Elementary Facts form Grade School

"STOP!! Stop that wrecking ball!" I screeched, as I woke from my scary nightmare. Having dreamed North Baker Grade school was about to be demolished, I was relieved to awaken and find it not true.

In reality that sturdy gray stone building at 2725 Seventh street remains as firm today as when it was constructed in 1909. After a full century of serving students, the North Baker halls of learning sit silent for the first time (2009). Over the years, additions were made, but that was long after my tenure there in 1930s.

In close proximity, Darnell Cook's neighborhood grocery store stocked basic school supplies. Although bright yellow pencils were attractive, more frequently brown .01 pencils with white eraser were purchased in the Depression era. The proprietor placed enticing penny candy near the front door, and childish decisions had to be made. Occasionally our near empty pockets allowed a candy purchase.

Upon entering first grade, teacher Mrs. Cartwright asked my name. I told her Phyllis MAY. She asked what is your last name? Quite rankled, I replied my name is Phyllis Margaret May, and I can spell it too! She no doubt thought this child a bit strong willed.

First grade was fun; our musical band consisted of "swishers" wooden blocks covered with sandpaper, carton drums, and metal triangles accompanied the beat. We planted a bean in an empty egg shell, placed it along the window, exposed to the sun. How exciting to see the first sprouts rise.

Most memorable event of first grade was my engagement to Bobby Miles! He gave me a nice agate ring. However, my Mother contacted his mother, Elaine Miles. She checked her jewelry box; sure enough her engagement ring was missing and in it's place was a mock metal ring that has once adorned a stick of candy. A broken engagement in first grade--how sad! When we graduated Baker High 12 years later, we had many laughs about the first grade episode.

School officials put together a re-district plan which required me to attend 2nd and 3rd grade at the original High school building (Central) on 4th and Broadway. My teachers there were Jessie Murphy, 2nd grade, and Lucy Lenz, 3rd grade. Edna Bement was principal. At that time a new system of report cards was introduced. Parents could determine their child's standing among total class members, by noting the grade that was circled. Highest was number 1, lowest number 5 or failing.

I was transferred back to North Baker elementary when the 4th street building was razed to make room for Helen M. Stack Junior High.

My 4th grade teacher was Nan M. Beason, mother of my dear friend Nancy. We remained lifelong friends, and I was saddened at her passing several years ago. Mrs. Beason discovered my need for eye glasses, so I became owner of a pair of horn rimmed glasses, which were popular style at that time. A broken lens at Depression price cost $2.50.

North Baker Fourth grade was located on second floor, overlooking the playground. During winter months at recess time we enjoyed playing fox and geese in the snow, carefully designed by galoshes. Springtime recess brought marble champs to their knees, with knuckles curled around their favorite shooter, cat eye, or steelie. When sidewalks were dry, girls enjoyed jump rope sessions, chanting rhymes to accompany the turning ropes.

During school year we were offered mid-morning milk break, .02 a day for half pint bottle. Fortunately my parents during Depression era, afforded the .10 per week fee. If studies were completed, we were sometimes chosen for duty to rinse the bottles in cold water in the downstairs cloak room. We considered it a privilege to perform that task.

On one occasion at the fourth grade level, a group of 3 friends formed a 1934 secret club. Charter members were Nancy Beason, Mar Dean Head, and yours truly. We contemplated once to ask Bette Hines to join, but by a 2 to 1 vote, that didn't carry.

In our exclusive club, everything was secret and mysterious. After deliberation we settled on password "Cornflakes." That would allow us entry to the overhead room at Mar Dean's home. With our active imagination it was "inner sanctum." We found an old ledger and decided we needed to enter our name in blood in that journal. We feared blood poison would set in from an unsterile straight pin, but with disregard and much conviction, a puncture was bravely made in our thumb. We soon discovered it took much more than one drop of blood to inscribe a full name. The air of mysterious overtone soon faded. As 10 year olds our nicknames were about as silly as the non-existent agenda of the Diddle Daddle Club. However, we reveled in speaking among ourselves as Auntie Bug, Deanie Hunty Bunty, and Phidis Tootsie.

Can you believe that 75 years later, my intimate friends call me Phid?

Without purpose or any more secrets to discuss, our unfulfilled organization faded into oblivion, and the prick in our thumb healed quickly.

Our thoughts turned across the street where Ernibee, Freieda, and Hershel Wood played baseball in the vacant lot. We hoped for permission to join them. They allowed us to participate, and played until darkness overtook the game.

Back to North Baker elementary, where Catherine Gentle taught 5th grade. She was a tall person, with countenance as gentle as her name. Her room was West of 4th grade. Studies in 5th grade included long division arithmetic. Miss Gentle gave of her time on Saturday to accompany a limited number of students on hikes to Coyote Peak ( East of present freeway.)

Lilith B. Allen, principal, taught 6th grade where we learned to master "percentage" math. She was a no nonsense teacher and we respected her because of her title. Actually feared her in an authoritative way. As mischief makers, we imitated her walk as we ascended the stairs to second floor. Woe be to us if she happened to look back. On one memorable occasion, she allowed students from 5th grade to join in 6th grade room to hear a talk by Mary Hallock. Mary's Dad was local attorney and had taken the family on vacation to China. I remember only one item from Mary's talk, she told about crickets being preserved in tiny ivory cages and sold as souvenirs by Chinese merchants.

Sixth grade gave the opportunity to learn to play an instrument called "Fiddle-ette." This was a simplified version of violin, with 4 strings, and a wooden chin rest. A few students chose to learn basic rudiments and progressed later to Jr. High orchestra, under direction of teacher Tom Cox.

At the end of North Baker school year, parents were invited to the production of "Pioneers on the Oregon Trail." 6th graders rehearsed and sang the official Oregon State song. Memorized verse remains with me still: "Land of the Empire Builders, land of the Golden west, conquered and held by free men, fairest and the best, Onward and Upward Ever."

A number of years later, my offspring Joyce and Rick, followed my footsteps at North Baker elementary. Both benefited from instruction by dedicated teachers who created excitement for learning, and throughout the years encouraged students in preparation for High school and beyond.


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