Sunday, June 28, 2009

No.37: Lunchtime at Joyner

I remember like it was yesterday standing in line in the lunchroom at Joyner. While most of my classmates had a lunch ticket in their hands, I always had a quarter. My mother never wanted to pay for lunches in advance on Monday morning. Mrs. Tucker, the lunchroom manager, stood halfway down the north wall, waiting to take our tickets – or quarters. I always asked Mrs. Tucker what we were having, and she took great pleasure in describing the day’s fare. One day she told me: “It don’t look good, but it eats good.” I’m sure it didn’t look good. Most days it didn’t.

After passing Mrs. Tucker, we picked up a tray and moved to the milk cooler where a student cafeteria helper put a napkin, a straw, and a red, half-pint carton of Barber’s milk on our tray. (You could only get chocolate milk at morning recess.) The line then crawled in the direction of the serving windows where an adult cafeteria worker put a plate of food on our trays, and then we disbursed in the direction of the long rows of lunch tables. There was some strategy involved in getting to sit by your friends. It had to do with how you lined up, how fast you walked after you got your food, and which side of the long tables you went down. If you weren’t careful, you might have to sit next to girls. Of course you might try to work it out for a friend to save you a seat, but seat-saving was not really enforceable.

I remember we always had fish sticks on Friday, but other than that there was no discernable pattern to what we ate. Spaghetti days and hamburger days were good days, but they seemed few and far between. A lot of days we had an unrecognizable and therefore unnamed entrĂ©e we referred to as “square meat.” With square meat we might have English peas and mashed potatoes or rice. I recall how the peas were much larger and paler than the ones my mother served at home, so I never could eat them. Some of my classmates, however, enjoyed mixing them with the mashed potatoes, but I found that a disgusting way to ruin good potatoes. It is the rice I remember best. It was served with an ice cream scoop, and it was so gummy it retained the shape of the scoop, an unappetizing little mound of gelatinous goop.

“Hey. Are you going to eat your rice? I’ll trade you my square meat for your rice.”

Such was the trading that went on back and forth along and across the lunch tables. The kids that traded for rice were the ones who had the curious practice of putting spoonfuls of sugar on the rice. Since most of us did not subscribe to that practice, the rice-eaters could end up with a large mound of the stuff on their plates. And they usually didn’t even have to give away their square meat. The kids that really made out were the ones who could eat turnip greens. They could always count on having all they wanted.

Because I never did so, the kids I always envied were the ones who brought their lunch, sometimes in a paper bag, but most often in a lunch box. Lunch boxes were a part of the appeal of bringing your own lunch. The little tin boxes with a clasp and handle on the business side of the box were decorated with little murals to gladden the young heart. Besides the Lone Ranger box pictured above, they might have a Roy Rogers or a Yogi Bear motif that carried over to the little thermos clamped to the inside wall of the box. Of course the real appeal of the lunch box was the non-regulation food they contained – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some Cheetos, and Hostess Cupcakes or Twinkies. If that weren’t enough, the lunch box set nearly incited a riot by pouring iced tea or Kool-Aid from the thermos into the cup that was also the lid to the thermos. A kid that was willing to give up one of his cupcakes could get a whole plate full of sugar-sprinkled rice.

The final lunch alternative for the kids who lived closest to the school was to go home for lunch. Even though I lived close enough to go home, I usually didn’t. After all, the time it took to get home and back reduced or eliminated your playground time. I do remember going home several times in October 1959 when my White Sox were in the World Series. I was a big fan of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, so I ran all the way home and ate lunch in front of the TV, then ran back to the school just before the bell called everyone in from the playground.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No.36: Kindergarten at Joyner -- Mrs. Megginson's Morning Class

I’ve been wearing bifocals for years, and I’ve never had the first problem adapting to them. Lots of folks do, however. For many it is a nuisance to have to think about which lens to look through: nearsighted correction or farsighted correction. My eyes are so bad that they naturally seek out the right correction.
What do you see when you look at this picture of Mrs. Megginson’s 1957 morning kindergarten class at Joyner? (She also had an afternoon class.) Do you see a bunch of little kids, some looking a little happier than others; or do you see an artist, an architect, an airline pilot, a lawyer, a doctor, a CPA, at least three school teachers, and the guy that makes the best barbecue in Tupelo? I suppose what you see depends on which lens you are looking through. I’m glad Mrs. Megginson, like so many of the other good teachers I had over the years, was able to see through both lenses.
By the way, the little boy in the fringed cowboy shirt writes this blog.

No.35: Long's Laundry

Entry No. 18 on Fair Day mentioned the memorable Long's Laundry sign on the corner of Main Street and the little street that led to the fairgrounds years ago. After dark this neon sign was a thing of beauty as the washerwoman's arms moved back and forth, scrubbing her clothes on the washboard propped inside her washtub.
I assume the sign came down when the laundry closed. The building was one of several that were demolished when the City developed the new Fairpark District. See the link in Entry No. 18 for more information on that development.
Thanks to Stan Byrd for finding this photograph of the old sign. It came from the "Centennial Edition" of the old "See Tupelo" publication.

