Thursday, July 25, 2013



I wish to thank my wife, Pat Colvin Kilgore for assisting me in this article with her editing skills.  I  typed down my thoughts as they came to me, resulting in a  somewhat rambling storyline.  With my wife’s input, you, the reader, reap the benefit of a more coherent treatise.  I trust that this story will bring to mind other stories from those of you who also attended Poplar Springs Grammar School.  Those were the days!


May, 1952
WeekThirty-Five--Last Day of School 
Riding the School Bus to School

    I had begun my school years at Poplar Springs Grammar School...a rural two-room school housed in a white building, eight miles south of Double Springs and less than a mile off Alabama highway 195, near the Prestridge grocery store. Now I had come to the end of my very first year of school.  How special and wonderfully exciting the last day of school was for me.  I was a happy child because  of my promotion to the second grade for the next school year. But for  the immediate time, I was elated about the end-of-year school picnic.  
     The picnic was an  off- campus outdoor event in and around some tall bluffs on private land in the woods near Clear Creek. I had never been there before, but it made little difference to me. I knew that it was a grand place by the description given by my first grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson.  It sounded like a magical place one only experienced through the imagination of make-believe books and in those books, sometimes illustrated to aid a child’s imagination. 
     Riding the school bus from my home to Poplar Springs Grammar School was especially exciting on this last day of my first grade year because my mother permitted me to wear my new dungaree overalls, which she had recently purchased.  This permission was granted  with the stipulation that I should not get them dirty.  Daddy backed up the request with the promise of spanking me if they did get all messed up.  I was so happy that my parents had agreed to my wearing my new clothes that I did not understand the seriousness of the responsibility I was assuming.  However,  I was soon to find out.  
     But this final day of my first year of school was a  grand day for me, riding along on the bus, anticipating the joy and fun of  the picnic, imagining what the place would look like, and really thinking back over the  year and remembering all the new experiences that had become part of my young life.

          * * * * *

Mid-August, 1951
Week One--First Day of School
First Grade Enrollment

     On the first day of my first grade experience, I did not ride a school bus.  Because I needed the security and assurance of my parents,  I entered that little school room  accompanied by my mother.  She held my hand as we stood near the entrance of the room with other parents and their children.  The teacher, Mrs. Johnson, met each parent and child individually. Then she assigned each child their place around a table on the far side of the room, while parents filled out the necessary information for enrollment. Mother and I were the last ones to meet the teacher.  When Mrs. Johnson pointed to my assigned place at the table, I didn’t want to leave my mother’s side.  My diffidence was magnified by the unknown and the uncertainty of it all.  
      After some prodding from my mother,  I went with the teacher to the rectangular table where all the other first graders, all strangers to me, were seated.  As I sat down, I saw that the other students were printing their names.  After insistence from the teacher, I acquiesced to taking out my pencil and school tablet.  As I was watching what those around me were doing, and then trying to do the same,  my mother slowly left the room.
     I did not notice her absence at first, but it wasn’t long before I realized she was not around.  I felt alone and trapped. Then a sense of self-conscious failure enveloped me because I could not print my name.  I looked at the papers of the children sitting next to me, which did not  help at all.  I did not know how to spell J O H N N I E.  I felt inadequate and certainly unprepared for first grade.  
     As a diversion,  my eyes wandered around the room itself.  On the opposite end  from where I sat, there was a long  and tall blackboard across the entire wall overlooking “Little House on the Prairie” -style desks. The single school desks were for the second and third grade students, since three different grades met in that one single room.    Everything in the room appeared to be dark, both in color and in atmosphere.  The ceiling was unusually high, and the front exterior wall was interrupted with high glass windows. The floor--dark brown wood,  oily and soiled-- converged with the natural wood walls. The room was filled with children, none of whom I knew except for my first cousins who attended the school. It was certainly evident that I was beginning a new, and on that day an intimidating,  journey  called “school.”

          * * * * *

August, 1951- May, 1952
Week One  thru Week Thirty-Five Overview
First Grade Experience

     Mr. Johnson was the principal of the school and taught the older children in grades 4, 5, and 6.  These older grades met in a room on one end of the facility, which was divided by a center entrance foyer that had big double doors at the front main entrance way.  Mr. Johnson was called “Red” Johnson because he had red hair.  Though that may not be true, it was the reason I thought he was called “Red”.  He was tall and slender, and was definitely the man in charge---a strict disciplinarian with a stern and expressionless face. 

