Those school bells will be ringing in just a few days and summer will be but a memory for students and staff at all of our local school districts.
Doris Newman and I will no doubt be out at the local schools getting our traditional “Back to School” photos and information. Many activities have already begun in full force.
Drive by your local school and you will see band, football, volleyball and cross country kids already deep into workouts. When those bells start ringing for the first day of classes, some on Aug. 17, others Aug. 28, there will be many a parent trying to hold it together as their little ones start pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade. Others will be sending students from elementary grades to junior high school. You will also have those incoming freshmen stepping into the world of high school. Some parents will be obsessed with their senior student’s “last first day” of their school years.
Back in the 1950s public school always started the Tuesday after Labor Day and we began with first grade. There was no pre-K, or even public school kindergarten at that time. Because my Mom was working, I had attended kindergarten at Little Folks School deep in the heart of Pleasant Grove for two years before embarking on my journey to the ‘big’ school.
I remember going to Little Folks and meeting my teachers, Eula Mae Sanderson and Nell Furtick, two sisters who owned the school. Miss Eula Mae was my teacher and became a second Mom to me over the years. Her son, Bill, became my best buddy and it has stayed that way for over 60 years.
My first day at Nathaniel Hawthorne wasn’t too bad either. My neighborhood friend, Terry Crocker, was in Mrs. Moore’s first grade with me. My friendship with Terry, who passed away a few years ago, was another one that lasted a lifetime.
I don’t remember my parents having to take me to school or walk me to class. My older sister, Pat, was always there in those early years making sure I got where I was supposed to be.
It was moving on to junior high which had me worried. My elementary school went through seventh grade and back then, junior high went through ninth grade with high school being 10th through 12th grades. I had heard about ninth graders “initiating” new students, especially in athletics. The “initiation” was making it down the “ramp” without crying or snitching on the ninth graders. The ramp was about 30 feet long and the ninth graders lined up on both sides. You were to go down the ramp and take whatever was dished out. Once you got to the end of the ramp, it was over and you pretty much didn’t have to worry about getting picked on or beat up unless you smarted off to the wrong person.
I was really nervous about going to my new junior high school, Fred F. Florence, which at the time was in far Southeast Dallas, almost in the country. In fact, there was a huge cow pasture directly across from the school, an area now filled with homes. I do remember getting to go in early from football practice because a momma skunk and her little one strutted onto the field and before we could get to the locker room, she had sprayed. We worked out in the gym that day.
I learned to make friends with the ninth graders and pretty much just stayed out of their way. I was lucky to befriend one of those ninth graders, Steve Huey. Huey was the quarterback in football and the point guard in basketball. He was also a smooth talker with the ladies. I learned a lot being around Steve. He never made fun of me or bullied me, he gave me advice on how to act around girls and helped me a lot in football and basketball because we played the same positions. I always looked up to him even though he was only a year older.
Next up was W.W. Samuell High School with about 2,500 students and a reputation for being a pretty tough school, a place where Grove Rats were legendary. Being a Grove Rat was as important as being a Samuell Spartan. I remember my first day. My home room was on the south side of the campus and I had to figure out how to go down two long halls through crowds of upper classmen without being noticed. I walked in the building and just after I made my first turn, a big fight broke out. There were fists flying and obscenities shouted. I dodged the mayhem and escaped into my homeroom. I knew then I had arrived at high school in the Grove.
I sincerely hope all Wood County students, and especially those young moms out there, have a successful first day with tears turning to smiles as your young ones begin their journey through education.