Posted by: Jim E | June 21, 2011

School…It’s A Story To Tell…Not All Good, Not All Bad…

School has always been important to me…first, my parents emphasized school…to attend and to get the most out of it…neither my Mom or my Dad finished high school…in fact my Mom only finished 8th grade and my Dad finished 9th grade…so they both felt that was a  mistake on their part and it was not going to happen to their three boys…the story goes that Mom didn’t finish school because she was embarrassed because she only had one dress (and dresses were a requirement for girls in those days…in fact when I was in school in the 1950’s)…and it was old and worn, so she just stayed home…my Dad was upset his mother wouldn’t let him play football…so he didn’t go…(in those days, this was not unusual…anyway, we were not going to have that choice…we went to school…

We lived in an area of Golden Valley, MN that I later called “Lower Slobbovia”…that was something I took from the comic strip “Li’l Abner”…Al Capp, the creator of the strip, had a vivid imagination…the place called Dogpatch, where all the cartoon characters lived…and a place called “Lower Slobbovia”…like all of the strip, an imaginary place or nation…a faraway place…underdeveloped, socially backward, remote, impoverished, unenlightened…it was inhabited by hapless residents, perpetually waist-deep in feet of snow (and Minnesota in the winter, that was not far flung), icicles hanging from every nose…it was the haves verses the have-nots…

That’s where we lived…it was fitting…and though by the time I got to the place where I called where I lived “Lower Slobbovia”…I had developed (I had to) a sense of humor about our plight…we didn’t live in squalor (my Mom saw to that…she would say, “Your clothes may have patches but they don’t have to be dirty.”…she was a stickler for cleanliness)…so though we lived in a basement house, with no running water (I always have to footnote that statement, our water was piped underground from my Grandparents house next door (under that wall you see by the stairs, behind my Mom)…so no running water in our house, if you understand what I mean…guaranteed, I knew the difference as I grew up)…no sewer, just a pail under the sink to catch the water we ran in the sink…we emptied it in the alley behind the shed…it was a walk, but good exercise…an outhouse on the edge of the alley…in winter it was a quick stop, if you know what I mean…all sphincter muscles had to work efficiently, slamming shut at opportune moments, and I know you know what I mean on that…’nuff said…

The inside of the basement was one large room, Oh, I suppose 24×30 or so…about a third of the space was walled with 2×2’s with cardboard over them…painted or wallpapered (for interior design purposes, dontcha know)…and that space had the same kind of wall down the middle, to split that into two bedrooms…(this interior probably would not make it on HGTV’s House Hunters program…there were no actual doors on the bedrooms, just curtains that Mom made)…Mom’s kitchen was the sink…some apple boxes (they were made out of wood at that time) for cupboards, a stove and refrigerator…as you can see in your minds eye…it was not extravagant and what with the kids I went to school with had huge homes and two, three and four car garages…some with swimming pools in their yards or in their homes…well, you can see why I got to the place where I called where I lived, “Lower Slobbovia”…

It was all in good humor…mostly for my benefit…but I also said it openly at school and with friends…self-deprecating humor always helped me deal with seeing things from a positive viewpoint…and fit in with those who had far more than I did…but school was to be my way out of “Lower Slobbovia”…though I loved my childhood there…and really it didn’t bother me a whole lot…in fact I didn’t think about it until I was in junior high and high school…then is where humor helped me deal with all that was…and of course, wasn’t…

We went to a local elementary school as I grew up…it was a great caring place…my Mom was a cook at the school so it was great…but then after 8th grade we didn’t have a junior high or high school…we had to go to Jefferson Junior High in Minneapolis, MN…it was a long bus ride…but out front let me say, “I hated that school!!!”…if all intercity schools are that way today and probably worse…I wouldn’t let my kids go there…after Jefferson for 9th grade, then students from Golden Valley (where we were from) went to West High…(West High is no longer…it was torn down…Jefferson is now a middle school or something like that)

