Saturday, November 26, 2016

My Memories of Growing Up in Tonawanda: Early Elementary School Days

I want to thank everyone who visits my Saturday family history posts! I have a little more of Dad's memoirs to share, but wanted to pause and interject my own Tonawanda memories.

Today I will continue to share my childhood memories of growing up in Tonawanda, recalling my early elementary school days.


Philip Sheridan Elementary School. Unknown source.
I was excited to start Kindergarten at Philip Sheridan Elementary School. I couldn't wait to make the new friends that Mom promised I would meet in school. Of course, many of the girls I became friends with lived RIGHT DOWN THE STREET! It seems silly that I had to go to school to meet my neighbors. But I also meet people I would not have known if not for school, especially through Brownies.

Walking to School

To get to school I walked down Rosemont Avenue to Elmwood. The Rosemont houses had been built about the time I was born. The street had the coolest metal street lights, green painted fluted posts with lights like old fashioned lamps.

I was a daydreamer, always wrapped up in my imagination, making up stories and scenarios. Sometimes I scared myself thinking about sad things. This made me pokey, and I often got to school late. Mom couldn't figure it out, since she sent me out the door on time. If the flag was being raised when I got to school I would stand and pledge my allegiance which made me late to class! Otherwise we kids waited outside until the doors opened.


On my yard with Rosemont Avenue behind me.
My dog Pepper walked me to school. One day she hung around the school door and got inside. She came trotting into my classroom and right to me her tail in a lazy wag. The teacher was furious and I had to walk Pepper home again. Mom had to keep Pepper indoors when I left for school.

I hated trash day. People threw away perfectly good things, and it made me very sad. I come from a long line of folk who see the worth in things others toss away.

I was a very sensitive kid and little things drove me crazy. Like when my socks worked their way down my ankle until they were balled up under my foot! I was always pulling up those socks. And my shoe laces never stayed tied. Mom bought me Saddle shoes, which I hated. Later in life I was told I tied my shoes backwards, and it occured to me that Mom was left-handed. That's why I couldn't tie my laces to last.

I did not have a book bag or back pack like kids today. I had to carry the heavy books in my arms. I dreamt about having my own mini airplane for an easy school commute. I also dreamt I could fly. I had dreams about floating. I floated down the stairs, or above the streets. In my waking hours I was sure once I had really floated. I knew I had floated above Rosemont Avenue on the way home from school.
Winter at my Military Road house
Winters were harsh with heavy snowfall. There would be high banks of snow along the sidewalks and driveways. I remember walking along the deep snow at the curb, climbing up and down the banks...And likely knocking the snow back down on the sholved driveways! One winter I noted the boot tracks in the snow, and one pair of boy's boots made a pretty track. I tried to figure out who they belonged to, which house they led up to.

There was a boy who teased me for being fat. I started carrying an umbrella in case I needed to defend myself. I remember having that umbrella made me feel powerful.

I don't know why I was fat. I recall my folks telling me to settle down, calling me Antsy Nancy, so I know I was moving a lot as a kid. There are home movies showing me pretty hyper. Maybe it was the school lunches Mom packed: peanut butter sandwiches made with Wonder Bread; a piece of fruit; a whole package of Hostess cupcakes or Snowballs! Sometimes she put in a hard boiled egg with a little packet of salt, or leftover meatloaf in a sandwich with catsup, or a boloney and cheese sandwich. I bought chocolate milk at school. I hated milk and drained it off my cereal, but I would drink the chocolate milk.
I loved to swing. Dad built this swing set on our yard
along Rosemont Ave.

Philip Sheridan Elementary School

The school seemed huge. It had a playground for the Kindergarten and another for the older grades. I loved to swing and I loved to climb the monkey bars. I was pretty fearless. I loved to climb the willow tree at home, too.

There was a real gym. I remember learning to dance the cha-cha in gym!

I remember the display cases with the seasonal themes, including Hanukkah. The classrooms also had seasonal themes. Purple and yellow, tulips and eggs for Spring. Autumn leaves and pumpkins, gold and brown, turkeys with multi-colored tails for fall.

I loved the art hanging in the school hallway. I remember near the entrance hall was a painting of a blacksmith shop under a spreading tree. It may have been Paul Detlefsen's Horse and Buggy Days:
http://ow.ly/uX8c306kHCY
Another painting I remember was of three horses, perhaps Grazing Horses by Franz Marc,
http://ow.ly/ssto306kHFG
My Kindergarten teachers were Miss Slawinski and Miss Kowal. We took naps after lunch, laying in rows on rugs, but I was always talking and got into trouble. I remember enhoying the kid's sized play kitchen in the classroom with its little dishes. I liked to play house then.

