Editor’s note: Amy Calder’s column will now appear in print on B1 Saturdays. 

Some people don’t remember much about their early childhood, but I remember just about everything.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the school I attended from kindergarten through grade four.

That’s because North Elementary School in Skowhegan is second on the state’s priority list of schools that need to be replaced, as it is in such rough shape.

When I enrolled in kindergarten at North El, it was 1961 and the school was only 7 years old.

The floors were shiny, the gymnasium, which doubled as a lunch room, was modern, with large, floor-to-ceiling windows, and the classrooms were gleaming.

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Robinson, was very kind and liked kids. I loved reading and coloring. The crayons smelled great.

In first grade, Mrs. Herrin called me to her desk one day and whispered in my ear: “You got the highest on the achievement test.” I loved Mrs. Herrin, always, after that.

She taught us to sing “Rocking Chair.” We chose a partner, sat back-to-back on the floor, locking arms, and rocked back and forth, singing:

“Rocking chair, rocking chair, I love my rocking chair. I love my rocking chair, just my size. After I rock a while in my rocking chair, I get so sleepy, I close my eyes.”

After all these years, I still remember those lyrics.

We read the “Alice and Jerry” books. We recited The Lord’s Prayer out loud every morning with our hands clasped together and our heads bowed.

Mrs. Cook was my second grade teacher. Instead of just crossing her legs like most people, she’d curled them around each other twice and keep them that way when she sat in her chair. She was very flexible, both literally and figuratively, and wore cat-eye glasses. She listened well and gave good instructions.

In the third grade, Miss Goldammer had a nickname, “Miss Gold Damn Her,” but only the older kids called her that after they left her class. We, her students, thought she was smart and tolerant. She let us stand in front of the class and read books out loud. I remember my friend, Dawn, read “Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars.”

Miss Goldammer invited Sen. Margaret Chase Smith to our classroom. The senator strolled in one day wearing a blue suit with a big red rose on her lapel and a pocketbook over her arm and talked to us nicely. I didn’t know exactly what she did, but we knew she was important, so it was a privilege to have her visit.

We started learning oral French while in the third grade, and a French teacher would come regularly to our classroom to teach us French words and how to ask questions and answer them. We took oral French lessons right up until the ninth grade and then written French in high school. I’ve always appreciated the fact that the school system gave us that.

Miss Laney, our fourth grade teacher, was super nice. She smiled all the time and enunciated perfectly. I especially liked her because I was sick with a virus and was out of school for about a month and she brought my school work to my house and visited with my mother and me.

During school lunch, we sat at long tables with benches attached. I typically sat with my friend, Nancy, whose cousin died in a car crash in Cornville one night. I felt so sad for Nancy, who was sweet and pretty and told me she kissed her cousin on the cheek when she saw her in the casket. Death was very scary to me and I thought about this a lot.

My friend, Kelley, brought some chocolate mayonnaise cake in her lunch box one day. I had never heard of making a cake with mayonnaise instead of eggs. Kelly let me have a piece. It was delicious and she promised she’d give me her mother’s recipe. She did, and I made one at home. That was pretty good, too.

At recess, we ran around outside, played on the jungle gyms and swings and ate snacks. My friend, Rosemarie, always had store-bought sweets and shared them with me: creme rolls and round, pink marshmallow-coconut covered chocolate cakes with cream inside. I thought Rosemarie was lucky, as I only got homemade desserts.

The Beatles were popular at the time and we formed groups of four, played fake guitars and performed on the school steps by the playground. We were probably pretty bad, but kids crowded around us anyway and clapped.

We also played marbles in the dirt. We kept them in little home-sewn drawstring bags. Everyone competed hard to procure the large marbles we referred to as poomers.

When the school day ended, we lined up outside the building next to red poles that held up the overhang to the school entrance. We knew what pole to stand behind according to what number bus we rode home.

One day, we got out of school early because our president, John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed. It was while riding the bus that day, Nov. 22, 1963, that I first began to understand the significance of what had happened. We stopped at the high school to pick up the older kids and they were all talking about Kennedy and crying.

That was 56 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

I have driven by North Elementary many times since I was a student there and have marveled at the fact that it is still in operation after all these years.

But rather than feel sad the day it closes, I think I’ll view it as I do my life in general: I’m fortunate to have made it this far.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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