Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Always the sticks
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

I started school in 1943, smack-dab in the middle of World War II. As far as I can tell, the two events were unrelated.

My school was the old Waterford Boro School, which is gone now. It stood on East 4th Street just behind the old Methodist Church, which is gone now, and across from the Old Waterford Academy, which is gone now.

The grade school was a 2-story, 4-room, white-clapboard building with a big front porch. Room contained two grades and one teacher. (One of the upstairs rooms was not used when I was there), I wish I had some pictures of the old building; it's hard to remember all the details.

Downstairs on the east side was the room for first and second grades taught by Miss Elayne Bradley, (who was to become Mrs. Ronald Brooks during my stay). On the west side, Mrs. Luba Lewis taught third and fourth grades. Upstairs were fifth and sixth grades, taught by Mr. William Carroll, who was also the principal.

The building was heated with a big, old coal furnace. The large, round hot-air registers were great gathering places on cold winter days. Sometimes we got some unexpected time off when the furnace would break down. I'm not sure what there was about a hand-fired furnace to break down, but that one did.

The hardwood floors were neither painted nor varnished; they were oiled. In the pre-floor tile era, many floors in schools, stores, and other public buildings were saturated with a thin, black oil. They were slippery as ice for a day or two after the annual oiling, but eventually the oil soaked in and/or evaporated, and it was fairly safe. But the floor was always dirty. Kids couldn't sit or crawl around on it without coming up very black and slightly greasy.

The teachers didn't have much equipment, as I recall. Remember the Hectograph? That was our copier. It was essentially a gelatin coated pad. The"original" was made on plain paper with an indelible pencil. That was placed on the moistened gelatin, pressed down, and when removed, its image had been transferred to the gelatin. Copies were made by smoothing plain paper onto the gelatin and peeling it off. You could probably run 20 copes in 10 or 15 minutes with practice. The Hectograph was slow, but at least it didn't break down!

The start of the new school year meant a new pencil box. Basically, a pencil box was a cardboard case, (sometimes with a drawer!), containing pencils, a pencil sharpener, eraser, a short ruler, a compass, and a protractor. No one knew had any idea what protractors were for, so we just traced around them from time to time.

At the beginning of every 6-week grading period, the teacher gave each of us a new pencil and tablet. The cover of the tablet had a map of Pennsylvania showing all the counties. I always tried to save some of my tablets and pencils to take home. I still have one of the tablets. But I've ran out of pencils.

Our school day started at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 3:30 p.m. The day started with morning exercises which consisted of the teacher's reading of five verses from the Bible followed by our recitation of the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. My, my --- things have hanged, haven't they?

Do you remember the poems we had to memorize in grade school? I do. Every one of the thousand or so. I suppose it was somewhat less than that, but it seemed like it at the time. Each poem was an agonizing experience --- in two ways: (1) having to stand up in front of the class and recite it, and (2) having to sit and listen to all the other class members recite it. Fortunately, we were a small class!

I didn't care much for all that memorization at the time, but now that I'm an old guy, I appreciate knowing those old poems.

"Blessings on the, little man,
Barefoot boy with cheek of tan."

Now that I think about it, I'm, almost sure there was more to it than that. Oh well, that's not too bad after all these years, is it?

A lot of things went on at our school in addition to the 3 R's. For instance, music classes happened every week or two, I think. Sometimes the music teacher would play the piano while we sang such favorites as "Camptown Racetrack" and "The Erie Canal", (Complete with choreography at the "low bridge" part).

We sang "The Farmer in the Dell" quite frequently, and yet no one ever told us (nor did we every ask), what a "dell" is. Well, I looked it up, and it's just as i suspected. A "dell" is a "vale"!

At other times, the teacher would break out the rhythm instruments with which we would accompany her piano playing. There was a triangle, a couple of tambourines, a few clappers, and just slightly over 12,000 pairs of sticks. Now for those of you not familiar with musical sticks, they are very similar to non-musical sticks. To play them, you whack them together in tempo with the tune being played on the piano, taking care, of course, not to raise a welt on the person next to you!

I speak here with great authority because when the instruments were passed out, I always got the sticks. I always wanted the triangle. But I always got the sticks. I wasn't interested in the clappers which were smacked into your hand to make a sort of clacking sound and were orange. The tambourines looked too complicated to me. The triangle was the most musical sounding thing in the room, including the piano. But I never got to play it. I always got the sticks.

And another thing: All of the 12,000 pairs of sticks were blue, except for two which were red. I never got the red ones. I got blue ones. I really wish I could have had the triangle.

It is said, however, that everything happens for the best, and I'm pleased to say that I can still hit a couple of sticks together in time with almost any slow tune. Still, I wish I could have had the triangle.

There were two recesses each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Our playground equipment consisted of four swings, four teeter-totters, and the fire escape.

You had to be fast to get a swing, because they were in great demand. And if you did get one, you never gave it up no matter how sick you got. There were always stories about someone going 'over the bar'. No one ever saw this happen; you just heard about it. Some of us would try only to chicken out before we even reached the horizontal. (Actually, it can't be done without a jet engine assist).

The old iron fire escape on the back of the building was our "Jungle Gym". The fact that it was off-limits made it all the more attractive. When the teachers weren't looking, some of the more-daring kids would climb on, around, under, and all over it, which resulted in sprains, scrapes, and broken arms from time to time.

One game we used to play was called "ante-over" or "Anti-over" or maybe "Annie-over" --- I never knew for sure. Anyway, it consisted of two teams, (one in front of the school and one behind it), and a rubber ball. The idea was that someone from one team would throw the ball over the room. If someone on the other team caught it, they would run around the building and --- well, I don't really know. We never got that far. Inasmuch as the building was very tall and we were very short, the entire recess period was spent just trying to throw the ball over the roof.

You know, at the time I didn't care much for school. I was a very busy little kid, and I had a lot of important things to do at home. There were toys to play with, a dog to play with, a cat to play with, adults to bother, etc.

But now I wish I had a time machine so I could go back for awhile. I'd like to wander through the old building. I'd like to see my teachers. I'd like to play on the playground with Bud and Ted and Nancy and Billy and all the others.

But mostly, I'd like to get my hands on that triangle!

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