Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A to Z April Challenge: J is for James Hurst Elementary School

Genealogists and family historians get a lot of satisfaction from chasing their ancestors’ stories. Finding a diary, a message on a postcard, or a photo with a name attached is like the sun coming out after a storm. One day we will be somebody’s ancestor. We need to leave our descendants a little bit of sunshine too. So here is my story told alphabetically, not chronologically: Growing Up in Cradock.

is for James Hurst Elementary School.

This is where I went to school in grades 1 through 4. It was right across the street from where we lived, so needless to say, I walked to school.

At the beginning of each school year Momma bought me new shoes and a new book bag. I remember 3 pairs of saddle oxfords: navy and white, brown and white, and finally black and white which to me were the REAL saddle shoes making me wonder why I kept getting the blue ones and the brown ones – what was wrong with Momma anyway?  In later years, I came to realize that being
from Pinterest
slightly different from the pack was her thing; she never wanted what everyone else had.

image from Etsy - no known restrictions
That would also explain why my lunchbox was different from everyone else’s too. No square lunchbox for me. It was a red plaid oval just like this one that sold recently on Etsy. Just looking at that picture conjures up the aroma of lunch as the lid finally popped open after my fingers walked around the edges prying it open. The shallow tray typically held a napkin and sometimes a cookie if an apple took up too much room down below. These were the days before juice boxes, so I could buy a milk ticket (they were red, I think) with 5 punches on it (or was it 10?). Those of us buying just milk could grab a carton and head to the front of the line. Kids who bought lunch could buy a lunch ticket (they were yellow, I think). I bought lunch sometimes. Cafeteria rolls were the best. Can I get an AMEN?

I have wonderful memories of creative and nurturing teachers like Miss Wiggins, Mrs. Newman, Mrs. Daughtry, and Mrs. James, and of learning to play the flutophone in fourth grade. On the downside, it was the age of the Cold War when we had bomb drills requiring us to go into the hall, get face-down on the floor with knees under us and our heads against the wall. I doubt we understood or knew to be more afraid than we were. It was just another drill, like a fire drill only inside. School as usual.

On Saturdays and in the summer, any thoughts about bombs and fires dissipated. James Hurst provided 15 acres of playground for my friends and me.

Jungle Gym
from wikimedia commons
Monkey Bars
from wikimedia commons
It had multiple sets of the requisite recess equipment like jungle gyms and monkey bars. One time I got myself stuck sitting on top of the monkey bars. Unsure where to place my hands and what to do with my legs then dangling below me, I began to panic as I realized I might actually get hurt if I did something wrong. I don’t remember with whom I was playing that day, but she ran home to get her dad to come get me down. Probably out of sheer embarrassment, I figured out how to get down by myself before her dad could get there.

James Hurst also had lots of paved surfaces perfect for roller skating. The front of the school boasted a large “porch” and “patio” plus wide sidewalks leading to the street. A flagpole in the middle practically demanded we skate around it several times before shooting back onto our straight path.

photo courtesy of "I Grew Up in Cradock" Facebook Group
There were steps on 3 sides around those columns.
The width of sidewalk in front of the steps extended from at least
the 2 windows on either side of the front doors.

But it was the wide open space and all the trees that captured our imagination. Along Ericcson Street was a row of trees and a ditch formed by exposed roots.
From Google Maps
along Ericcson St.

In the photo snips from Google Maps, it appears the ditch has been filled in, but its ghost is visible in the shallow stretch. In the 1960s, that ditch was considerable – in some places at least an 18 inch step-down into the “rooms” of our imagined houses.  Some of the roots formed our sofas, and flat edges of the ditch became the stove in our kitchens. My favorite tree had a group of roots that worked as steps going down into my living room. At other times we moved out of the ditch and swept pine straw to outline the walls of a much bigger house.

from Google Maps

Beyond this Homecoming Parade you can see the concession
stand with the scorekeeper's box above it,
the dugouts, and  the bleachers.

The back corner of the school ground held the baseball field, home of Cradock Little League. Since I lived right across the street, it was easy to watch a game right from my front porch if I wanted to. But the concession stand with its tempting treats made me a steady customer night after night. Lime or cherry snow cones. Big Towns. Mary Janes and Pixie Stix.

Living so close to the ball field had one drawback though: people constantly rang our doorbell and asked permission to use our bathroom. Apparently portable toilets were not common enough, available enough, or cheap enough for a group of volunteers to provide in those days.

In the mid-1970s the James Hurst I knew was torn down. A showcase of modern education when it was built in 1942, the school fell prey to rot and termites. A new showcase of modern education was built in its place, and safer playground equipment was installed. All that remains of the old building is the cupola and weathervane now positioned in front of the school, still the most recognizable symbol of James Hurst Elementary School.

BEFORE - the cupola is more visible in this photo
(AFTER below)
Cupola and weathervane in front of the new James Hurst Elementary School
Juggle your time and Jump, Jog, or Jaunt on over to the A to Z April Challenge for some Jovial Jottings of Journalists and Jokesters.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. In elementary school I took my lunch my Mom made to school in a brown paper bag, the sandwich wrapped in waxed paper. In high school Mom said it was cheaper to buy a meal ticket which were red and had 5 punches. They put the next week's menu on the board on Friday so you could see if there was a day you wanted to bring lunch. I loved the cafeteria food, my gf's mother was the cook. Sometimes after school we helped her. Everyone loved what we called her "School Cookies" (oatmeal squares) and there were never enough! The high school was on the same grounds as the agriculture college, and we got free apples. My last year of high school we were allowed to leave the grounds for lunch. I started smoking and spent my lunch money on cigarettes, keeping a few quarters to buy fries at the chip stand. I finally quit smoking 6 years ago... yaaaay!

  2. I used to love primary school. The favourite part of my day was story time as well as lunch time. I always had school meals and I loved them!! I'm probably in a minority :)

  3. I lived just across the road from my primary school but no lunch box for mm - it was wartime. I still remember Miss Jobeson who ruled my infant class with a rod of iron - well it fell like it if she whacked you.

  4. I found interesting your story of the Cold War, as I had never heard before of schools having bomb drill. In my High School, though, in the 1960's, I took part in a debate " I'd rather be dead than red".

  5. I remember those oxford shoes :) I like your mom's creativity in not being "like the crowd" although sometimes we as children just want to fit in with everyone else :)

    Looked like a wonderful school with all that area to explore and play in! Sad nowadays with the fences around schools and locked on the weekends and during summer so kids can't enjoy playing there (at least here in California and Arizona)


  6. This was a great post! You helped bring back some elementary memories for me! I had oxford shoes too! I loved mine so much, but no one else wore them! Thanks for this post, and helping me think about some of my own childhood experiences!

  7. My lunch box had the same pattern only mine was square. With a matching thermos! I loved that thing.

    Your description of playing on the roots reminds me of my kids playing in the back of our house. We had a bunch of trees taken down and roots left behind when we built our house. They spent hours back there in their "amusement park" - each root and log was a ride or other attraction.

  8. We had bomb drills too. Those didn't scare me but the air raid siren going off did. I had saddle shoes, always black and white as I remember. I had a lunch box that was square and had my name on it. Only thing being we went home for lunch so I probably used it twice. By the time I was in Junior high school I used a brown paper bag. We had a field next to the playground that we used to make up games in, until they built a hospital on it. Right next to the playground.

  9. I went to parochial school in 1st thru 3rd grades and our shoes where white saddle shoes that had to be polished to keep them white. I, too, always wanted real black and white ones. I enjoyed very much reading about your memories of school.