Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Washington School Days: 1. The Beginnings

                                     First Day of Kindergarten

Dear George,


I didn’t start out at Washington Grade School, but at Boswell on Menominee’s west side.  In September 1942 we lived in the big white frame house near the foot of the Interstate Bridge.  Steve was one, and I was five.  John and Grace Fernstrum and their five-year-old daughter Sally lived on the first floor, and our family lived upstairs.  Sally and I were playmates and best friends.  I can’t recall a single thing about kindergarten classes at Boswell.  A picture of my first day at Boswell in a family photo album shows me standing behind my Mom and clinging to her dress.  I’m sure I was in a state of abject terror.


What I remember most clearly was walking to school with Sally each morning.  It was a long walk for five-year-olds, at least three-quarters of a mile.  The Fernstrum Boiler Works factory was about halfway along on Ogden Avenue, and in the winter, when the U.P. snowdrifts were sometimes up to our shoulders, we would be shivering by the time we reached this waystation.  There was a woodburning potbelly stove in the front office of the Boiler Works, and Sally and I would go in there to unthaw our mittens and warm our noses and cheeks.  The stove had a glass window with red flames flickering behind it.  The office employees were very friendly, probably because cute little kids were giving them a welcome work break.  I still feel positively about these visits.  They helped show us that the world can be a safe and protective place.

                                       Boswell Grade School

Our family moved the following summer, and I changed schools to Washington, which was located in downtown Menominee, one block west of Sheridan Avenue and the marina park on Green Bay, just behind the Montgomery Ward Store and the Lloyd Theater.  I was new to the neighborhood, and all the first-graders at Washington were veterans there except me.  My first grade teacher was Miss Gries, a skinny, black-haired, gaunt woman with a grim demeanor.  I sat in the second row on the lefthand side of the room, next to Marvin Forton who was to become my best grade school friend.  Miss Gries held tryouts for the first grade band, and Marvin was the only kid in the class who could beat a drum with a semblance of rhythm. Miss Gries selected him as drummer for the year, and this not only gave Marvin special status in our class, but also led to his later joining the high school orchestra and being the drummer in the Pep Band.


As for myself, first grade was a good experience, despite my being inordinately shy.  I discovered that I was good at many of the tasks that first-graders were called upon to do, e.g., learning the alphabet, printing, adding two and three, drawing flowers and birds.  School took on a manageable feeling, and I applied myself to mastering whatever it was that Miss Gries asked of us.  Second grade was a step upwards though it still had much the same feeling.  My teacher was Miss Gustafson.  The alphabet was at the top of the blackboard, with a row of handwriting underneath in cursive.  All of the girls were better at writing in cursive than were all of the boys.  We started doing subtraction and reading stories about Spot and Dick and Jane. 


A few years ago I went back home for my 50th high school reunion.  Menominee is a small town with a single high school, serving all the kids in the community.  My graduating class had 165 students, and I knew a majority of the people at the reunion.  Many of those that I felt the deepest connections to were my grade school classmates from Washington.  We shared a long history together -- six years of elementary school and then all of high school.  I’ll tell you more about these good and bad times in some postings yet to come.




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