Every fall I reflect upon my first day of school and meeting my first-grade teacher, Miss Pauline Norman.
A few years ago “Little Miss Phillips” and I took a road trip to Richland, Ga., and a peek through the windows of the room where I sat in first-grade.
The south door was ajar, so we crept inside the strangely silent wing of the building that held all 12grades.
I was first taken by the size of the room. In my memory, it was large, but in reality, it was really small.
The blackboard was so much lower and closer to the floor, and Miss Norman’s desk was gone. The pencil sharpener beside the door was gone, but there were bumps below the paint from the screws that held it.
On my knees, I found marks in the floor where small nails were driven to keep student desks in line and remembered when Franklin Beasley stepped on one of them, barefoot of course. We all were during warm weather.
The floors were originally oiled wood and swept using a red, oil-based “sweeping compound” to hold down dust.
Next door was Miss Maggie Dillard’s second-grade class, then Miss Audley Elrod’s third-grade class. I didn't finish with my classmates because we moved in the middle of that school year.
Further down the hall were the classes of older kids. They seemed grown, those fifth- and sixth-graders.
LMP looked around corners as if she was expecting a ghost or a passel of imaginary kids to come flying by.
The auditorium has seen much better days, but while standing at the back, I flipped open an ancient yearbook to show her how it looked when the old brick building was a functioning school.
Classes began by pledging allegiance to the American flag and singing a song or two. The ritual was observed in every room as the day started.
I doubt the same custom is observed today because someone might object, despite the fact that many object that it isn't.
There were bullies in school, of course, but given a bit of time, that problem sorts itself out when people get tired enough of it. It happens that way in life.
The only people who wore sneakers, then called “tennis shoes,” were those who played basketball.
Nobody played tennis. Soccer was unknown. At many rural schools, basketball was an outdoor sport played on packed dirt.
Boys and girls learned to dribble a basketball hunched over, the better to control the basketball when it bounced off of one of the small pebbles that were impossible to remove.
Boys played with boys; girls played with girls. Most boys at about age 10 carried a pocket knife, and to consider it a weapon was unthinkable.
We played dodge ball, red rover, tag, hide-and-seek, most of which are today banned from school playgrounds.
We lined up for immunizations. Everybody got shots.
There were parades through town for every reason, or nearly none. Veterans, fresh from World War II, marched in step.
Schools held programs to display children’s attempts at music in glee clubs and rhythm bands. There was no television to keep people at home, but it was hard to draw a crowd when “Amos ‘n’ Andy” were on the radio.
It is a wonder we survived without having someone tell us we were good when we weren’t, that we had won when we knew we’d lost, that we were popular when we knew we were not.
I hope the community will “repurpose” that old building. It is a moument to education that worked.
Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at email@example.com.