As you have seen, our home was sort of like a school in its own way. We had our own built-in education classes as Mother would get us into the teaching of the Bible School classes on Sunday mornings, and she was the master teacher who showed us how it was done as she worked it all out in her Primary Department and got us to do this or that as time went along.
Eventually, though, we had to go to regular school. I remember when she found out she was pregnant with one of her last girls, she said, “Oh, no! Not another thirteen years of PTA.” (Parent Teacher Association) There had already been five of us in school, and with the sixth, that would make a total of thirteen years for the first one (because Kindergarten made it 13), and then approximately every third year after that, another child would start to Kindergarten, so it would be extended three more years for each new child started. That counts out to be 13 + 5 +3 +3 +3 +4 = 31 years of P.T.A. for her. Between the first and second child, there was a still-born baby, so the second living child was five years behind the first one. John Philip was first, Mary Ellen was the still-born, and Robert William was the third child. Violet Jean was born three years later. Then I came three years after her, Margaret Eleanor came three years later, and Edith Mae came four years after her.
In my opinion, kindergarten was the nicest class of all! We had such a beautiful lady for a teacher, and we did such fun things! She would tell the story about Billy Goat Gruff, and she put two chairs opposite each other with a board going across from one to the other. Then someone would pretend to be the troll and sit under the board. Others would pretend to be the other Billy Goats that had to cross the bridge. This was really a scary story. But we were enthralled every time we played it.
There were lots of other things to do, too. Of course, we had large wooden beads to thread and made our own necklaces, and we learned how to paint. We had regular easels on which we clipped our paper to paint, with a tray below for the paint jars and brushes. We chose our paint brushes and always had to wear an apron so we wouldn’t get ourselves all covered with paint. I really loved this. The books the teacher read at story time were just beautiful. They had huge big colorful pictures in them like very few books you have ever seen, and the stories were so exciting. Then, when we got too tired, we had a rest time, and we lay down on our own little rugs while she played music that lulled us to sleep.
One thing that I remember later on was lunch time. We took our lunch and sat outside under the trees to eat. There were many benches out there. Everyone was supposed to bring his own lunch in either a lunch bucket or a paper bag. A new lunch bucket was always very special at the beginning of each school year. If someone didn’t like the sandwiches he brought, he could put them in a tray that was passed around for such as that, and then he could choose other sandwiches that someone else had put there to take their place. Later on, this was frowned upon as not being very healthy, but it was a lot of fun at the time.
I can’t remember my first grade at all for some reason. I guess it didn’t make much of an impression after something as good as kindergarten had been. Second grade, though, was a different matter. I think it was because of my teacher—“Old Lady Bagley”! All I remember about that class was arithmetic. She was really a stickler for learning your multiplication tables or whatever we had to do there. We had second grade on the first floor of a two-story building, but what came next was really a tragedy for me. Kindergarten, first grade and second grade were all on the first floor of a two-story building. I was looking forward to going to the third grade so I could be in an upstairs classroom. On March 10th that year, they had a huge earthquake that made it impossible for us to use that building anymore ever at all, ever, ever, ever, so we had to finish 2nd grade in a tent! I never did get to go upstairs to have a class on the second floor. That was the Long Beach Earthquake in 1933, and was the hardest earthquake to date that we had ever felt.
I will never forget the night of the earthquake as long as I live. It was about five o’clock in the evening, and we were getting ready to eat dinner. All of a sudden, the whole place began to shake. We knew it had to be an earthquake, and we ran toward the front of the house. On looking out the front door, we could see the heavy-set old lady across the street coming out of her front door and falling down her stairs. At the same time, her chimney fell down, and it was just a miracle that she didn’t get hit by some of the falling bricks. I remember the atmosphere was the strangest color—sort of darkened but yet sort of rosy, too. Then, in the aftermath of that, we heard about the places in Long Beach that had been hit very badly. When we went down there to visit later on, we could see where whole walls of large buildings had exploded out, so you could see the insides. It was really terrible.
The powers that be said that our school was built over an underground river, so that never again could there be a two-story building put there. “It would be too dangerous for future generations,” they said. So my third grade was spent in a tent, actually a temporary woodand- canvas structure outside the old building, and meanwhile, they tore the old building down completely.
That grade I don’t remember, either, but I do remember the fourth grade when I was actually in A-3 while half of the class were B- 4s. (In those days, in the LA City School District, there were too many children, so they set up a grade structure that was different from anywhere else. Kids could start in the fall or springtime. The first half of their “year” was the “B” half; then they went on to the “A” half. In this case, I was in the second half of the third grade, A-3, and in the same classroom with kids that were in the first half of the fourth grade, B-4). There were three of us in the A-3 part of the class that would finish our work early, so the teacher gave us the B-4 work to do, and she did that the whole semester so that by the end of the semester, we went on with the B-4s to A-4. We skipped a half grade.
