Thursday, April 22, 2021

Back In The Day

As part of the A-Z Blog Challenge this year, I'm trying to capture a little bit of what my life was like growing up, and record it here for my grands to read someday. Will they want to? Hmmm...we'll see. I  know I'd like to know more about my grandmother's childhood and maybe they will too.  

We all know the world has changed but writing it down forces me to acknowledge just how much. Today we're headed back to school. 

S is for School Days

Back in the day I walked to elementary school. That would be grades K-6, but Kindergarten was half- day and included a nap/rest. Those were the days-ha! The walk was about 7 blocks through the neighborhood and I always had my sister with me, along with our across the street neighbors and assorted other friends we collected en route. The kids in our neighborhood were tight and while we've all gone many different directions the ties from those long ago days still bind. 

As children we were taught not to talk to strangers, and to absolutely never get in a car with strangers, but for the most part there were no strangers, only neighbors. There was no scary internet or 24/7 news alerting parents to every awful thing out there, so a warning seemed sufficient. 

When I was in the first grade my friend and I were walking home for lunch, and a boy in my class was swinging his jacket overhead. The zipper caught me in the top of my head and I burst into tears and started running for home with blood gushing from the wound. When a woman working in her yard saw me racing by she ran to get her car keys and drive me the last two blocks. I told her no, I wasn't allowed to ride with strangers. 

Apparently my mama taught me well. 

Most kids had a mother at home, and we had a lunch/recess break from 12-1 every day. We walked home for lunch then went back for the remainder of the afternoon. This is such a happy memory for me. My mom would have lunch waiting at the kitchen table and she read aloud to us while we ate. In the winter there was often grilled cheese and tomato soup and to this day that meal whispers comfort to me. If it was raining she would drive us to school, but even then we often walked carrying an umbrella, wearing our galoshes with the buckles across the front. I think it was kind of fun to walk to school in the rain, and we lived for snow days which were rare and golden. 

We said the pledge of allegiance every single morning and I think sang a patriotic song right after too.  We memorized math facts, did book reports, and had classroom spelling bees while lined up all along the radiator. We learned about our nations presidents and patriots, how a bill became a law, and the birth of a nation. I don't think our parents worried about what they were teaching because it was the basics without a lot of fluff. Reading, writing, arithmetic, science and American history. 

We were not immersed in diversity training, gender identity issues, issues of any kind really. We were kids and the weight of the world was not on our shoulders at age 10. I'm not saying there weren't kids who struggled with various things, just that school was not the place they were dealt with. We respected our elders, and anyone who chose otherwise ended up in the principal's office. 

Nobody wanted to end up there. 

We didn't have back packs three times our size, but we did carry our books in our arms, or strapped together, or in a satchel. At the start of each new school year in homes throughout the neighborhood, an evening was  spent cutting apart brown paper grocery sacks and turning them into book covers. 

Even though we ate lunch at home we still liked to choose a lunchbox. There were just a handful of bus riders in our school and they ate their lunch brought from home in the cafeteria/auditorium/gymnasium. Or, as it was known then, the multipurpose room. If your mom needed you to stay for lunch once in a while she could request that. We thought it was fun, bringing a packed lunch and buying those little cartons of milk. We were pretty easy to please in 1970-something. 

There was softball out back and teeter-totters where you were occasionally bounced off by an overly aggressive counterpart, or just plain dropped when someone jumped off with no warning. You remember these things. There was dodge ball in the big circle painted on the blacktop and more often than not somebody cried. Sometimes kids were too rough or mean-spirited, but not all life lessons are learned in a classroom. We had to pass a physical fitness test in gym class which included running what felt like a mile, but might not have been that far. We had big field days at the end of each year where we played games and ate orange popsicles on the playground. Happy days. Carefree days. Innocence. 

Grades 7 and 8 aka junior high meant leaving the cozy environs of our neighborhood school and riding a bus for the first time. Our circles expanded to include kids from several other elementary schools in the area too, so there were new friends and new experiences. We had lockers and class schedules and wore uniforms for gym. They were the ugliest item of clothing ever created, and I dare you to prove me wrong. We had to shower too. At school. Nobody liked that and I'm guessing the feeling holds true today. Although I can't imagine kids shower after gym class in the year 2021, do they? 

