Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More first grade adventures

We had a music class that all students had to attend. It was really a singing class and in that it was probably just another recess for the kids, a chance to blow off more energy before heading back to class once again. In my school you had one teacher and one class for the entire day except for music class and trips to the library and things like that. So you spent you entire classroom time with the same kids every day. In music class we would sit in our little chairs in a small room and scream out songs chosen by our teacher, Mrs Sewell. It seems like we sang the same basic songs every time in class unless there was a special event on the horizon like a PTA meeting or a holiday. But mostly we sang hymns. Battle hymns. (I don't think I ever used the word hymn in a written sentence before, it looks really strange and wrong. Hymn. Hymn. Hymn.) As I have written previously, I didn't have any awareness that there was a war going on in Vietnam so there wasn't any real connection to the songs we were singing. I think most of the songs were from WW2. I didn't really listen to the words and they had no meaning to me. I just sang along phonetically, pronouncing the words but not relating them to anything or in any order. I still sing songs like that today. The lyrics were just another musical instrument in my head...AND THE CAISSONS GO ROLLING ALONG, KEEP EM ROLLING, AND THE CAISSONS GO ROLLING ALONG. LALALALALA. I do recall being chosen to participate in a program that was to be given at an assembly for parents to see. It may have been a PTA meeting. I think there were a lot of those. Anyway, Mrs Sewell had discussed the event and how it was to take place. Certain exceptional children would be chosen to learn a verse to a song and would get to sing it in front of everyone at the assembly. I was elated. Just like everything else I knew I was the greatest singer in my class and probably in the whole entire school. I was the most confident neurotic kid you ever seen. When it was time for the teacher to choose kids for the various parts (these were real singing parts, not just to stand wearing a tree costume) I was absolutely sure she would begin choosing from the top of the talent pool, the cream off the old milk jug, the frothy head on the Dad's Rootbeer...and that would of course be me. But when the time came, another was chosen before me. And another. And another. And I remember sitting there aghast and ashamed and terrified and broken completely in two inside. I might have cried a little. I watched as all the parts were given away one at a time right before my eyes. My world was ruined. What had happened? But just when the world was on the verge of collapse, the shining beacon of stardom shown my way as I was indeed chosen. I'm pretty sure I was chosen last. OOOOOHHHHH! I get it. Saving the best for last so all my bathe in the glory. It all made sense now. I had no way to know the relevance of my part. Was I the Lead? Surely this is the case! And I tried hard and practiced long hours so I may not only perform well for my community but prove once again who was THE MAN! I will perform my part for you now for your enjoyment. Please forgive the spelling as there are some lyrical terms included that are not part of the spoken language. Here I go....ahem...ahem...

John Smith, there was a man!
Hi Ho Diddle Aye Oh!
From Kentucky he began
To make our country grow-ow-ow-ow-owwww!

Simply brilliant! I had a costume. Probably even a cool hat. Maybe a sword. I was so excited the day of the assembly. It was an evening event that required us to go home from school as usual and then to return to the school to perform. I remember going home. I remember putting on my costume. I remember getting a fever. I remember throwing up. I cannot believe I actually got sick. So sick that I could not attend the event. All that time and energy wasted. What a load of blah this turned out to be. Hi Ho Diddle Aye Crap!

