Writing My Life

Now and Then


First Day of School – September 7, 1954

“School days, school days – those good old golden rule days.

Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”

September often takes me back to those years when school actually started in the ninth month of the year – right after Labor Day, and we bid farewell to the school year just before my birthday, May 30 – the traditional Memorial Day. This past August I perused many “back-to-school” pictures that Moms proudly posted on FaceBook, and a few days later while organizing our storage bins, I stumbled upon my own “first day of first grade” photograph, and here it is.

Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

                 Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

I’m standing in the driveway of our new home in Pocatello, Idaho, and I’m wearing a spanking new dress probably purchased at Montgomery Ward, as that’s where I remember buying our clothes. I LOVED this dress with its navy and white pinstriped bodice, bright red belt, and navy skirt. The shiny new shoes – Buster Browns, I think – were “T-straps”, and I image the socks matched the skirt. Mom often shares the story about buying my school clothes when my cute little sister Connie could hardly stand being left out. Once the clothes were in the bag, she decreed that “Renae will have to change her clothes the minute she gets home!”

Another family story involves the lunch bucket/box that I’m carrying: a kind of football shaped silver rocket ship! I know this was the era of early space exploration – pre-Sputnik, mind you – but I don’t remember seeing many of these beauties around. I recently searched the Internet for vintage lunch boxes to see if I could find anything like this one, but failed. Anyway, it seems that Mom decided to treat me to a 7-Up for lunch and poured the beverage into the thermos. You can imagine what happened by the time noon rolled around. Mom and I remember this incident; we’re just not positive that it happened on my first day of first grade. (I don’t see how a thermos jug could fit in that oddly shaped box, and I think the incident involved an Annie Oakley lunch pail.) Regardless, it is an explosive story that had to ruin my cold lunch, especially when you consider that my sandwich was wrapped in wax paper. No Saran wrap or baggies to liquid-proof the contents!

That year was especially eventful because Lewis and Clark was a brand new elementary school. Mrs. Rhea was principal, and I was assigned to the most wonderful teacher in the world – Dallas Quidor, master teacher extraordinaire. I remember being so relieved not to “get” Mrs. Allard as she had been my kindergarten teacher for the couple of weeks kids attended in the summer. I think Kindergarten met on the second floor of Alameda Junior High, and the curriculum consisted of graham cracker snacks and naps on rugs, all under the guidance of a very strict, somewhat ornery teacher.

I think Mrs. A. dyed her hair black and wore it in finger waves that were popular in the 1930s, and I seem to recall she also kept every wave in place by wearing a hairnet. Her powdery white make-up, rouged cheeks, and bright red lipstick completed the guise that would frighten any 5 or 6-year-old – much like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte! SCARY!!

Some of the new friends I remember from that far-away time are Paula Lystrup, Donna Partner, Kay Donaldson, and Trudy Halpin. I recall several boys, too, but can only think of their first names. When I find a class picture, I’ll update this post! Gosh, that was so long ago, but tiny flashing moments are so clear that 1954 seems like yesterday. Those were good times just as the present brings much joy to my life as well.

Thanks for walking to school with me today!