In Our Minds, Still Little Boys and Girls

ESTHER R. COOPER

May 20, 1993|By ESTHER R. COOPER

''We will always do our best for dear old 59,

Dear old 59, dear old 59,

We will try to measure up to every kind of test

All for 59.

We will push, push, push all the clouds away,

And watch them all roll by.

With a cheerful heart,

We will do our part,

While we smile, gaily smiling all the while.''

start CMjust found textjust loaded one line As innocent elementary-school students, we did not see the deeper meaning of those words in our school song. How could we possibly realize how many of those clouds we really would have to push away and the need to face life's trials and tribulations with a positive attitude?

At our reunion this month, for a few brief nostalgic hours 850 former pupils (from about 1911 to 1962) of Louisa May Alcott Elementary School No. 59 were catapulted back in time to an era when children walked freely to and from school (even in the dark), when you knew every neighbor for at least three blocks from your home and doors were left unlocked without incident.

Ours was an age of innocence. The most mischievous school incidents I can remember were the times our class clown, Ross, would purposely misbehave so that the teacher would put him in the first seat of the middle row where she could keep an eye on him. She didn't know the reason he wanted to be in that seat: The teacher had an ample bosom and wore low cut dresses. When she bent over to instruct the class or reproach ,him, Ross' eyes bulged in lustful glee.

Ross kept the class in stitches -- not always intentionally. One morning on the way to school Ross was waiting at the corner of Park Heights and Keyworth Avenues when a coal truck turned sharply. The lever to dump the coal accidentally triggered, burying Ross in coal, from which he had to be dug out. He was covered head to toe with soot, a bit shaken, but otherwise uninjured except for his pride.

We got a big laugh, but Ross got the last laugh, for he was sent home from school.

Which brings to mind the one time I was sent home from school. I was at my desk behind Philip, who was sitting in front of me. Desks had built-in inkwells in those days, and Philip was trying to pry his ink pot out of the desk in order to refill it. It was stuck. He twisted, he pulled, to no avail.

Finally he put one hand underneath the desk and gave the ink container a vigorous push. The container, half filled with ink, came sailing over his head and landed smack on my head, drenching me. Ink drizzled through my hair, down my face, trickled down my dress and dripped into my shoes. The humiliation was worth getting an unexpected afternoon respite from school work.

In music, we all played one-dollar flutes. We practiced diligently for a recital for our parents. I was so nervous, I wanted to back out. ''I'll never be able to do it,'' I kept saying. ''I'll goof, I know it. I'll make a fool of myself in front of all those people.'' The other kids kept trying to reassure me, saying, ''It's no big deal, It's a piece of cake.''

At showtime, we all lined up and were introduced when someone made a wisecrack about the teacher, Miss Yost. When the music began, the child flautists were unable to stifle their giggling and produced a cacophony of bizarre tooting noises. But I was on the end of the line, too nervous to hear the wisecrack. I, the reluctant participant, ended up playing an unplanned solo.

It is amazing what remains etched in the mind from 12 years of schooling. Miss Ada Reynolds, a third-grade teacher, once told us as we procrastinated starting an assignment, ''Don't spend your time getting ready to begin to commence to start to proceed.'' That still seems good advice.

At the reunion, Bob Cohen, a retired educator and one of the organizers of this memorable event, spoke for many:

''Somewhere in the deepest recesses of our minds, we are still little boys and girls trudging to school, dancing around the May pole, watching in awe as the yo-yo man dazzles us, banking our pennies each week, hitting the softball into the outfield, jumping rope, and thinking that our days at School 59 will never end. As you read this in May, 1993 may you be transported back to those more innocent and simple times -- if for just a little while -- and may you always keep a part of that child with you.''

''With a cheerful heart,

We will do our part

While we smile, gaily smiling all the while.''

Esther R. Cooper writes from Baltimore.

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