Harry S. Truman Elementary School

My 4th and 5th grade school years happened in the mid fifties. I was nine or ten years old then. My Aunt Nellie was 86 and in ill health and my parents were struggling to take care of her. I was on my own. I was in school at Truman Elementary down White Street about eight blocks. I rode my bike to school. My teacher in 4th grade was Miss Cochran, She was probably in her 50’s and very as we used to say, strict. Her desk was in the back of the room and we faced forward. When we were unruly, she made us put our heads face down in our arms on our desks. We stayed that way the whole day. The only way I stayed sane was to peep at the large clock in the front of the room, which clicked and moved on the minute. I would count the 60 seconds to see if my timing was on. Miss Cochran did not need to do this often because as with all good punishments, once established, the threat was enough to bring us to our senses.

There were breaks. At ten we all traipsed down to the lunchroom for a glass of juice. My favorite was pear juice. It was probably the juice left in the can after pears were served at lunch the day before. Orange juice would have been a better choice. At recess, we jumped rope to our favorite chanted rhymes. We even did Double Dutch. The boys carried big sacks of marbles and would draw circles in the dirt and played some sort of game I never understood. I did not like the food they served in the lunchroom. So every school day at lunch time I went to the small luncheonette next door by myself and had a hot dog, a bag of potato chips and a coke and listened to ”Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom, ya de da dad a dada da da, Sh-Boom Sh-Boom. Life could be a dream, Sweetheart. Hello, hello again.” I played it on the jukebox every day with my leftover lunch money. I don’t think anyone knew or was concerned about where I was or weren’t.

We went to chorus once a week. The musical Oklahoma was popular then, and we learned several of its songs. I remember “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and “The Surry With the Fringe on Top.” We also learned how to properly sing our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. Which when I hear it sung today most anywhere I cringe. Peter always sings it at the football games. He does it right. It is not an easy song to sing.

During Physical Education we would play on the playground equipment. There were swings where we would go so high the chains would buckle and the person pushing would run under the swing to the other side. We were pretty adept at this. We had monkey bars and seesaws and a merry–go-round and a slide. We would put waxed paper under our seats to make the slide go faster. It was even more exciting if there was a mud puddle at the bottom, which there usually was. Someone was always getting bumped or bruised, or wet. Nowadays, playgrounds are much more tame, and safer, but not as much fun. Fun is when you get to push the envelope. You can tell I never got conked on the head. If I had, I probably wouldn’t be so sanguine.

In May we had a May Day Festival. Each class did a dance that we learned during Physical Education and we all also learned how to wrap the Maypole doing a complicated set of maneuvers that plaited the pole. It was a lot of fun. In the final analysis, only the ones who looked like they knew what they were doing were chosen to do it on the day of the festival. I was not one of the chosen. It rankles still.

Every day after school, I made two stops. One was to ride the Rocking Horse at Chapel’s Five and Dime. I knew it was the closest I’d ever get to a real horse, which every young girl of my age wanted. My parents patiently explained to me that we had no barn and could not afford to feed a horse. So I guess I was consoling myself with my daily 10 cents a ride Horse at Chapel’s. The other thing I did was to visit the Ford dealership a little further down White Street. When I grew up and had lots of money, I was going to buy the blue Thunderbird convertible I visited each day. The man there never said a word to me even though I poured through all the literature. My father explained to me that buying the car was just the start. Then there was gas and repairs. Why did everything have to be so complicated?

One Friday night, we were going to the Drive-In Theater and my father told me we couldn’t go because my Aunt Nellie was not well. So I ran away from home. I went down to Bayview Park and saw my cousin there and went and sat with her and watched a baseball game, and eventually went home around 9:30. Needless to say, my father was furious with me. I had to stay inside for a week. When you can’t go outside to play after school with your friends, it’s pretty miserable. And there was no television set yet.

2 thoughts on “Harry S. Truman Elementary School”

  1. It sounds like your teacher, Miss Cochrane, understood the underlying rationale of “an offer you can’t refuse” long before that phrase entered the popular vernacular, and used it successfully in your class. Probably wouldn’t work well today.

  2. Your blog about grade school brought to mind a question that I’ve had for some time and can never get a satisfactory answer, at least for me. When I was in grade school our normal class size was 30 kids. Our physical education in the winter when the weather was bad was being taken to an empty room in the school basement where we all ran around in a small circle, maybe 20 feet in diameter for about 45 minutes. Our playground where we had recess was all gravel, equipped much as you described. In our present grade schools, the classes are much smaller. I’m told that bigger classes can’t be taught properly. All the schools are full of technology to aid in developing the brightest and the best. Every school seems to have a gymnasium for PE and other activities. I understand that now, even the kinds of games that the kids are allowed to play are regulated. So we’ve spent a lot more money on the schools and controlled what is going on to a much higher degree yet our students aren’t nearly as well prepared as in the past. So what has all the money that has been spent to bring our schools to this level of capability bought for us and our future generations? I don’t get it.

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