When the teacher asked where I lived I said, "Next to the biggest tree." Well, it was true did. The willow in my yard was huge. The teacher complained to Mom because I could not get my galoshes on, would not stop talking, and did not know my address. She concluded I was 'spoiled' because I was still an only child. I don't think Mom spoiled me at all. I was just inept, clueless, and well, lonely.

I was lousy at physical things and could not somersault or do cartwheels or tumble. Also, I couldn't see! I had bad astigmatism and didn't get glasses until the school identified the problem.

I loved school things: the notebook and paper, the pencil case and erasers, bulletin boards and chalkboards and books. It was a priviledge to be asked to clean the chalkboards at the end of the school day.

I liked to play teacher. For a long time I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up: first an art teacher, then a music teacher, then a junior high teacher.
Playing teacher to my cousins Sue and Mark
My first new friend was Christine M. who lived on Rosemont Ave. Christine had siblings and friends and knew a lot. She asked if I was Catholic or Protestant and I had to go home and ask Mom. I had no idea about denominations. She asked if my folks were voting for Nixon or Kennedy. I had no idea about presidential elections or political parties. I had to go home and ask Mom. Christine was a lot more savvy than I was!
I got a Brownie camera and this was one of my first photos!
There was a garden in Christine's back yard, and one time she pulled out carrots and we ate them. Her brother was watching King Kong one time I was there, a movie I had never seen. Scary, impressive, and exhilarating!

Christine introduced me to the girl across the road from her house, Janet L. She was a year younger than us. Janet had a sand box. I loved playing there, even if we found sometimes cat poop in the box. We would play there for hours.


Janet L. at my house
Janet and I played cowboys. I don't recall any Indians, but there were bad guys. We watched Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies rerun on the television. I liked that Autry sang, but Rogers had the great Palomino horse. We would argue over who would be Autry and who would be Rogers. Neither of us wanted to be the cowgirl! That was just lame.

I did not always play nice. I wanted my own way, and one time when I was miffed I imitated what I'd seen on cartoons: Janet was bending over and I gave her a backside a kick. I got into big trouble, rightly so. I was lucky her mom still allowed me over.

I joined the Brownie troop, likely Mom's idea since I was pretty shy in groups. I loved Brownies, everything from the uniform to the songs and crafts. Mrs. Mildred Newhall was our troop leader.
Sporting 'pig tails' and my Brownie uniform.
I loved singing so I always remembered the songs, like the round "Make new friends, but keep the old; One is silver and the other gold." It taught me to hold on to friends, but always be open for new friends.

I also remember the silly songs:

Ooey Gooey was a worm, 
and a mighty worm was he; 
He sat upon the railroad track
--the train he did not see. 
Ooey Gooey!
*
A peanut sat on a railroad track
His heart was all aflutter.
Down came the 8:15
--choo-choo-choo-choo- Peanut butter!
*
Do your ears hang low,
do they wobble to and fro?
Can you tie them in a knot?
Can you tie them in a bow?
Can you throw them over your shoulder
like a Continental solider?
Do your ears hang low?

Another song I remember was Little Cabin in the Woods, which had hand motions:

In a cabin in the woods
Little man by the window stood;
Saw a rabbit hopping by,
Knocking at his door.
"Help me, help me, help me," he said
Or the hunter will shoot me dead."
"Little rabbit, come inside,
Safely to abide."

I think therein lies the root of my never wanting to shoot a gun. I was later a good shot with the B-B gun, but they held no appeal for me. I'd rather shelter the bunny than shoot it dead.

Earning Brownie and Girl Scout badges taught me skills like embroidery. We went hiking and camping, three to a pup tent. We each brought a can of SPAM to cook over a fire. I thought it was gross. Of course, the best part was the campfire and the singing and the S'Mores! We only got one each and it was hard eating just one.

Our troop had a girl, Mary, who was in a wheelchair. And for a very short while an African American girl.

The troop leaders gave us a book about a white, yellow, and brown bunny that learn to get along. And then before one meeting a woman in a pill box hat and heels came to the door, bringing her daughter to the meeting, her older son next to her. They were African American. I don't recall any problems, but sadly the girl did not stay very long. I didn't know about segregation and the fight for equal rights going on at the time. But that bunny book made its mark on me. I cherished that book, but at some point it was tossed out, perhaps when we moved.