Junior High meant weekends at the roller rink where our parents pulled up to the curb out front and dropped us off on a Saturday afternoon or a Friday evening. Can parents today even imagine that? There were boy-girl dances and varying levels of maturity and daring which will always be true of 7th graders the world over. 

Grades 9-12 meant high school and riding the bus a little bit further down the road. As an adult I've lived in towns with less people than my highschool, with over 900 kids in my grade alone. Students sorted themselves into groups...athletes, brainiacs, band folks, theatre people, stoners. You had to find a place to belong in this sea of faces and it wasn't always easy, but it was possible. 

Academically this was a competitive high school and I always cared about my grades, always looked to the future and what I wanted to be. There were all the usual activities that revolved around sporting events, musical productions, the prom, spirit boosters, etc. along with a lot of academic opportunities too. We took a class called typing and who knew that would turn out to be so incredibly useful?

Like every decade, there were many things happening on the political scene, and lots of problems in the wider world too. While we certainly talked/debated these things within the classroom setting and around the dinner table, I don't think we felt it was our responsibility to fix them, or hold a well-formed stated opinion about everything under the sun, while still teenagers. Our job was to go to school, do our homework, study hard, navigate relationships, push the limits but still mind our parents, sleep, eat, have fun, and set goals for the future, both the immediate and the long term. 

The world was less known to us than it is to kids today. It didn't come to us, and if we wanted to see it and know it we read about it in books. Or traveled, although most families we knew didn't travel outside the US the way people do today. 

Looking back I so appreciate the gift of growing up in a world pre-internet. Sure there was peer pressure, but the in-person kind, not the sort teenagers have today where perfect strangers weigh in on your clothes, your hair, your weight, your opinions. 

Growing up I never viewed adults as my equal, nor did my friends. There was a clear line between the adults of this world and the children, and while I was as close as can be to my mama as a teenager, I would never have defined her as my friend. She was my mom and that meant something. It was a relief actually. My mom could take the long view on things I didn't yet have the vision to see, know, or understand. I'm sure my 17 year old self would have said I was all grown up, but at 17 you don't know what you don't know. 

I feel tremendous gratitude for parents who loved me, taught me to treat those older than me with respect, to say please, thank you, I'm sorry. Who set boundaries and made rules I'm sure my siblings and I thought were too strict and completely unnecessary, but in reality sheltered us from harm, kept us healthy, and in many instances stopped us from making regrettable decisions because we heard their voices in our head. 

I sometimes hear them still. 


  1. I love your theme. I'm sure your grandkids will be thrilled to have these personal accounts, along with the photos.

  2. Your grandsons will love reading this one day. I lived one block from school but our mom worked so we didn't go home for lunch often. I went through HS in the 60s but lived in a very small town. Not too many stoners. Mostly band and football. I really enjoyed your school memories, Joyce! xo

  3. Can I copy this and put it in my journal?! I graduated high school in 1979 and this was my childhood!! I always lived close enough to walk to school, from Kindergarten through high school but everything else could very well have been my life. On Saturdays my elementary school would play a movie in the cafeteria and all the neighborhood kids would be there. I can still remember riding the little red trikes around the playground in Kindergarten. One of my earliest memories. Thank you for this post!

  4. This is my favorite post so far of your A to Z! They have all been good but I love this one. I may have to borrow your theme for next year's A to Z. I know very little about either of my grandmothers and writing about my years of growing up would be such a wonderful thing to give to our granddaughters.

  5. I do hope your grandkids read these posts in years to come. I'm sure they will.

  6. Great post. Very similar to my life too. It was fun to revisit my memories that this post evoked. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I walked to school, it was a block 1/2 away. That was through 8th grade. You're right, there were no strangers only neighbors handing around. You did listen to your mom when the zipper happened. I walked home for lunch too. Those were the days. We respected our elders and said the Pledge of Allegiance. How I wish kids could have this today. We were lucky.

  8. Joyce,

    Your childhood scene mirrors mine. Walking to school, coming home for lunch, no strangers just a neighborhood, being a kid with no real worries, ... The placement of adults in our young lives. We respected those older than us. We saw our parents as parents. We never crossed the line and that was good enough for us, as it should be for a kid. No child needs to feel the weight of the world on their tiny shoulders. The conflicts and confusion are issues devised by the prince of darkness, the master of deceit, and author of chaos. We were blessed to grow up in the 60s and 70s. Great post!

    Speedy and Slowpoke Looney Tunes A-Z Art Sketch