     His wife was my teacher. Some students called her “Pug Nose” Johnson behind her back 
because her appearance had that kind of unfortunate facial look, much like a bulldog. Her 
appearance looked as if her face, with it’s rather flat nose, may have been a result of some medical issues that had resulted in nose cartilage removal.  Children know little of those things, and I was only six when I first met Mrs. Johnson.  
     In contrast to her appearance, she was kind and caring.  At the same time, she had a major task  teaching grades 1, 2, and 3 at the same time.  We all required much more individual attention than the older students who met across the hall.  The way Mrs. Johnson handled the different levels was by assigning practice problems to two grades, much like homework,  while the remaining grade received instruction.  Also, many times, Mrs. Johnson encouraged and selected a fast learning student to help those children who had difficulty learning a particular lesson.
     I soon acclimated myself to the first grade, and all the things first graders did at the Poplar Springs Grammar School--learning the letters of the alphabet, learning the meaning and use of simple numbers, and reading from the beginner “Dick and Jane” books.  I was one who required assistance from both the teacher and the faster learning student.  One such student helper was my classmate, Deloria Pope,  who sat next to me and assisted me when I needed help. Deloria was a very close school friend for all my twelve years of grade school.
     For the most part, my months in the first grade were uneventful.  It was the daily grind of getting up early, riding the bus to school, learning  the required lessons,  enjoying recess, eating my sack lunch, resting and napping in the afternoon, doing homework, and then riding the school bus back home. After a long, monotonous day, the school bus ride home was a time of letting loose.  I would always sit in the back of the bus with my cousins.  Being older than I, they would put me up to doing things that usually resulted in my getting into trouble. My name was called  by the bus driver, Mr. Wilson,  many times, which resulted in my having to move to the front of the bus to sit in the seat immediately behind the bus driver.

          * * * * *

October, 1951
Week Nine-- A Special Evening at School
First Grade Highlight--The Box Supper 

     I acclimatized socially to the school routine and expectations very quickly,  and by the time the first few months of school had passed, I had a special girlfriend who had caught my eye, as well as my heart.  Her name was Pat Young. To me, she was the most beautiful girl in the world, especially in my world--big brown eyes, long black hair, a fair complexion, and an infectious smile.  She was one grade ahead of me because her birthday fell before the cutoff day, while my December birthday fell after the date.  This girl who had  stolen my heart also liked me  in a very special way.  This was a strange new experience for me as a young boy, but one I experienced thereafter, many times.  Our mutual attraction and “puppy love” relationship was demonstrated especially at the school’s annual Fall Festival. 
    The Fall Festival was held at night for the entire community.  It’s  purpose was to raise money to aid in the financial needs of the school, as well as raising community morale and pride for the school.  It was a festival in every sense of the word, with different fun-filled activities -- cake walk, bingo, bobbing for apples, fishing booth, musical chairs, and more.  The little two- room school was buzzing with activity. The festival was well attended by both parents and children. The selling of tickets for each activity also made it a very  successful event financially  for the school.  
     The evening was topped off with a box supper, the main money raiser.   Much thought and work went into the box supper.  Boxes, decorated in all kinds of fancy paper and ribbon, would be on display and given a number. Everyone would have time to look the boxes over and choose the one that caught the eye most. At the appointed time in the evening, all in attendance would bid for the box they wanted.  This was done without knowing who brought the box and made the food which the box held.  All boxes were prepared by the parents of girl students, and contained a full home -cooked meal inside. There would be a bidding war among the parents of the boy students for the  box they wished to purchase,  usually based on the appearance of the box.  The boy whose parent won the bid, got to eat with the girl who held the corresponding number to the box.
     With great excitement,  I enjoyed the entire box supper experience--the beauty of the boxes, the excitement and zeal when bidding on the boxes, and the anticipation of winning the bid on  a specific desirable box. The whole procedure was done with great speed. 
     The auctioneer began with a suggested bid after describing and promoting each box in flowery detail.  
     “Let’s start the bid on this beautiful red and white box--box number one. Let’s say a dollar to start the bid.” 
     From the floor, “One dollar.”
     “ Do I hear two dollars?”  
.  “I have two, can I hear three?”
     Everyone was tightly squeezed into this one small room-- standing room only-- while one gentleman said, “Three dollars!!”
     “How ‘bout five dollars?”
     The bidding continued.
     “Six dollars!”
     ”Eight dollars!”
     “Do I hear nine dollars?” No one responded. 
     “Going once, going twice, sold for eight dollars.”
     Then the person who won box number one came up to the front of the room and paid out the eight dollars, got the box, and at the same time, found out who prepared the box. In numerical order each box would come up for bid as parents from all around the room  raised the bid until the final bid purchased the box. As each box was sold, the two students, one a girl and one a boy, would sit down together in the room next door designated for eating the boxed meal, with the boy opening the box to feast on the food he shared with the girl whose box he had won. Oh, so much fun all away around!  But what I loved most was getting to be with my girlfriend, Pat Young. 
     Although I wasn’t supposed to know, my girlfriend would always tell me which box was hers before the bidding, and I in turn  would tell my daddy.  Daddy would always win the bid.   Pat’s mother was an excellent cook. The box usually contained fried chicken along with other offerings like potato salad and chocolate cake.   I truly felt like I was on top of the world --a winner in every way. There was something special about my daddy putting out more money than anyone else in that crowded room in order for me to have a meal with my girlfriend.  In my child’s mind, I thought it was just for me, but as I got older,  I realized that it was for the school as well. But for me, the box supper made lasting memories of my first special girlfriend.

