I recently joined a group on Facebook: You gotta be from Newberry if…(Newberry, FL, that is). I’ve laughed at the memories other people have shared. Among the reminiscence of local hangouts and mischief were posts about school. Teachers kept paddles in their desks and used them. One compared my second grade teacher’s swing to Jose Canseco’s. LOL. One teacher had a reputation for shaking you until your teeth rattled, if you were bad.
A couple of teachers whacked with their hands, if they had a mind to. I only had to be whacked once. I was in first grade, leaning on my seat with one knee, the other foot resting on the floor. Bent over my work, I was intent on the lesson and started whistling. That’s when the whack came. I sat down, never to whistle and work at the same time again.
Newberry is a small, rural town in North Central Florida. It was even smaller back in the day. Our school was divided into two campuses, elementary and high school. At the end of sixth grade, you moved up to high school, which was kind of daunting.
We had three elementary school buildings, which had been built over the decades as Newberry’s population grew. Kindergarten and first grade were in a quadruplex. Grades two through four were in the green schoolhouse, a two-story imposing building. I got dizzy sometimes when I craned my little neck to look up at it. Fifth and sixth grades were in the oldest building, the red brick schoolhouse, which originally housed the entire elementary school. Last summer, I took Josh back to visit the red brick schoolhouse, now an historic site. The memories that visit brought back…
While we were blessed with furnace heating in winter, the school buildings didn’t have air conditioning. Instead, large windows were raised to allow in the hot, humid Florida air. Not necessarily cooler, at least the air was fresh, unlike the sweaty kids after they’d played on the playground at recess.
Along with the luxury of outside air came annoying gnats. I don’t know if they exist anymore, but we had gnat sticks. They were like oversized Chapsticks you rolled over your necks and cheeks to keep the gnats out of your face. It was a grimy, but effective, substance.
All of my school supplies fit neatly in a cigar box my father picked up for free at a gas station in town. Back then, at least in our community, we didn’t shop for school supplies. In elementary school, we had a lined tablet, a sharpened wooden pencil, and crayons. I can’t remember what else we filled the cigar box with—except our gnat stick. As we got older, some kids had pencil pouches. Funny how we managed compared to modern kids.
In fifth grade, we were blessed with the building of a modern schoolhouse. When it was finished, the whole elementary school grabbed their books and cigar boxes and marched down the street to the new air conditioned, carpeted schoolhouse. We were proud of our new school. The only downside was no windows in the classrooms. But we were cool and didn’t need the gnat sticks anymore—at least not inside.
Nothing like fond memories to make one realize contentment and materialism are worlds apart. Maybe that explains why we have a nation of discontented people.
Something to ponder.