covered tables and benches folded out of the wall because the cafeteria was really a "multi-purpose room." There was a stage with red curtains at one end where we had assemblies.
The lunch ladies made the hot lunch from scratch, so sometimes the cafeteria smelled pretty good. This was before the low-fat insanity that overtook the nation, so the food was real—not processed—and tasted good. Kids were encouraged to drink whole milk, but I didn't like milk. I never bought a school lunch because it included milk. If I didn't go home for lunch, I carried my lunch in a paper sack (and later in a Roy Rogers lunchbox) but would sometimes pay a nickle for a Dixie Cup (and its included wooden spoon) or a chocolate-covered ice cream bar.
My main accomplishment in first grade was moving from the second reading group to the first. I think I'd been put in the second group because I was so shy that I never volunteered to read. I also rarely raised my hand because it didn't seem to matter—Mrs. Willhide eventually called on everyone, regardless of whose hands were waving wildly or not waving at all. I knew my turn woud come, and it generally did. But every time I was asked to read aloud, I had no trouble "sounding out" the words in the "Dick and Jane" reader and read fast and fluently.
I attended Huff Land School through 6th grade, and we always started the day after Labor Day. We always wore our new school clothes and changed to our play clothes as soon as we got home. Then we went out to play. I don't guess many kids do that nowadays.
Times have changed, and Huff Lane School was bull-dozed down a few years ago to make way for a hotel.