It’s that special time of year when school is starting again. I can almost smell new blue jeans and see those shiny new pencils, book bags, and pointy new crayons. I can close my eyes and smell the shiny waxed floors, so clean that even a small child hated to mess them up. That oily sawdust mixture used to clean those beautiful, old, creaky floors is a smell I will never forget.
I’ve always loved school, maybe because I started going to kindergarten early and became brainwashed with books, songs, friends, lining up, and doing all sorts of fun things. Mrs. Edwina Stanton walked by my house and took me with her to Avondale kindergarten when I was not old enough to go. Later when we moved to Spring Street I went to First Methodist for a while. I mostly remember the good stories and the bad-tasting cod liver oil that all the children lined up and took. At the end of World War II and into the fifties, it was given to school children to combat rickets caused by the meager diets of the day brought on by war- time food shortages.
When I started first grade at Main Avenue, my Mother walked with my sister Barbara and me the very first day. We walked across a grassy field where the hospital ER is now, and across another grassy field where the Nursing Home porch is now, to Walnut Street, where it was sidewalks and clear sailing all the way. Kind policemen and cute safety patrols helped at crossings. First, second, and third graders gathered at the back door of the school until the bell rang to go inside. Yellow slicker raincoats and rubber galoshes, which we called overshoes, helped keep our feet dry because we really liked to splish-splash our way through the deepest puddles. After that first day, we walked without mama, but with a host of friends, who lived on that street, some on the other side of Johnny Brown Hill. It was the beginning of an adventure in learning that still is precious to me to this very day.
There was no Indian Valley then, but there were schools galore: Gantt’s Quarry, Sylavon School, and B.B. Comer Elementary School, South Highland Elementary, and old East Highland Elementary. Randy Burns said he attended there before moving to Mountain View School. Of course there were more schools in the area, Sycamore, Winterboro, and Fayetteville come to mind. Since I wished that I knew more about them, I just asked and many of you had lots of memories to share.
Many people remember Main Avenue for the same reasons that I do. Most everyone remembers the big rock at the corner of Clay and Church Streets on the Main Avenue playground. “What happened to the Big Rock?” is a question that I get often asked, and I wish I knew. The Big Rock was to the students like the Dairy Queen, White Midget, and Frosty became to them as teenagers a few years later. It was THE meeting place. When P.E. was not organized and elementary children just ran and chased each other and played cowboys and Indians and an occasional game of kick ball, the cries of “Meet you at the Big Rock!!” rang across the playground. It was a place where teachers did not go, but could only see, and not too well at that. It was the place for chit-chat and boyfriend girlfriend stuff, consisting of “Do you like me?” It might have been in a note passed at that Big Rock Post Office, that required you to check yes or no. Between the girls was stuff like, “Will you be my best friend?” The rock was not so-o big that you could not climb up and have a seat or take your stand, if you were daring, to play King of the Mountain. When the school was demolished, no one thought to guard the Big Rock, and it disappeared like the bricks and mortar that held that special place together. Main Avenue was remembered for many good teachers, principals, and the best lunchroom ladies around. I loved Halloween carnivals, May Day and music with Mrs. “Hickory Dickory, Dockery.” Ronald Shaw remembers Mrs. McEwen letting Jay Hughes and him go to teach other classrooms about their great rock collections. Fess Simpkins began band there for fourth-sixth grade students. Mrs. Pruitt and Mrs. Crowther taught piano.
Sylavon School brought back lots of memories for many people, especially the food. Hamburgers and homemade rolls were mentioned by many of you. Lunchroom ladies made everything from scratch, and the aroma of those rolls and cookies baking made for hungry kids when lunchtime finally came. Bobbie Reynolds remembers walking to school with 40 or 50 kids who lived in Sylavon Court. In the late forties and fifties, those houses were full of families who had moved to Sylacauga to work in the defense plants that were located here and in Childersburg. Mrs. Dupree, Mrs. Green, Mrs. Jerri Hamilton, Miss Sarah Upshaw and other good teachers taught there.
Sue Embry related a life-lesson she learned at Sylavon. Sue took (stole was the word she used)a piece of chalk from the school and wrote her name multiple times on the long cement sidewalk that led from the school to Fourth Street. She remembers Miss Upshaw, her teacher, giving her an old fashioned talkin’-to and telling her that “Fools names and monkeys faces always appear in public places.” Some sixty-seven years later Sue remembers that good lesson.
Citizenship and daily devotionals were parts of every day in schools in the forties and fifties. I remember reading Ecclesiastes 3, that beautiful poem Solomon wrote about time, when it was my time to read the Bible in sixth grade and getting the question, “What time is it, Ginger?” Mrs. Beckett did not think that was funny, and Jerry R. had to stay in from recess and become acquainted with a poem that she chose for him. Yes, I have great memories of school that started September 9 and ended May 26, and it was not so long ago at that.
Next time, school will be in session again right here with more good school stories that You have sent to me. Be present and on time!