The boys bathroom near the principals office had a sink for washing your hands that I was unfamiliar with. It was a large circular waist level basin. There was a circular lever below the sink that, when stepped upon, produced a gentle stream of water from a bunch of little holes like a long circular shower head where all the streams of water lined up. It was sort of like a fountain for dirty hands. I guess the design was to make it easier for little ones to not have to deal with faucets and all that. Plus it was much like a long trough urinal in that a lot of kids could use it at once. There was no one kid per sink rule to be followed. It was a soapy free-for-all. This bathroom was located in the fourth grade area of the school, very much foreign to me as a first grader. One day at school I got sick as kids tend to do. Flu, cold, herpes, whatever. I was escorted to the principals office by my teacher and left there while my mother was contacted via telephone. Dial up BR549. One ringy dingy. Two ringy dingy. Mrs Scott, young master Jeffery is with me and he appears to have become ill. Whatever shall we do with the young master? Mom was on her way. I don't know where she worked but she was coming to get me. It was my first time in the principals office. The place where the bad kids go. I felt bad just sitting in there. Delinquency by osmosis. Eventually my illness got he better of me and I got light headed, and then the cold clammy face, and then the sweat on the forehead and then...Hey! I gotta go throw up! Use the bathroom young squire, most haste! So into the bathroom I ran. And when I got there I was faced with this monstrosity of a sink. It confused me. It looked all hospitally and stuff. The long urinal thingy I knew about and wasn't gonna barf there. There was a couple of toilet stalls in the back of the bathroom but I wasn't sure that was the ticket either. But this big round doctor office thingy looked to be here for just such emergencies. So over the rail I went and BLEEEEHHHHHHUUUUUUUKKKKKKK. Much better. I got a drink of water from the fountain outside and took my place in the chair next to the secretary, feeling much better. Not long after that the principal came in the office, having just finished using the same restroom, and asked me if I had thrown up in the bathroom. Huh? Of course. Roll eyes. In the throwup thingy. That's a sink for washing hands not a place to throw up, he said. Why didn't you throw up in the toilet? That's where poop goes, not barf. I used the throwup thingy. LOL. The principal shook his head and went into his office and called the janitorial staff to come do a cleanup pronto. Apparently there isn't enough water flow in the sink to wash away barf and it was just gonna sit there all day greeting every dirty handed munchkin that happened by. HA! That couldn't have worked out any better if I had actually planned it. Awesome. Kids and barf. An eternal love affair.

That same bathroom sported one of those long white urinal tubs where several boys can line up shoulder to shoulder and let loose the worries of the day. It sat in a corner so one end of the urinal was against a wall. There is nothing remarkable about that. However...on the closed off end of the urinal...on the wall...was a small, mounted piece of sculpture, some kind of shell or something...or as a young boy would call it...TARGET PRACTICE!!!!!! Yessirree we would line up on the open end and encourage each other to see who had the firepower to get their pee stream up and into the target. I cannot begin to imagine how many gallons of urine flowed down that wall to, well, wherever it went. I'm sure the smell was wonderful and the janitors had to dread entering that bathroom every single day. Elementary school. Simply magic.

Our playground had slides. Several of them in fact. In particular there were three line up in a row on the far edge of the playground area adjacent to the open field. One was normal, like five steps to the top. One was short but had a big hump in the middle of it which made for great wheelies. And one was taller than the rest and I'm pretty sure it was the middle one. I am guessing it may have had 8 steps to the top. Now, as a kid, I harbored almost no fear of objects or nature. If it could be climbed I was in it. If I could jump off or over it, consider it done. But I had a bit of an issue with heights. I still do. I get a gut anxiety reaction to all heights and even when I just perceive height in a movie. I really hate it. It feels broken. A flaw. As an adult I can overcome the anxiety just by talking myself thru it but as a kid I only knew it as a weirdness that it seemed like only I had. You can probably see where this is going. I loved the short slide with the hump in it. It was like a jump. Today it would be labeled extreme and you would need little kiddie tattoos just to get a chance to ride it. But then it was just fun for me. The medium slide was straight and normal and posed no problems for me. Wheee! Slide! Butt first in the dirt and back up it again one more time. But the tall one. The tall one. It caused me trouble. I would watch kids go up and slide down but I simply could not make myself do it...but I ached to so very much. Every single cell in my body wanted to prove I was the man like always but the towering, infinitely lofty slide kept me at bay. I became transfixed by it. Haunted by it at other times of the day. Embarrassed to even be near it. But I couldn't let it go. I was determined to show this slide who was boss. So one fine day after probably months of trepidation I got up enough courage to go to the top. I had been in line before. I think I had even gotten to the second step before I would jump off and run away humiliated. It was awful and shameful and it made me feel completely alone in the world. But there I was, in line once again determined to make the top. To make it worse I had to watch little Cindy Brady's in their tiny dresses just run up the freaking thing and launch themselves over the top without a whim in the world. How defeating it was. I was next in line and I started up the steps. Probably three kids could stand on the steps waiting to work their way to the top so the process involved several individual triumphs. I made it up the next to the top step and had a firm grip on the rails...and froze. Petrified. Stuck. Wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. The kids yelled and eventually ridiculed me and called me names. A teacher had to rescue me. The bell had rang and all the kids had left the playground and I was still up there like a statue gripping the rails white knuckled. After a time of trying to talk me down, the teacher had to come up the steps and hug me and hold me and bring me down one step at a time. I was so terrified from falling from a stupid slide when I had easily jumped off the roof of my house at home many times before. I had launched myself out of trees twice as high. But this stupid slide had my number. Eventually I managed my fear one day when the playground was empty. I didn't even slide down the stupid slide. I walked all the way up the steps to the top and jumped off backward and landed on the ground and dusted myself off and went up and put my feet over the edge and managed to slide down the awful demon that had haunted my dreams for so so long. The story makes me wonder how many kids stand around just like me triggered by some unknown demon while nobody notices.

