This is a big day for me. I’ve lived here on Ralston Street for five weeks and am finally starting school! The school is just down the hill but Mom says I have to take a ride from Mrs. Cook who lives up the street and is coming by the house any minute. We’re going to pick up Cecelia Molini (Pearce) and Marilyn Burkham (Bell) on the way. I had no way of knowing this in 1946, but I’d know Tom Cook, Marilyn and Cecelia for the rest of my life.
The school is huge, kind of a dove-grey building in what grownups call Spanish Mission design. It’s called Mary S. Doten after an old teacher. There’s another three of them almost alike; one over by the fairgrounds called Orvis Ring, another teacher; McKinley Park down by the Truckee River named for the president and Mount Rose a way out of town south on Arlington Avenue. Named for the mountain, I s’pose. They are all about 35 years old now. There’s another elementary school right downtown called Southside, and some out in the boondocks (that’s a new word I just learned!) like Brown and Huffaker and Galena and Franktown. Dad said that there are 18 school districts in Washoe County, Reno is just one of them.
It’s a nice school, I can see that as Mrs. Cook drops us off and cries about something, don’t know what that would be. The front is like a courtyard with wisteria and a fountain bubbling around the flagpole. The teachers get together and plant flowers in the beds. All the rooms have big windows, and there are huge white glass bulbs hanging from the ceiling. There’s a great big “auditorium” with a stage at one end, the room big enough to hold every kid in the school. Which is about 240 kids. Downstairs are rooms for the kindergarten, where we’re going, and a boiler room where Mr. Minetto the janitor lets us put our galoshes in the winter to dry off while we’re in school. Next to that is a lunchroom, big enough for all of us at once with benches and tables. Most of us bring our lunch in metal boxes with Mickey and Donald on them. We have Thermos bottles but they break all the time.
Our teacher is Miss Parker. She’s really cool. There’s two kindergartens, one morning and one afternoon. We do all kinds of neat stuff. Now I’m forgetting what grade I’m in as I write, kindergarten, first with Mrs. Smith and second with Mrs. Angus. I know in all the rooms are these old desks with tops that lift up for our books, a hole in the top for an ink jar, which we don’t use anymore, and a seat that folds up. There’s a bunch of them bolted together so they stay in a line.
Above the blackboard are letters, in some kind of weird cursive shapes that I guess that we’re going to learn. I still print stuff like I am doing now. We do the “Pledge of Allegiance” every morning, and on Fridays we do the Nevada state song. We’re pretty good singers. And we’re learning all kinds of stuff, about Nevada, the other 47 states and some other countries like England and China. Mom always says we have to clean our plates because the people in China are starving. Her logic eludes my little brain but we keep eating. We have movies once in a while in the big room upstairs about ranching and farming, and some firemen came by once and let us play on the engine and showed us how to be safe. Some of the students from the university up the street called “fraternity” men came and sang to us. They’re really old guys.
We have “Bank Day” every week. Our teacher puts up a blue sign that says “Tomorrow will be Bank Day,” and turns it over the next day to read “Today is Bank Day” in red. Most of us put in a quarter every week and save quite a bit of money in a school year. Each year a man comes to take our classes’ pictures and we all are supposed to wear our good clothes and stand still on the front steps of the school. Looking back at all those pictures we’d usually see about 30 or 31 people in each class, which was about normal.
We didn’t know anything about it yet, but we’d have peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches with milk from Old Home Dairy or Crescent Creamery each day. I learned later that peanut butter probably killed quite a few of us at our young age but I don’t remember that. And the lead-based paint and the asbestos in the school and the mercury from thermometers that we all rubbed on dimes to make them shiny probably got a lot more. But our classes never seemed to get any smaller so I guess we were just lucky.
We got to know the kids from the farms and dairies and ranches west of Reno. They came in on a bus every morning. There were also a few kids whose dads worked in the hydroelectric power plants west of Reno on the river. A fair number of our classmates’ parents worked on the ranches outside of Reno, and they would live with relatives during the week then go home to their families’ houses for the weekend so we didn’t see them. And there were quite a few kids – usually about ten every year – whose mothers were in Reno for a “divorce” which we didn’t know much about then – they came to school throughout the year and would stay for a while then disappear as fast as they came. I often wondered what happened to them!
We started getting into music and plays – some of us would “try out” to be a character in some show and get dressed up in some weird costumes sometimes and have to remember what we were supposed to say. And we had singing, usually at Christmas, which we called “Christmas,” and sang carols to our parents in the big upstairs room. Miss Miller, the fourth-grade teacher, had a pedal organ that you had to pump with your feet to get any music out of. I was too short, but she played it pretty well. We sang a lot.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were all walking home, up the hill, through the autumn leaves.
My dad and my uncle John are building me a new bike, out of old bike parts because bikes were hard to get after the war. I’m looking forward to that, and soon I’ll be another year older so I can go more places around Reno and have a bike and be able to write down some more of what I’m seeing. I’ll try to take more pictures too…
Come back once in a while and read some more!
write the six-, soon-to-be seven-year-old, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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