          * * * * *

Mid-May, 1952
Week Thirty-Five--Last Day of School 
End-of-Year Picnic Disaster

      As I rode the bus this last day of my first year of school,  remembrances of the  year resulted in a personal childlike appreciation and satisfaction for having passed the first grade.  It had been difficult at times, but I had made it through. I had experienced difficulties in the long nine months of school, but I also had some new friends, and I had learned to spell and print my name. These were big things for me on that final day of the school year.   No more daily grind.  No more books.  Just report cards.  And today, just  fun.  I was so proud to be wearing my new deep blue overalls for the first time at  the school’s end-of-year picnic.  The only concern I had was trying to  keep them from getting dirty.  
     Once the bus had delivered us to the school, we had to wait for an hour or so for some of the parents to come  to transport us to the location for the picnic.  The parents also served as our chaperones, as well as providing and cooking the food as planned by our teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.   
     When we arrived at our picnic destination, the setting was just as I pictured it would be, but even more so in its beauty.  The bluffs were enormous and did seem to be magical -- tall overhanging rocks, acting as an umbrella over the  space underneath where active children could run and climb and jump about.  It was an open cave-like shelter surrounded by trees of oak, fir, hickory, and cowcumber,  as well as huckleberry bushes and clinging vines. The black, moist dirt floor had little growth because of the lack of sunlight, but held passageways, carpeted with ferns, mosses, and decaying logs covered with  greenish-gray lichens and brownish white mushrooms. There were  boulders scattered around in various sizes, and a small trickling stream of water.  The water divided the space somewhat down the middle, paralleling the large rock formation overhang, running in the center of the open cavern at its lowest point, and creating a muddy and slippery area to cross.  On the front upper end where forest and bluff meet, an area had been set aside for a campfire and food preparation-- a wiener roast with all the trimmings. 
     While the food was being prepared, we all had free rein to roam about, climb up the 
boulders, and play hide and seek.  At the same time, I was mindful that I had to keep my new overalls clean.  I was diligent in trying to doing so.  Eventually, we heard the school bell ring, indicating it was time to eat.  Everyone stopped what they were doing, and ran like ants from all corners up the hill towards the food.  I didn’t want to be last, so I followed suit, and ran as fast as I could.  Not paying attention to my steps, as I got to the small stream, I lost my footing,  slipped, and fell.   
     The worst that could happen did happen.  There was mud all over my face, hands, and feet.  But worst of all,  my brand new overalls were covered from top to bottom with mud.  I was in tears.  And those tears were amplified by the fear of what awaited me when I get home. I was going to get exactly what was promised me. 
     Some adult chaperones came to my aid, and cleaned me up as best they could.  There was no way they could get all that mud out of my overalls. The mud dried in my hair, and on my clothes. The rest of the day, I was in misery.  When the school bus came to pick us up to carry us home, the bus driver asked me what happened to me. I was embarrassed to tell him. Some of the older students made fun of me.  I just clammed up and sat down  in a seat all by myself.  I was deeply upset, my head looking down toward the floor.  My stomach was all in knots.  One of my girl cousins came up to me, sat down beside me, and attempted to comfort me.  I withdrew into my emotional shell. Although the ride home was only a few miles away, it was as if time had stood still, and eternity had begun  with me in my own personal hell.  All in one day, I went from elation to despair, from joy to pain, from peace to inner turmoil, from self-consciousness to fear, and from laughter to reticence. Resolution awaited me.  
     When I got home, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would be. Not at all. My parents were wonderfully understanding, cleaned me up, and took my brand new overalls off me to be washed.  Mother’s pleasing and reasurring voice calmed me down. There was no spanking, just love. What a day to remember, to be etched in my mind forever--an emotional roller coaster.  So went the final day of my year in first grade at Poplar Springs Grammar School.
     I was greatly influenced and guided in that first year by new friends, older cousins, my teacher,  and by circumstances and lessons learned.  But most of all, I was especially influenced by the wisdom of my parents, who supported me on that first day of school and who loved and forgave me on that last day.  I was enriched by the experiences I’ve share with you, and they helped me, as a sensitive seven year old boy, to be astute to the growing pains of childhood.  And the first grade was only the beginning.

     In the first grade, I spelled my given name with an "I - E", hence, the reason for the spelling in the title of this post.  I changed the spelling to J - O - H - N - N - Y sometime after attending Double Springs Elementary School, and officially changed the spelling on my birth certificate when I applied for my driver's permit at 15 years old.
     The Poplar Springs' school building is presently privately owned, and is in better condition right now than it has ever been.  In the 50's the school grounds served as our playground--dirt and gravel as the surface.  There was no indoor restroom.  Instead, we walked around a circular path to an outhouse. Also, I failed to mention that in each room there was a pot belly stove for heating.  As I stated in the Preface, "those were the days."
     Because of my slow start in school and the setting in which I found myself, I was just an average student.  It wasn't until the fourth grade, with the motivation and insight of Mrs. Blake of Double Springs Elementary School, did I begin to excel as a student.   

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