For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about my old elementary school in Atlanta, GA. It was called R. L. Hope. I started kindergarten there in November, 1963.
Actually, my public school career had its start in Toledo, OH. I barely remember this school because my father was transferred to Atlanta a few weeks into my kinder year. We moved into our house on Canter Road, NE on the day President Kennedy was assassinated in the far away city of Dallas where, weirdly enough, I now live. On that tragic day, while my mother and father and I were busy moving IN, my future husband and his family were in downtown Dallas getting vaccinated for their big move OUT across the pond to Africa. They did not see the motorcade, but they heard the sirens.
Anyhoots, as I mentioned, I woke up thinking about my old school and decided to Google it. One thing led to another and I stumbled on a Facebook group for former students of R. L. Hope. I find Google useful for lots of things, but this time it outdid itself; it morphed into a time machine and whisked me away to the 1960's.
The reminisces posted on the "wall" had me nodding like a bobblehead doll. I remember that! And that! And that! Me too! There were lots of class pictures, but none with me in them. I was a little disappointed not to find my six or seven-year-old self smiling in all my gap-toothed glory at the camera, but it was fun seeing and remembering my classmates. (Update: see very bottom of this blog.) Some faces I recognized instantly, while others didn't ring any bells at all. Considering that I didn't exactly grow up with these kids, that is, graduate high school with them...shoot, I didn't even finish out elementary school with them...it was very gratifying to see that some of the people in this Facebook group remembered me. I attribute part of that to having a maiden surname that sticks with people, the rest to my charming nature.
I'm no expert in architecture, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the school was built in the 1920's. Unfortunately, it is no longer there, a victim to the Buckhead building boom (say that three times fast) that took place after my family moved away. However, I vividly remember the interior and the enormous playground.
R. L. Hope was definitely the most inefficiently built school ever in terms of space. The classrooms were huge with separate cloakrooms that ran the width of each room and accessible through a door. The halls were wide, the ceilings high, and the staircases long and steep. It must have cost a fortune, even by the prices of 50 years ago, to heat the place in winter. In the very back there was a much newer, brighter addition called the annex where I spent first grade, but all in all, R. L. Hope School was kind of dark and dreary...an Old South version of Hogwarts without the dungeons. That being said, I loved the place, my teachers, and had lots of friends. In the left-hand photo above, the little girl sitting in the second row, third from the right was my best friend, and we are still in touch to this day. Our friendship goes all the way back to kindergarten. You know you are getting old when you can put a half-century on events in your life.
I have a long scar on my left leg that reminds me of my tenure at R. L. Hope. It starts just below the knee and peters out to mid-shin. On the playground was a huge wooden box that was used to store the tricycles for the kinder set. The box stood against a stone retaining wall that separated the playground from the adjoining property. Between the wall and the box, somebody had placed left over sections of the metal fence that enclosed the playground. The posts on the fence sections had triangular spikes sticking out, not really sure why that was necessary, but us kids used those spikes as footholds to climb up the fence sections to gain access to the top of the box. Then we'd jump down. And go back up. And jump down again. Up and down, over and over. What can I say? We were little squirts with lots of pent up energy and iPhones hadn't been invented yet. Anyway, one afternoon during recess, I was in the middle of this mindless loop when I accidentally dragged my leg up against one of those sharp spikes. It made a heck of a bloody mess, but it must have looked worse than it really was. I hobbled to the office where Miss Roberts, the assistant principal, who also doubled as the school nurse, cleaned me up, pasted a bandage on my leg and tersely told me to go back to class. Because I was expected to suck it up, nobody called my mother. Nobody removed the fencing, either, and I was soon climbing it again, obviously none the wiser. Can you see that happening in this day and age?
Judging from the Facebook posts, the most popular teacher at R. L. Hope was Mrs. Condrey. She taught third grade and was definitely my favorite teacher, with Miss McLaughlin, from fifth grade, a very close second. Miss McLaughlin's last name was awkward for her students to pronounce; even all these years later, it doesn't exactly roll off my adult tongue, so she was, and always will be, Miss McGlocklin.
Mrs. Condrey must have had a fine arts background, or maybe, like us, she just liked frequent breaks from math and spelling, because her classes enjoyed some really ambitious art projects. The biggest was making a life-sized papier mache animal. The year I was in her class, we constructed a lion. The custodian dragged a sawhorse into the classroom and one afternoon, decked out in cast-off men's dress shirts to protect our clothes, we lined up and one by one slapped dripping wet strips of newspaper soaked in flour paste on the sawhorse. Slowly, under our teacher's direction, the parts took shape until it looked like an ugly, bald cat. We painted it with bright orange and purple stripes and added a purple mane made of strips of crepe paper, with a crepe paper tuft at the end of the tail. It was a cross between a lion and a tiger (a liger?), but it was all lion as far as we were concerned. We named our creation Leo, and we even had a little song we made up to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star":
Leo, Leo are you there?
Under all that purple hair?
We love you and we think you're neat (sweet?),
And we're glad that you don't eat.
Leo, Leo standing there,
You don't even have a care.
Sadly, Mrs. Condrey's son was killed in Vietnam when I was in the fourth grade. I was sent to play with a classmate (who's pictured above, top row, third from left) while my parents attended the service. His body and those of his crew were never recovered.
A Big P. S.
Finally! Someone posted my first grade class on Facebook. There I am, top row, second from the left. My husband said I looked fat, but it was the petticoat under the dress. You can see my old-fashioned, but for that time cutting-edge, hearing aid sticking out of my left ear (see blog dated 02/15/2013).
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