THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL 60 years ago was far different than it was in Lawrence this year. To begin with, there were no pre-school or orientation trips to the school house. The only orientation in those days was when you went to a program at your older sister's room, where she "spoke a piece" or sang a song.
Your first day arrived and you wore a white bib apron over your dark school dress. It was tied with a big bow in the back. Made of organdie, the ruffles over the shoulders were either the plain material or embroidery. Your long stockings were black and your high top black or brown shoes were button or lace. Your hair was parted in the middle and a hair ribbon was tied at the end of each tight long braid. If your hair was curly, most likely the part was on one side with a fair-sized hairbow perched on top.
You walked to school with your sister or neighbor friend and when you arrived at your destination, you waited outside for the school bell to ring. (No electric bell; it was hand-swung). Then the teacher for your room told you where to form a line and you marched in twos into the building, the youngest children going in first, and so on. You were to keep in step as you marched.
The janitor had a huge bell (at least it seemed huge), and when the children were in their rooms and it was time for classes to start, he would stand outside the school house and ring it. If he saw you coming a block away, he would wait for you to get there before he rang. You would be running breathlessly and frantically for fear he might not see you and would ring and you would be tardy; a grave catastrophe. But he never failed you.
One day when this nostalgic writer reached the comer of the West End grocery, a block from the school house, she didn't know if he had already rung his bell, and rather than be tardy, she stood
hesitantly, debating whether to turn back and go home. But he beckoned vehemently for you to come on, so you ran as fast as you could and when you opened the door of your class room, he was just then ringing the bell.
After school, at Pinckney, if you had a penny or two, on the way home you would stop at the West End Drug Store when Mr. Zimmerman reigned. First you passed the Kasold grocery store, then the Bartz meat market, and then Mr. Zimmerman's wonderful drug store that had some school supplies like pencils and paper, and a marvelous assortment of candies you could buy for a penny -- licorice in long hollow strands; licorice whips; horehound stick candy; candy that looked like strips of bacon and was made with coconut and was chewy; stick candy; dumb-bells that had a ball of hard, buttery candy on each end of a round stick of wood and covered with a light coat of chocolate; jaw breakers; and suckers on a stick that had a licorice flavor. There was no bubble gum then, but one time on the way home from school we came upon some men cutting down a slippery elm tree in front of where Lannings now live. We all stopped and peeled off the bark of some chips and chewed the pulp. It was very slippery and didn't taste too good, but it was the thing to do. We also chewed tar, used for some purpose on the streets, but it wasn't a pleasant experience.
Mr. Zimmerman was always glad to see you. Sometimes Mrs. Zimmerman with a dark, long-skirted dress, was there to help him. He would never rush you to make a decision on your purchase, but he would patiently stand by with a twinkle in his eye until you made your important selection. He seemed to have a deep affection for children. He wore gold-rimmed nose glasses and a heavy gold watch chain stretched across the front of his vest. Both he and Mrs. Zimmerman were slightly on the chubby side. When you were in about the third grade at Pinckney, sometimes an admirer of the opposite sex would buy you a five cent sack of candy from Mr. Zimmerman and wait for you to walk past him on the brick sidewalk going home, and hand it to you and then run.
When new telephone wires were put up, you would linger on your way home and pick up pieces of copper wire that fell to the ground and make spectacles with them.
It is hard to remember how the teachers at Pinckney looked, but the names of some are remembered -- Nellie Morris, who taught first grade, Gertrude Sellards, (fears later Mrs. Joseph R. Pearson) who taught second grade; and Mamie Dillard, loved by us all, who taught the colored children, all in one room.
There is no recollection of a general assembly at any time at school. Programs were held in each grade room. On Decoration Day, one or two Civil War veterans would visit each room and tell about the Civil War. They always wore their uniforms.
When you came home from school, you always took off your white apron and put on a dark blue checked gingham one. Then you might have to practice your piano lesson for a half hour before you could go out to play.
Printed in Journal-World Sept. 3, 1962