First Day of School – 1950s Style

Columnist:  Bob Grafe

One of the advantages of being a “senior” citizen is the ability to reflect back over at least a half-century of real time — and to finally be truthful about it!

About 55 years ago, my fifth-grade elementary school teacher, Mrs. Rumbleheart, was welcoming her new class of students back to school after our summer vacation.  She met us at the classroom door with her new class roster in one hand and, “Whack,” her 18-inch ruler gripped confidently in the other.

“Welcome back.” she said with her all-knowing voice.  Most of the girls smiled and said something nice in return while most of us boys just looked down to avoid that familiar teacher’s glare of suspicion.  

In those days we didn’t return to school until after Labor Day was celebrated.  Well, celebrated wasn’t exactly the way we looked at it.  We kids weren’t ever really sure what Labor Day was all about anyway; except we all knew that we were about to return to “slave labor” in that big building called a school where they made us “practice” all kinds of stuff like reading, writing … and that other one as soon as Labor Day was over.

We knew from experience that our only break from true forced “labor” at school was when we were allowed out for recess into “the yard,” complete with concrete flooring and a “protective” (very tall) cyclone fence all around — with school teacher “guards” at every gate.

Modern-day prisons have a resemblance to many earlier-day schools.

The first day back to school was always bad.  But, this one seemed particularly bad.

The teachers, Mrs. Rumbleheart included, were everywhere when we went out for that first recess.  My friend Bruce secretly showed us guys some cigarettes and matches that he brought from home.  Unfortunately, he also unknowingly displayed them in a way that Mr. Kling, the vice principal, could also see them.

A couple of hours later I saw Bruce and his parents leaving Mr. Kling’s office at the end of our hallway.  Mrs. Rumbleheart never called out Bruce’s name for the remainder of that day … or the next day for that matter.  It wouldn’t have made any difference since Bruce didn’t come back to school for a couple of days.  When he came back to school he said that Mr. Kling sent him home to “think about” smoking. 

That didn’t make any sense to us.  He could have thought about smoking while at school.  That way, we guys wouldn’t have had to choose a girl to be on our dodge-ball team since Bruce wasn’t there.

Soon, it was time for our first lunch.  My mother had paid some money so that on “special days,” like the first day of school, I could eat a “hot” lunch at school.  Usually, I would bring a bag lunch with a hand-sliced piece of bologna on thin white bread with mayonnaise and a leaf of Iceberg head lettuce sandwich in a brown bag with a cookie.

My brown bag had my name written on it and would sit proudly on one of the shelves in the overly warm cloak room until it was time to go to lunch.  The school provided a “free” carton of milk for all of us brown-baggers.

I think my mother let me have a hot lunch in the school cafeteria on occasion just to make those bologna sandwiches seem better.  I don’t know if the school cooks only knew how to heat up spaghetti or not; but, it seemed as if every time I ate the school’s lunch it was spaghetti and they always added way too much water to the sauce.

After lunch it was back to the books in Mrs. Rumbleheart’s class.  She told us that we would have a different teacher than her for music and art classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that we “Best be good!” or she would hear about it … and so would we … from “Whack!”

Before the first day of school was over, Mrs. Rumbleheart had us read out-loud some pages from a book so she could check our reading ability.  We all read from the book except for Donald and Doreen.  Neither one of them ever said much in class either.  They had a really funny sounding last name.

After the reading time, we had to write some sentences about what we had just heard.  All I could remember was a couple of guys chuckling when I couldn’t pronounce some big word correctly when it was my time to read.  So, I wrote about them.  Mrs. Rumbleheart was not amused.

Finally, as the end of the first day of school was approaching, Mrs. Rumbleheart handed out a paper to everyone with a whole bunch of numbers on it in various forms and fashions with lines and strange looking symbols. 

“We still have some time to do a little math.” she announced.  Her voice had the same friendly ring to it as does the guard’s voice on death-row asking “Sir, what would you like to enjoy for your last meal with us?”

I recall turning in the paper empty to Mrs. Rumbleheart; and then, years later, having to re-take college algebra three times to finally graduate.

And, so ended another miserable first day back to school after completing a perfectly wonderful summer vacation. 

How long until Memorial Day?

Some things in life really never change … now, do they!

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Radio show host, news director, critic ... California/Alaska/Texas; VISTA Volunteer-Philly, PA; Ft. Benning Infantry School for Boys-Retired USA; ME for Texas Daily Newspaper; Nat'l Bank Chief Appraiser; TX County Chief Probation Officer; Retired x 3 or 4 ... whose counting?? Oh, yeh ... music - Great listener! OK humming ... shower singer ... I can pluck and plunk at a Hammond A-100 ... too old for a roady ... front "kid" for Louie and Pearl (RIP); I know who Mrs. Calabash is/was ... JD told me ... personally!! And, most importantly ... dah-dah!! ... I actually get paid occasionally to write reviews. Note for Web guy: The website above belongs to someone ... ?? Not me!!

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