Holman Elementary 1954 – 1962: 4th and 5th Grades

This would have been 1958-9. Other installments in the series (hang with me, we’re more than half way now) are linked at the end of this chapter.

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Four Grade: Ms Long

-    I have copious memories of Ms. Long. I’m sure we all do. She was much feared. I loved her. From her I learned phonics, vocabulary, and sarcasm.

-    She told the story of an irate mother who demanded an appointment with her to discuss what had been said about the woman’s son. She claimed that he had been called a “scurvy elephant.” To which, Ms Long, with her glasses down on her nose and expression of great disdain mixed with pity, told the woman…”I did not call your son a scurvy elephant. I called him a disturbing element.” I think I was one of those too, but she never threw an eraser at me at the pencil sharpener or poured water on my head asleep at my desk. Tough love. She was ahead of her time.

-    I stopped by Ms Long’s house in 1973 when I was working at the medical center and before we moved to Virginia the first time. I knew she was home; the same ancient dark green car she drove in 1958 was in the driveway. I knocked on the door. She answered it. I stepped forward and said “Ms Long, I bet you don’t remember me.” Drolly, she looked down her nose through reading glasses and said “That’s right.”

When I told her who I was, with a flash of recognition, she practically wept. We talked inside for an hour while she watered her beloved ferns. Which she pronounced FuhWeens. (Her classroom was always lined with them and I know there were days she much preferred them to human children.)

She said she’d often wondered what happened to me and my brother who both endured her with much less terror and more cautious admiration than most of our classmates. She never got much love. She deserved much love. She might have been the most influential teacher of twelve years of my deep-southern education.  No, she was that.

Fifth Grade: Mrs. Davis

-    Mrs Davis was a coach maybe, I think, because I remember her wearing a whistle around her neck.

-    Girls as a group formerly not visible began to become visible in and out of class this year. Especially Ruth Schaeffer.

-    I got an upgrade that year from the Rocket crystal radio I had used to listen secretely after bedtime to Birmingham Barons baseball games with the wire clamped to my metal bed-rails. My Birthday-gift radio was a sweet piece of technology–turquoise, like the rock in Mr. Halls collection. It was so tiny–no bigger than a World Book encyclopedia. I was not supposed to take it to school. I took it to school and left it in my locker. I went back to get it, by which time it was already in somebody else’s collection. Maybe Mr. Hall’s.

-    This class was in the new wing (is that right?) with crank-out windows. I spent much time taking advantage of them and not so much the chalk board. Chalk. It is the medium of the age. And they have not yet discovered that all those years chalk dust  was lethal to small lungs–unless you got picked to clean erasers. Chalk dust lung–occupational pneumonopathy of grammar school.

-    Teddy Drake was a scurvy elephant that year. We did our best to keep up with him, but thankfully failed to do so.

-    A YMCA football team was blessed with my participation that year. It was not the brains (they’d heard about my earlier touchdown for the wrong team) so I guess it was the brawn. I exuded a certain Barney Fife wirey-ness. I played wide end, #81. I caught a touchdown pass once, intended for someone else, and I was already positioned properly cross the correct goal line. Hoyt Stovall was the quarterback, a real stud. But Ruth Schaeffer liked me better.

-    It was the year (maybe one of the years) I had consistent P’s for Poor in conduct. I was learning that if I couldn’t beat Hoyt Stovall on the turf, I would be funnier; more entertaining. I was told if I got an E for Excellent in conduct I would get a football. If David Gillespie could do it, I could, mom told me more than once. I got my E. I got my football. And I thereafter resumed my career in my comfort zone, farther down the alphabet.

-    By this year the front of the school property had been terraced. The rough edges of that lot was, before that, one of those few wilderness places in a tame suburban neighborhood. And across the road and down below ran Village Creek, an open sewer as it turns out, and probably a Superfund site now. We always wondered why the water smelled of rotten eggs.

You became a respected member of the Lost Boys if you rode your bike down all three terraces. I did, but feel certain Hoyt Stovall was chicken.

Part One: Grades One

Part Two: Grades Two and Three

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Very entertaining, Fred, but now I can’t relate. I was the goodiest two shoes in the class, the teacher’s pet. I also loved school and learning, but I’m afraid memorizing was my only intellectual skill. Spelling bees and saying the state capitals and finding countries on the world map. Loved it.