Teachers & Classes

In First Grade I had Lucille Peterson, Miss Hurley for Second Grade, and Mrs. Erickson for Third Grade. Miss Hurley and Mrs. Erickson were not warm to me, but somehow it did not affect my love for learning. My Fourth Grade teacher was Miss Vanden Beukel, who Mom said was "prettier than Marilyn Monroe." My Fifth Grade teacher Miss Dozoretz was Jewish and taught us about Hanukkah. She gave us dreidels and taught us how to play. I loved Miss Dozoretz, who I remember as cheerful and upbeat. I felt she really loved us all. She married after school ended and we were all invited. Sadly, we moved that year and I couldn't attend.

My favorite subjects in school were music, art, and reading, science and social studies. So, yeah, like everything but math! I was lousy at math. Mom helped me memorize the multiplication tables, but spring break ended before I learned the x8 table. To this day I can't keep numbers in my working memory. But I can finally balance a check book and sometimes figure out the tip.

I liked the songs in Kindergarten, especially Do You Know the Muffin Man? Oh, to have a muffin man walking down the street! And we played the Hokey Pokey: "Put your right hand in, take your right hand out; put your right hand in and shake it all about."

In music class we learned American and world folk songs. A favorite was The Happy Wanderer. 


I love to go a-wandering
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.

I also loved The Erie Canal--since the canal was just down the road! And folk songs like I Ride An Old Paint and Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill.

Art was my first school subject love. At home coloring was a favorite activity. My favorite Crayola colors were Periwinkle, Sea Green, Robin's Egg Blue, Aquamarine, Cornflower, Mulberry, Thistle, Salmon--clear bright pastels with lovely names. I still love playing with color, only today I use fabric.

I also loved paper dolls. My grandmother taught me how to cut with scissors, a skill I still use in quilting! I remember I had Dinah Shore paperdolls. She hosted the Dinah Shore Chevy Show which I watched with Mom. I pretended I had The Nancy Show. My acts included a trio of singing horses named Sugar, Coffee, and Cream. I believe the names were inspired by a song I liked, Sugartime, sung by the McGuire Sisters: "Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at super time./ Be my little sugar and love me all the time."

Learning to read came easy to me. I had grown up with Little Golden Books and illustrated books. When I was invited to join the school chorus the teacher scheduled reading while I was out of the classroom. I have sang Alto from third grade until today. We met in the school auditorium. I remember we learned the May Day Carol:

The moon shines bright, the stars give a light
A little before tis day
Our heavenly Father, he called to us
And bid us awake and pray.

Another song I remember learning was The Holly and the Ivy:

The holly and the ivy
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown.

O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer;
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir.

I was Martha in The Christmas Carol in the school play. Actually, I played Martha in one scene and another girl played Martha in the other scene. I memorized everyone's lines, and to this day I remember the lines. It remains a favorite story.


Teachers read out loud to class at school and I was transported by the books. Each class had its own mini-library. I read all the books after the teacher shared them: Mr. Popper' Penguins; Charlotte's Web; Ben and Me; Follow My Leader; Homer Price; Bed-knob and Broomsticks; Mrs Piggle Wiggle. Hence my love of fiction! I loved A Child's Garden of Verses and when I found a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson I read it. Such a romantic life! And so my interest in biographies began.

When I learned there was a public library I begged Mom to take me. My first visit to the Sheridan Park Public Library I brought home Follow My Leader, D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, and a history of Australia. It was hard to choose, there were so many lovely books.

During the summer Mom sent me to Day Camp at Herbert Hoover Junior High. We meet in the gym for activities and crafts. I recall crafts making hand loom potholders, wood burning, etching on copper sheets, and painting plastic kits of parakeets.

We went swimming at Day Camp. I didn't know how to swim plus I hated it when my face went underwater. I got an ear infection one summer and was able to skip swimming.

Janet also went to Day Camp and her big sister drove us to Day Camp a few times. I heard Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Tiny Polka Dot Bikini on the radio one day when she drove us.

I went home and told my Grandmother Gochenour that I didn't like popular music, it was inane, and she approved. I told her I would only like classical music and musicals, and also that I would never like boys because girls acted silly over them. I kept that promise for a long time.
With Grandma Gochenour, who lived with us.
This photo is from about 1959, because that is when Mom bought
her turquoise couch!
My first awareness of time, other than as a reassuring cycle of the known, came in 1959. Next time, I will share my memories of my brother's birth and meeting the best friend I could have ever wanted.