Being a kid is just plain hard.


  1. Hey Scott.

    Appreciate your post. And I can attest that we're probably the only two people in the world who remember that song! Apparently the lyrics haven't been digitized onto the internet. Bummer. My 4th grade choir did a whole album of America, the Revolution, and Westward Expansion. I remember several songs from there, and the one you quote is my favorite. BTW, I think John Smith was actually "down in Jamestown", but at this point who can be certain! Anyways, thanks for your post and your blog. This song brings back a lot of memories for me...good ones.


  2. Make that 3 of us! My fourth grade class also did this song. I googled it because i wanted to teach it to my grandson. Your fourth grade class play wouldnt have been in Pasadena Texas in about 1980 or 81, would it? That would be wild...

  3. We had that album too in grade school, Farmington Hills, Michigan, in the mid 70's. Had the Constitution, the Colonies, etc. New York, New Hampshire and New Jersey, are you for the pursuit of happiness, for life, liberty and freedom, the three of us, vote Yes! lol Good stuff. Been trying to find it for years.

    Pat Morski

  4. Hey guys. I know this is an old post, but I too remember singing that song in the 4th grade. Wow. The memories. Thanx for the stories.

  5. Hey guys. I know this is an old post, but I too remember singing that song in the 4th grade. Wow. The memories. Thanx for the stories.

  6. Hey guys. I know this is an old post, but I too remember singing that song in the 4th grade. Wow. The memories. Thanx for the stories.

  7. I also remember that song. It was an entire patriotic/history pagent put on by my school when I was in about 4th grade. That was around 1970. I lived in Salem, MA There was a scene about the silent film era, and we had a villian tie up a girl on the train tracks, and a muscle man come along and save her. lol Sam Houston, there was a man hi ho didly i oh..... John Smith, there was a man hi ho diddly i oh...... down in Jamestown he began, to make our country grooOOoow, make our country grow. We all had a blast putting on this show.

  8. Wow this is absolutely insane. For years, and at completely random times, a short lyrical phrase would pop into my head. One day I happened to be on my phone browser and it happened so I googled it. I find this forum and low-and-behold.. I too recall now that it was from a grade school play. The internet truly is a wonderful place. Just think about what happened here between all the posters. What an incredible time in history.

  9. I had the album you're all talking about. I sat in my room and played it over and over in the late 70's. I still sing the catchy tunes all the time! Periodically I search for it online, but no luck!

  10. My son just played a little riff on the piano and it triggered this memory. I was in the fifth grade in Charlotte, NC, when another fifth grade class put on this US history show. Since I was one of only two drummers in the school, we were asked to provide the percussion for the show and got to perform with the other class (even a field trip to the local senior center). A sixth grader got to perform taps on the trumpet for the Civil War song- he had just gotten braces and was horrible.

    Anyway, I turn 49 next week and have never heard these songs ever again, but I remember a lot of them. John Smith, Daniel Boone, Sam Houston, Brigham Young, etc. Goin' West, in a covered wagon, giddyyap mule, Giddyup giddy up, Spite of the danger, going through Injun Country (cue the tom tom), we're gonna cross, across the Cumberland Gap... With an empty jug and a musical straw, we danced the turkey in the straw, that's how pa said pa got ma... and the haunting Civil War chant: Twas the battlefield of Gettysburg, where swords and sabers rust, and brothers who were flesh and blood lay scattered in the dust....

    Funny stuff. Could never be performed at elementary schools today, though. But great tunes. I'll have to reach out to some of those old fifth graders and see if they remember this.