In September of 1937, I was enrolled in the first grade. I went to Irvine Grade School and I had the most wonderful teacher in the whole wide world, Miss Hays. I am sure that she must have had a first name, but to me she was and always will be “Miss Hays.”
I did not get to go to Kindergarten, so I was behind in my learning. I could not write my name and I had an awful time trying to master the alphabet. I just could not seem to get all those letters in the right order, and when I had to stand up in front of the class and recite them, I failed miserably. I was so embarrassed, and I thought that I was just destined to be a big ole dummy, but one day I finally got them memorized and a whole new world of words and books opened up for me.
Mathematics was my forte. My daddy had taught me to count by using the change in his pocket. I was not really good at a lot of things but when it came to counting I could hold my own with any of my classmates.
Spelling class was always one of my favorite classes. I would study for hours to learn new words and memorize their meanings. I was not a scholar by any means, but I was inquisitive and I guess I was always chasing one or more of my illusive dreams.
I realized very early in life that I was not destined to live the life of a pampered princess. My young life so far had been frayed with disappointments and almost always a lack of ready cash. When daddy took me to buy my ugly brown lace up school shoes he warned me not to throw the box away because before the school year would end I would need it to make inner soles to put in my shoes that would most certainly be wearing out by then.
Doing without or doing with very little was a part of my life, and I could see no change in the foreseeable future, so I chose to remain the proverbial dreamer. School was beginning to be fun, and I was finally keeping up with my classmates. Every morning after doing my chores I went to school.
I did not walk, I ran. I could hardly wait to get there. Every morning the class was opened with the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag and then singing the Star Spangled Banner followed immediately by a Bible verse.
I loved my teacher and school was really fun, but what was even better was that in the middle of the morning, we were allowed to go outside in the schoolyard and play on the playground equipment. I was not interested in the swings, the see saws or even jumping rope. What I had my eye on was the sliding board. I had never been on a slide. I shied away from it for a long time, but finally I decided that if all the others in my class could climb that big tall ladder that led to the top of the slide then I could do it to.
Well, I finally gathered all my courage and climbed and climbed and I made it to the top. When I started down the slide for the first time, I thought to myself that this was going to be one of the best days of my life, but when I got to the bottom I slipped on a rock and fell, without thinking, I picked it up to throw it out of the school yard. I never could throw a straight ball and evidentally I was going to have the same luck with rocks. The rock that was supposed to be thrown out of the school yard ended up in the middle of a window in the school basement. The janitor came running out in a rage to find out who was breaking his windows and destroying school property.
I went home that day, a little slower than usual, with a heavy heart and a note pinned to my coat that told my unsuspecting parent’s, that I had to replace the broken window that I had so negligently broken and that I owed the Irvine Grade School thirty five cents.
Every year our school participated in a wonderful pageant know as the May Day Dance. Everyone wanted to get to dance around the May Pole; everyone wanted to be a part of this folk celebration. I was absolutely thrilled out of my mind when Miss Hays chose me to be one of the participants. We practiced for months just to be able to dance around the May Pole pole for a few minutes. An even number of boys and girls wove ours streamers around the pole and thrived in all the attention that our families gave us. The boys wore white shirts and black pants, but we girls had beautiful dresses made out of brightly colored crepe paper. Part of the celebration was to select a King and Queen from the high school. The most beautiful girl and the most handsome boy were always selected and awarded a crown to wear during all the festivities. As the years went by, we girls got to have matching dotted swiss dresses. I was always so proud of my dress and was allowed to wear it to Sunday school at the Irvine Christian Church. I pretended that I was a princess and wore it with so much pride. As soon as I got home from Sunday school I took off my beautiful dress and hung it up. I loved that dress and I was so proud of it. When I went by the closet I would sometimes take it out and marvel at its beauty.
My mother was a good seamstress, and in the spring when the farmers would return their sacks that the feed had come in, Daddy would drive us over to the feed store and let me pick out one or two of the prettiest flowered feed sacks. Daddy would give the proprietor ten cents for each sack and as soon as we got home Mama would begin to make me a broom stick skirt and I would proudly wear the skirt to school the very next day. She would always buy a white one and make me a blouse. She would embroider flowers around the neck, and I thought that I had the prettiest outfit of any girl in school. I did not have a lot, but I was proud of what I had.
Once or twice a year, the family would take a big trip to Richmond. We would all pile in the car and away we would go. The Richmond Road was a dangerous winding piece of highway, and some of the hills were almost impossible to get up. When we got to the highest hill, we would all call out to Daddy, put her in bulldog‚ and he would put our old Pontiac in first gear, and we would chug, chug, and chug until we got up to the top. There was one bump that every one called the thrill bump, and we always wanted to go over it as fast as our car would go. I have seen my daddy shove down on that gas peddle and get our old car up to thirty-five miles per hour. These were the times when we could hardly wait to get back home and tell everyone that would listen how fast our daddy had driven.
We did not have much to brag about, but this was really special and I am afraid that sometimes our friends doubted our words, but we did not care, because we knew and that was all that mattered. We took our good times and turned them into cherished memories, and we each kept them tucked away in the secret part of our minds to be able to pull them out when hard times came, and we needed to be cheered up.
Sometimes, our good memories were all that kept us going when times were really bad.
Goodbye for now, and God willing, I will be back next week.