That teacher was one of the best teachers I ever had. She was so sweet and loving, and very helpful. She was very creative and gave us interesting things to do. She was an excellent art teacher, and I loved to draw animals from the wilds. The best art work I ever did in school was done while in that class. One thing we studied was American Indians, and we drew artwork for the stories that we wrote about them. Also, she was an excellent music teacher. She taught us how to read the notes and to sing many songs. We sang in harmony, and she taught us to stay on pitch. In handwriting, she had us sit by desk according to how good a penman we were. We three top students were always the first three students in that section. You can see why we really liked that teacher, though I cannot remember her name. The other two students were Milton Share and Charlotte Thrift. All through elementary school we were together in our classes, and when one would be double promoted, the other two would be also. This happened again when we were in the A-5 and B-6 combination class.
Every year we had May Day which was a very special day at school, the first day of May. This May Day gathering outdid every other day. We rode our bicycles or tricycles to school all gaily decorated with crepe paper, and we wore special costumes for the occasion. Our class in particular did the May Pole Dance in which all the children went to the pole and got hold of a piece of crepe paper which hung from the pole. Then we wended our way in and out the way the teacher had shown us previously in a dance, so that we didn’t get all mixed up, but came out beautifully free from entanglements.
Different classes did other kinds of dances, we played games, and vendors put up little booths where we could spend money to buy special refreshments. An ice cream man was there ringing his bell, too, and a balloon man with many balloons trailing out over his head. At the end, there would be a big parade with all the children in a line so we could see all the lovely costumes that the children wore, and prizes given to the best ones. It wasn’t too long after those days that they cut out having May Day due to the significance of the first of May to the Russian people, but I always thought what a shame it was that what they did in Russia had to interfere with our good times in America.
There was another occasion one time in which different classes were putting on plays in the auditorium. This was a special PTA meeting. One of the plays was the story of a garden, and the children in the play were all dressed as flowers. My mother volunteered to make all the costumes because she was such a good seamstress, and she made gorgeous floral costumes out of crepe paper that were very creative. She really worked hard on that project.
It took a long time to rebuild our school, but after two years going to school in tents, we finally had lovely one story buildings that were a great blessing to all! When I graduated from the 6th grade, it was an awesome occasion, and I felt honored. I remember as a sixth grader, we had a special yard to play in at recess. One day we were playing with balloons that we had put water in so we could throw them back and forth to each other. When the bell rang, I ended up with the balloon, so instead of letting the water out of the balloon, I chose to take it into the classroom and hide it in my desk. The first thing we did after recess was writing, and at that time, we were using pens which we had to insert into little ink wells that were set into the top of our desks. There was no such a thing as a ballpoint pen in those days. After the writing session was over, I stuck my pen into my desk—only to punch it into my balloon, which burst and the water spewed out all over my dress. To say the least, I was very chagrined at this, and had to excuse myself in order to get a mop and come and clean up around my desk. I’m not sure what the teacher thought. I don’t know if she knew that that water had come from a balloon hiding in my desk or if it may have been that I had failed to use the restroom at recess time as I should have.
Talking about the streetcar pass, we used to use it Sunday afternoons when there was nothing else to do. Again, my brother Bob was the adult, while two of the others of us were the children. A streetcar is like a trolley, and some had seats, two on each side while others had one single seat all the way down on each side of the streetcar with straps hanging down from the ceiling so people standing had something to hold on to. When it got to the end of the line, it didn’t turn around, but instead, the driver just went to the other end of the car and it had the same equipment there as it had at the other end. A person got on the vehicle, dropped his fare into a little box, and went back to get a seat. If it was a Sunday and there weren’t many passengers, us kids would go to the back of the car and pretend like we were the driver, pull a chain to make a dinging sound, and then act like we were letting people on the streetcar.
To get off the car, a person had to pull a cord which rang a bell, and the driver would stop at the next stop so we could get off. We could go all over zone 1 which included most of Los Angeles. Downtown we went to Olvera Street, which is a small alley-like place where they had many shops selling everything Mexican. You could buy various kinds of Mexican candy, food, shoes (huaraches), shawls, piñatas, and Mexican knick knacks of all sorts. Near Olvera Street was China town where it was always fun to go. Not far from there was Angel’s Flight, which was a trolley that started at the top of a hill and came down a couple of blocks to the bottom. One time we went to Griffith Park. While there, we walked to Fern Dell, a beautiful stream that came down the mountain with a path and lovely ferns all along the sides of it. We went to the end of the line on many of these streetcars, and one went to LA City College, where I went to college for a year or two.
As I think of it, I wonder how my parents ever decided to let us do such things as this, but we had such a good time going around Los Angeles on these streetcars. It actually got us ready to go to places all over the world. We were never afraid to take off to some unknown place since we were used to doing that on these streetcars, and we enjoyed every minute of our trips here and there, as we do now in an unknown country of the world. The Lord gave us a wonderful childhood where we found that He always had something new and different for us to see.