So we were not “from” there…meaning Minneapolis…we were outsiders…and had to pay the price…every day after school we had to wait for the bus home…and you didn’t “have” to walk up the street to the drug store for candy or pop (soda, for you non-Minnesotans) but on the other hand, we “had” to, or they would come looking for you…and we had to walk through what I called “The Gauntlet”…the “gang” members hung out on the corner and we had to walk through them to get to the drug store…and almost everyday someone was “called out”…or challenged and a fight would occur…if you lost it was over for you…you would never be called out again…if you won and it happened only once…you had to fight the “next” toughest, etc…I was never called out…I guess I was big enough or something…but the bad thing about that was, you worried all day wondering if “this” would be the day…not conducive to learning Algebra, if you know what I mean…it would have been better if it had happened and be over…but it never did…

But Kenny got called out one day, he was a friend of mine…lived just down the street from us in “Lower Slobbovia” a little closer to the railroad tracks…(his family was poorer than us…and his big family was in a lot worse straights than us…lots of violence and alcohol…and on and on)…but calling Kenny “out” was their first mistake…unlike the rest of us Golden Valley “cake eaters”…Kenny had been fighting his whole life just to survive…(I always wanted him on my side in the neighborhood, if you know what I mean…and he wanted me for a friend)…Kenny made mincemeat out of that guy…so the next night it was someone else…but it only happened that one more time…Kenny made the same mincemeat out of him too…I mean, lots of blood…and I always had to be there to pull him off the guy…Kenny had no control…even when the other guy gave up…so I had to intervene…so the next day, no takers…Kenny did the trick in two tries…and they gave up…there is some lesson in that somewhere…but I think you got it…

It was by all means a “rough school”…we all knew it going in…and it didn’t get better…there were some real thugs there…zip guns, knives, gangs, dope…not a good thing going there…and the teachers, what about the teachers…Mr. H.H. Hill was my homeroom teacher and history teacher…he was great…loved his class and learned…he was funny and told about his time in WWII…Miss. Packer was my typing teacher…there is no such class today, I don’t think…it is maybe called, Keyboard, today…just a class on learning the keyboard for the computer…we called Miss. Packer, Packrat…I don’t know why…she was strict…and to us very old…grey hair, in a bun…and when she told us she was taking care of her mother, we thought her mother must be 100…but you know, what you are reading right now…well, thanks Miss. Packer…you taught me and I am still using it, never forgot…good teacher, huh…what do you do everyday that was taught to you 55 years ago…my Algebra teacher…tough…I was more worried about being “called out” than I was about Algebra (I’m not using what I learned there today, I don’t think)…my Civics teacher, who sat behind his desk and read the paper while we did mimeographed worksheets everyday…but he loved his sports and followed my brother Jack on the West High basketball team…and my wood shop teacher…his class was full of thugs…one kid filled the jointer full of nails and he turned it on…dangerous stuff…we could only use hand tools so they knew he would be turning it on…one of the many things that happened…but I still have the small stool that I made in his class…55 years ago…amazing…he thought I walked on water…most of the rest of the kids where just there to cause trouble…

At lunch hour we had time left after we ate and they put us in the auditorium and showed us movies (“The Thing”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, other high brow stuff)…can you imagine hundreds of junior high kids in one place…noisy and out of control…they had a few teachers on duty but most did nothing…but one day, my Algebra teacher was on duty and he pulled a kid I knew out of the row of seats…across the many wooden seats and roughed him up and took him out the door…and when I saw the kid later that week…he broke his arm being pulled across the seats…but in those days, no problem…the kid didn’t even blame the teacher…of course, he was the one misbehaving…all in all, a tough school…I was glad to survive the year unscathed…and by the next year Golden Valley had built and opened a new high school…and that is where I graduated from in 1960…

School…for everyone, a story to tell…and not all good, not all bad…but we all need to go through it…I think today with homeschooling and charter schools and other choices make for a better system for all kids and families…but school was my way to something different…my folks were right…and when they expected us to go to school…and for me…the first to ever go to college on either side…then graduate…and then to teach and then be a principal of a large high school…man, oh man…what a journey…never did I ever dream such a thing…nor for my parents…nor for those who lived in “Lower Slobbovia”…life is grand…hope you are “really” living it…

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Responses

  1. It is often a marvel to see where we came from and where we ended up.

    Those movie titles brought back memories- I loved those films as a kid!


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