Holman Elementary 1954 – 1962: First Grade

I would never have spent my morning pages last week doing this had not I been prompted by a classmate who was penning some memories of those times for his grand children. We both attended Minnie Holman Elementary in Woodlawn Highlands. The building was demolished in the early 90s.

The writing out of these ghoses of memory was an interesting dive back into the Wayback Machine, and I have since remembered more as the first fragments go on to twig into related bits, while some hang just beyond the grasp of recall–at least for now.

So I’ll serialize that rambling remembrance here, FWIW, and recommend such an exercise for your own morning pages, writers and grandparents out there in the blogosphere. — Fred

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Minnie Holman Elementary ca 1927

First Grade: Ms Britton

-    First grade began in tragedy. I did not get placed in the same room as Jane Ann Martin. We were already betrothed, I thought, after a year in Mrs. Hodges’ kindergarten. The scars healed, mostly.

-    Fat pencils. Impossibly thick lead. We did not do much with them that first year that I remember but make black smudges on very wide-ruled pulpy paper and work in our reading groups. Look Jane look! See Spot run. That we did not die of boredom….

-    Smells: the lunchroom smells dominated the aromasphere, from anywhere any floor in the building; and cleaning compound, its resiny-industrial fragrance barely dominant often over the top of upchuck on the waxed hardwood floors; and the smell of hot metal radiators under each of the twenty-foot windows. There was a lot of light, no air conditioning, but I don’t remember ever being too hot. Alabamians once upon a time took heat much better, I think, than they do today. We have acclimated to a very narrow temperature range, but may have to rethink that in the future.

-    Johnny Norton broke his leg. Maybe that was second grade? I did not know such a thing could happen to people I knew. Could it happen to me–on top of not being in Jane Ann’s class? Life took on a new seriousness.

-    We took naps and had large towels from home in a chest in the back of the room for that purpose. I once hid in that chest, for reasons I cannot recover from memory, to be frantically sought when I was not among my classmates after lunch. Carol Elam found me. I was the center of attention–my fifteen seconds of fame. Was I that needy then?

-    The playground, where upon being told it was too muddy to go there, Brice Campbell and I thumbed our noses at such restrictions because we had black floppy galoshes. The principal came and hauled us in by our collars. We did it our way.

-    I remember Ms. Britton sometimes wore her hair in a bun. Maybe always? She looked like the teacher in Calvin and Hobbes. She was a gentle and kind woman, and we could not have had a better start on a journey that for many of us, would take us in a pod through twelve grades and dump us off at the edge of the world.

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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. Wow! The smells just blasted me back to Palmyra, a wide spot in the road outside the big city of Hannibal, MO (pop. 18,000 in the 1950s). Your description nailed the essence of my grade school, right down to the resiny smell of the sawdust compound swept “over the top of upchuck on the waxed hardwood floors.” I think we went to the same school, although many states apart.

  2. Whaat a bunch of memories! I have maybe an very faint image of my classroom, plus a memory that my teacher was old and fat (but nice!)