Last time it was Center Road Elementary School. Now we're really going back... back to the deep, dark mid-1970s. Back to Manchester Elementary School, my home institution from 1974-77.
Unlike Center Road, Manchester still stands. I think it became some kind of community center after they built the new schools. I've wandered past Manchester on trips home now and again, and the building seems, you guessed it, a lot smaller than I remember it. A lot smaller. As a kid I thought the "multi-purpose room" (gym/cafeteria/auditorium) was cavernous. It's like the size of my garage.
I don't think we had a gym class per se, but once in a while our regular teacher would take us down to the multi-purpose room to do jumping jacks and stuff. Once, the teacher said we would be playing with the parachute next week. I pictured us jumping off the stage, or maybe even the gym roof, with little parachutes on our backs, floating to the ground. When the day finally came, they took out an old surplus army parachute and then had us all grab the edge and flap it up and down. One of my greatest disappointments.
We had half-day kindergarten. Not even half-day. We arrived around 8:15, and started lining up for the bus at 10:45. It hardly seems worth getting dressed for. In kindergarten I achieved the double distinction of both peeing my pants and barfing, but not on the same day. The pants-peeing happened when we were sitting on the floor having a book read to us. The floor was cold and I was wearing thin pants. It stimulated something, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a puddle. The barfing happened right before Christmas break. I'd been queasy all morning and distinctly remember coloring outside the lines and not caring. When we put on our coats and waited to be called out to the bus, I couldn't hold it in any longer and spewed all over my plaid wool scarf. I remember seeing raisins in it from the Raisin Bran I'd eaten for breakfast.
I won't engage in false modesty and say I was an average student. I was pretty far ahead. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson, knew how to handle me. She let me read ahead, and I finished the reader on the first day (I was already reading encyclopedias and newspapers by this time.) She then had her son, Jamie, come over from the high school and spend time with me while the other kids did the regular reading. He brought a book with a bunch of paper airplane designs, and we would go out in the hall and make paper airplanes and talk about aerodynamics. Hey, Jamie, if you're out there, thanks. I ended up working on the Space Shuttle.
There was a jogging craze in the early 70s. Mrs. Peterson created an activity where we would jog around the playground and estimate the distance in kilometers, because of course the country was going to convert to the metric system. For every kilometer, or lap around the playground, or whatever, you got to put a foot outline by your name on the wall. My line of feet went way past the other kids', all the way around three walls. This was not because I was a good runner -- it was because I always finished my lessons early and was then allowed to go outside and jog.
Mrs. Peterson put together a spring show. We sang "Top Of The World" by the Carpenters and "Feelin' Groovy" by Simon and Garfunkel. A twentyish, hippie teacher's aide came some days, and she had us make God's Eyes out of popsicle sticks and yarn. Yes, this was the 70s, folks.
My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Huffman, was less successful at controlling me and I had some discipline problems that year. That is to say, I was a big pain in the ass. She was by-the-book and made me follow the same lessons as everyone else. We learned about dinosaurs and she made up a dinosaur-themed board game. I was chosen to play in the first game. The other player's dinosaur was creeping up on me, and I said, "I'd better get my butt out of there." For that, I was sent to stand outside in the hall. I think she also punished a kid for saying "darn" once. We had the desks where the top is hinged and opens up a storage bin where you put your books and things. One kid always had a messy desk, and Mrs. Huffman would dramatically dump it on the floor about once a month so he'd have to put his things neatly back in.
This is getting long. Let's see...the playground. I don't remember whether this was first or second grade, but the school bought a new jungle gym and we could see the workmen building it from our classroom window. When they finally finished it, our teacher let us immediately go outside and climb on it, even though it wasn't recess time. I ran as fast as I could and was the very first kid to get up on it. That damned thing was there for like 30 years, but I see from Google Maps that it's gone now.
The playground had an enormously tall slide, tall enough so that if a kid fell from the top, he'd have been seriously injured. Later they put down a thick rubber mat to make it a little safer, but when we were there it was a 15-foot drop onto plain asphalt. But I don't remember anyone ever falling. There were also some huge swings; once you got going, you were way off the ground. Once I walked too close to the swings, not paying attention, and a swinger kicked me in the head hard enough that it literally altered my sense of smell for a couple hours.
Each class had a supply of toys and balls you could take out to recess, first come first served. One day my friends and I grabbed one of those big red rubber school balls everyone must remember. We were booting it around when Wayne Sprafka came and took the ball from us and kicked it over the hedge, into the nursery field next door to the school, where we were unable to retrieve it. We said, "We're gonna tell," and we did, and he got busted. Wayne also dumped a whole bottle of purple paint on our art projects. Wherever you are, Wayne, keep it crazy.
As I said, I had some discipline issues in second grade. The playground was bordered by a wooded area that had a path leading into it. Kids were not allowed to go back there, but one spring day, we did anyway. It gets better. We were out of sight of the teachers, and when the bell rang for everyone to line up and go back to class, we just stayed out there. I guess nobody noticed we were missing. After a few minutes, we started to realize that we'd have to go back inside eventually, and there was going to be no way to sneak it. So we just had to bite the bullet and walk back into class. "Where were you?!" "Uh, we stayed in the woods after the bell rang." I don't remember the punishment, but I sure remember the offense, so it must have been worth it. I know I didn't get "swats" (corporal punishment, can you believe a school doing that now?) I only got swats once, and it was much later.
Going to have to wrap this up. In second grade, a kid's lunch money was lost or stolen (probably lost). The thief, if there was one, was never caught, so strict Mrs. Huffman made a rule that you had to give her your lunch money in the morning, and then she would parcel it back out at lunchtime. This went on the rest of the school year - seems like overkill. Lunch was 40 cents including milk, and milk by itself was six cents. A nickel and a penny. On hot dog day, an aide would sit at a desk, and you'd say, "ketchup", "mustard" or "both", and she'd squirt it on your hot dog. This is getting disjointed and it's getting late, so that's going to have to be it.