Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, December 31, 2012

School Security in the 1950s

I started first grade at Huff Lane School in 1951, the year after the school was built to serve the rapidly growing Dorchester Court neighborhood. Dorchester Court, which provided homes for many returning Korean War vets and their rapidly growing families, seemed to spring up behind my backyard almost overnight. On the other side of Dorchester Court was farmland; on the backside of Huff Lane School was Pete Huff's Dairy Farm.

At age 9, I was toting my capgun. Couldn't take it to school, though.
I don't think anyone gave any thought to school security back in those days. The closest we had to security guards were the safety patrols, selected fifth and sixth graders who wore a belt and badge and made us wait before crossing the street. Sometimes we didn't even have those. All the teachers were female, and they weren't dressed for action. They wore dresses and high heels. The only male in the building was the custodian, whose main job seemed to be firing up the coal furnace or appearing with a mop and bucket if someone threw up.

The primary grades had doors that opened onto patios, where the sun beat mercilessly on us if we did activities out there. (Sunscreen hadn't been invented and no one wore hats except in winter.) There were no trees to speak of, except a few saplings out front—nothing to hide behind. In front of the school was the main door. We lined up in front of it every morning while we waited to go in. There was also a back door, at least one side door, and the cafeteria door. Nobody monitored those doors.

I don't remember an intercom in those days. Any messages for teachers were hand-delivered from the office. We had an occasional fire drill, though, indicated by a loud blast of sound. During these drills, we lined up, walked in a line out the nearest door, and stood out in the open—close enough to be in the way of any firetrucks if the school did catch fire. It never did. We didn't do tornado drills—it would be two decades before anything like a tornado would touch down in the area, and even then it only peeled the roof off part of Westside Elementary, about five miles away. Despite an air raid siren which sounded from the school's roof every Saturday at noon, we didn't do any disaster drills, even though airplanes from nearby Woodrum Field flew low and close to the school. I guess if a plane were to hit the school, it would be too late to warn anyone.

If we had to exit the school suddenly (and we never did), we'd have had to go through the halls. We wouldn't have fitted through the windows that were hinged at the bottom and pushed open, no doubt a safety feature to keep any kid—no matter how small—from falling out. The only place to hide in the classrooms were the wooden coat closets—one for boys and one for girls—which weren't at all secure and wouldn't have held everyone. If we got outside, we'd have no place to hide so we'd have to run for home.

This is how Huff Lane, now closed, looked recently. It didn't look like this in the 50s.
(I found this pic on the Internet, but I don't remember where.)
But the 1950s were a different time, a safer time when kids walked to and from school without parental supervision. Sometimes those of us who lived close enough even walked home for lunch. During the day, fathers were at work and mothers were at home. Most mothers didn't drive. I only know of one mother in the neighborhood who drove and had a car, but her son went to Catholic school.

Kids in those days had been warned, of course, not to speak to strangers and never to get in a stranger's car lest we get kidnapped. We never knew anyone that had been kidnapped or even what happened to kids who were kidnapped, just like we never knew any kid who'd lost an arm from sticking out the car's open window. But we heeded the warnings anyhow. Plus, if any stranger should approach us, we were secure in the knowledge that we could always run to the nearest house where the housewife in residence could call the police or something. 

That a stranger might come into our school to do us harm was something that never occurred to us. But those were different times, safer times. . . .



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