Sunday, January 25, 2009

East Side Elementary

When you think of elementary school in Heavener, you automatically think of old Westside Elementary. Was that it's official name? I don't remember, but that's what I called it.

However, as I've mentioned in previous stories, when I first started elementary school in Heavener, I was assigned to a classroom in the high school building. It was 1950.

I've always assumed that ours was the first elementary-grade class assigned to the high school building. Maybe it was the only elementary class assigned there.

Nevertheless, that's where I spent my first year of public education. I don't have my yearbook handy, but as I recall, there were about 25 of us in that class. That year there were 72 first-graders beginning their education in the Heavener School System. Our teacher was Ms. French. Bill has mentioned having her as his teacher a few years earlier, but I'm guessing he had her at the Westside building.

Ms. French lived in a house at the corner of Morris Creek Road and Avenue C, one block South and up the hill from my home. I only mention that because I remember my Mom sending me over there one day to deliver a note to her and I saw a 'spinning wheel' for the first time. It was positioned in a corner of her living room. I always wondered if she really made yarn with it.

I don't recall too many details of that first year of school. What little I do recall wasn't that pleasant for me. For example, on the first day of class, I remember that the girl sitting in the desk in front of me, wet her pants. Back then, all of the girls wore dresses, and her accident caused a major disruption in our first hour of class. I think I can speak for all or us when I say that we were all scared that first day. Everyone we saw around us was much older than we were. Even the Junior High kids were "big kids" compared to us. We didn't really know what to expect from school (there wasn't kindergartens back least not in Heavener). I'm sure that fear had something to do with her accident. So, within the first hour of class, a mop had to be dispatched to our classroom.

Our classroom was located near the back door of the Junior-high part of the building. I imagine they picked that classroom to facilitate our moving from the classroom to the tennis court area with minimum interaction with the older kids. We spent our recesses on or around the tennis court that was located just outside the rear of the building. Since this was a short-term solution to the large first grade population that year, no playground equipment was installed for our class.

Ms. French would usually provide some kind of ball to kick around on the tennis court, for those interested in doing it. Sometimes we would just play catch or spin tops (can you imagine that?). We had been given just a few basic rules during our first week of school. One of the most important, I guess, was that we never leave the school yard, but we rarely left the safety of the tennis court area.

All of the kids in my class lived on the East side of town, and Billy Ray Holt was one of my best friends. He lived just up the hill from my house, one block over, across the street from the home of Ms. French.

If it hadn't been for Billy, I would have probably made it through my first year without being subjected to corporal punishment at school. But one day, during recess, Billy convinced me that we had time to visit the little store that was located across the street from the high school, without getting caught. His reasoning made sense to me at the time. The 'normal' area for our recess was on the East side of that wing of the building. That's where Ms. French ALWAYS stayed during recess. We would be crossing the school yard on the West side of the building...out of sight.

Our plan went off without a hitch. We ran across the school yard, jumped the rock wall, and crossed the street. We were in the store and out within 5 minutes of our arriving there. We back-tracked across the school yard with our pockets stuffed with all the Tootsie Rolls and bubble gum that our dimes could buy.

All was well until we turned the corner at the Northwest corner of the building. There was a cedar tree at that corner of the building and it prevented us from seeing that Ms. French was watching our approach from behind that tree. She already had a paddle in her hand. I don't remember how many 'licks' we received, probably just one or two, but they sure hurt. That was the first time I had ever been paddled with anything that wasn't made out of leather...or a tree branch (I guess those were used for 'whippings', though, huh?)

Our plan had failed to take into consideration that Ms. French might count the number of students within her sight at regular intervals.

Later that same year, some of the high school athletes convinced Ms. French to allow two volunteers from her class to participate in a 'boxing demonstration' (or whatever they called it). How I ended up in that little party, I'll never understand, but my buddy probably volunteered me. Sure enough, it ended up being Billy Ray and myself. The 'demonstration' ended up like this: Billy Ray and I would each be fitted with leather boxing gloves (10 sizes too large for our hands) and then placed in the boxing ring that was set up in the middle of the gym floor. It had poles, ropes, and a canvas floor that bounced as you moved around on it. Billy got the hang of it right away. As soon as the high school guys positioned us in the center of the ring...and rang the bell...Billy started swinging at me. Before I could make a good contact with Billy, both my ears felt like they were burning and my nose didn't feel that good, either. I don't remember the "fight" lasting that long, but it was plenty long enough for me. As we walked back to our classroom, I remember that my face was a lot redder that Billy's.
He and I weren't on very good speaking terms for awhile after that.

Like I said, I don't recall much from my first year of school...and what I do recall, wasn't that enjoyable.


At January 25, 2009 at 7:22 PM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...


Edith French was teaching first grade at the high school when I started in 1947 (and probably the year before that when Bill started to school). I don't know how long before that she started.

Your boxing story reminds me of the boxing we did as a part of the football program in high school. We paired off and flailed away at each other. I think I paired off with Robert "Rocky" Rockman, the other tackle.


At January 25, 2009 at 9:51 PM , Blogger John Inman said...

You guys are way older than me! Mercy! I don't ever recall going to the first grade in the high school building nor do I remember Mrs. French. She must have been way before my time. I started at the grade school and Miss Betty was my teacher. Always carried a canary in a cage to school with her. That was well before she married Red Ward.

At January 26, 2009 at 11:04 AM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...

Edith French retired in 1953, I believe.

At January 26, 2009 at 6:09 PM , Blogger Bill Hinds said...

Hey Chuck - Mrs. French was my all time favorite teacher in the Heavener Schools. Yes,I went to "West Side". I had forgotten about there ever having gradeschool classes over at the HHS.

We didn't know about Ave. C back then but of course we knew Morris Creeck Road. I was familar with her house because I delivered the Ft. Smith Times Record to her. She had a large goldfish pond out in her front yard. I used to spend some time there watching those big ol fish.

My dad used green tree limbs for whippings too. :)

I sure remember that little store across from the High School. Whenever we had a chance to go over there it was always packed, I mean litterly bodily packed! I don't know how they stayed in busness as long as they did, mercy!

At February 7, 2009 at 11:27 AM , Blogger Pat Burroughs said...

Chuck, I know for sure that Mrs. French was teaching first grade at the High School in 1941 or '42 when my oldest sister was in the first grade. We lived on East First street at the time, across from Bill Hinds' family. The way I remember is that one cold day Mother put overalls on my sister to send her to school. I don't actually remember the incident, as I was just a baby, but I remember hearing about it. My sister came home and told that "Mrs. French got mad because I was wearing overalls, and she shook me." (Back then teachers liked to shake kids to vent their frustration. Today they'd be hauled into court for it.) Daddy went over there to try to find out what happened and Mrs. French was gone to lunch or somewhere. So he told the principal what he had been told and what would happen if anything like that happened again. The part I remember best is that from then on Mrs. French took her spite out on my next oldest sister and me. When each of us started to school, our parents sent us to West Side so we didn't have to have Mrs. French as a teacher. Years later my second sister worked in the school cafeteria and Mrs. French used every chance she got to get her in trouble there. When we were bussed from grade school to the high school cafeteria, Mrs. French was on my back all the time, since she was the cafeteria monitor or some such. I also remember when I was 7or 8, I was walking around the neighborhood (after we moved to East Ave. B.) one day with my little dog that I could never control, and he went to get a drink out of Mrs. French's fishpond, with me trying my best to get him away from it. She came to the door and gave me a tongue lashing like you wouldn't believe. I guess she must have mellowed a bit in her old age, though, as she crocheted a bib and sent it over when my brother was born when I was almost 12. That's the last I remember of her.


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