Monday, June 15, 2009

No.34: Elementary School Jobs

A fifth grade was added at Joyner after my class completed the fourth grade. Prior to that time, Joyner students moved on to Milam Junior High for the fifth grade. We were saddened by not getting to move on to Milam, but we did have the opportunity to be the big kids at Joyner for two years. That meant that we got to serve two years in those important jobs that were reserved for the oldest and most responsible kids.
I don’t think I was alone in thinking it was a huge treat to get to work in the school store in the morning before school, selling pencils, writing tablets, and notebook paper, and especially getting to make change. The school store was just a small table in the doorway of the supply closet in the principal’s office, but it was a real retail experience to us.
Another important job was working in the school’s small library. Our job was to remove the book card and date stamp it and the little slip of paper inside the book cover. And of course we got to collect fines for overdue books.
Those were important jobs and very desirable in cold weather, but the real prestige jobs were the outside jobs. Every morning, weather permitting of course, the chosen two who served on the flag patrol solemnly unfolded the flag, taking care not to let it touch the ground. They then connected the snap hooks through the flag’s grommets and ran the flag up the pole that stood in front of the school. One patrol member raised the flag and other stood at attention and saluted. I suppose, though I don’t remember, the procedure was repeated in reverse at the end of the school day.
To be sure, flag patrol was an important and prestigious job, but the job that everyone looked forward to was serving on the safety patrol. First of all, you got to wear that white adjustable belt that ran diagonally across the chest and hooked around the waist with an impressive metallic clink. That belt with its tin badge conferred authority on the wearer, at least in his or her mind and in the minds of the kindergarteners and first graders. Two patrol members stood at posts near the street in front of the school and opened car doors for little kids whose moms brought them to school, all the while scanning the area like a Secret Service agent to make sure kids stayed on the sidewalks and out of the way of cars. The third patrol member was posted on the corner of Joyner and the little street that ran between the school and City Park, all the way to the Rockwell Youth Center. Children who walked to school from the neighborhoods in that direction had to wait for the patrol member to wade out into the crosswalk with his “Stop” flag and hold back the raging traffic. Of course there never was very much traffic on that little side street. The real traffic on Joyner was controlled by the smiling crossing guard in her blue police uniform. Ironically, her name was Mrs. Blue.
I don’t know why my mother saved my safety patrol certificate, but I may be the only person of my generation who can document that I served in that revered corps. I display it proudly at the top of this entry.

Friday, June 5, 2009

No.33: The Battle of Tupelo

The Enemy
I remember my dad coming home from work in the middle of the day once in the early 1960s. It had to have been in the summer because I was at home. After he quickly changed clothes, he asked if I wanted to go with him to the co-op. Now I might have heard of a co-op, but I’d certainly never been there, and I’m not sure he had either. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed it when he asked me to go somewhere with him, so off we went. On the way to the co-op he filled me in on something that to my young imagination sounded like a real adventure. An infestation of armyworms was moving through the neighborhoods of Tupelo, devouring lawns as they went. We were going to the co-op to pick up some poison, a sprayer, and an extra length of garden hose. People all over Tupelo were preparing their defenses against the invading worm. These were armyworms and we were going to war.
The actual battle wasn’t nearly as exciting as I had imagined. We sprayed the lawn with the poison and even went to several neighbors’ yards and helped them. And we never saw the first sign of an armyworm anywhere near our neighborhood. I was disappointed then, but now I realize the best wars are the ones that never happen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

No.32: Gum Wrapper Chains

Did you ever make one of these woven gum wrapper chains? They were a pretty big item in Tupelo at least once or twice that I remember. Of course ours were usually made with Wrigley flavors -- Juicy Fruit, Spearmint, and Doublemint. If you were going to make a really long chain, you had to chew a lot of gum, or you had to have a lot of friends who didn't know how to make a chain. They were everywhere.
Chewing gum in school was a serious offense in our day, and the underside of every desk was usually encrusted with an accumulation of nasty, dried-up gum from earlier generations of rule-flouters. Other significant offenses were talking in class, running in the hall, or cutting in line at the water fountain.
Teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment to keep us in line - and often did. The most common instruments of shame in the elementary grades were bolo paddles and rulers. In second grade, Mrs. Moore favored a yard stick. That was right after she got red in the face and threatened: "If you don't quit talking, I'm going to jerk your arm off and hit you over the head with the bloody end." This charming hyperbole was repeated often, and we understood the humor in which she said it.
One of the most serious threats for bad behavior was that it would affect your "citizenship grade." We were told that future employers would be every bit as concerned about our citizenship grades as our academic grades. When they really wanted to ramp up the pressure, teachers scared us by telling us our bad behavior would forever be recorded in our "Permanent Record." It's amazing to think that somewhere out there, and probably searchable with Google, is a little dossier on me that notes how many times I was caught chewing gum in school or running in the hall.
(A special thanks to Eddie and Elna for reminding me about citizenship grades and the Permanent Record.)