Thursday, October 31, 2013

Little Red School House (not)

Last week blogging buddy Vee posted a post about her memories of going to school in a little red school house. 
 I confess that a long held jealousy about red school house attendees reared up in my heart and once again I was irked that I had no such sweet school days images to savor.
Growing up just blocks for the beach in Southern California, I would see "back to school" ads and September calendar pages and illustrations in children's books of little red school houses, with bright fall colored trees and children wearing sweaters and wool skirts skipping up the school house path.
Last weekend I was back in my home town and decided to revisit my own elementary school.
I drive past it every time I go to my parents house, and yet I have not set foot on the school grounds since the day that I graduated in 1966.
Back then it was named "Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School".
The same Scripps family as Scripps-Howard news service and Scripps institute of Oceanography.
I suppose I should have been proud to have attended a school named after a woman...
Back then such feminist empowering details were not driven home as they are now days.
The school was built in the early 1950s to house the baby boom that followed WWII.
Articles have been written about how five years after the war ended small school houses were suddenly bursting at the seams with kids. New schools were quickly built and the most modern architectural style-low, long flat roofed building-were most economical to build rapidly.
The photo above is what the path leading up to my school looks like now.
The path and the building are the same.
In my day, the door was not was a distinctive shade of turquoise that La Jolla is well known for.
And later it was painted a grey-ish black.

(My brother Carl and me, ready to go to school, I was about age 5.)
When I went to me elementary school in autumn, wearing a short sleeved cotton plaid dress was about as "autumn" as one could be.
Now days, shorts are fine too.
At the top of the path, one took a right turn to reach a stand alone building that was fenced separately and was made to house the Kindergarten classes.
One class in the morning, another in the afternoon.
Kindergarten was a half day event.

I kind of liked the Kindergarten building as it had floor to ceiling windows and trees grew outside around the sand playground with swings, jungle gym and slides.
Inside there was an area to play house with mostly naked dolls, an area for building blocks and my most favorite area, the art easels with the cut off milk cartons full of poster paint already mixed and ready to go.
The smell of poster paint, mixed with a bit of liquid starch is one of my most favorite memories scents in my life.
Being chosen to demonstrate my artistic skills at a district event is still one of my proudest school memories!
A green rug was on the floor just inside the door and we were all expected to sit along the edge of the rug for story and song time.
 One song, about the Merry-go-round, had us mimicking the up and down of merry-go-round animals as we marched around the rugs perimeter.
We also sang a ditty about "Red leaves falling down, yellow leaves falling down, all over town, all over town."
(Outside the palm trees had no leaves falling down at all...)
We faced the teacher in a U shape and behind the teacher was two bathrooms each consisting of a single toilets, one for the boys and one for the girls.
We had a snack time each day outside. I recall having carrot sticks and raisins mostly.
Then we were lined up and expected to use the toilet, then to go undo a blanket or towel from home, and to take a nap.
Some kids amazingly did go to sleep.
I recall never going to sleep, but watching flies occasionally crawl across the faces of my sleeping classmates.
I made the mistake once going to use the bathroom not during the "line up and use" time and finding my teacher seated inside.
She screamed horribly.
(The poor slightly older woman was committed to a mental hospital right after school let out in June. I still feel bad for her knowing about that.)

A year later I found myself going to the almost all day first grade class in one of the rooms that faced the "little big kid" playground.
The playground had asphalt and painted white lines for dodge ball and four square games.
Fourth graders monitored our recess times, and no one monitored them!
Having been brought up in a gentle household, I was quite shocked at age six to have a fourth grader pull my hair and scream in my face for missing a ball in foursquare!
(It was after that that I decided I was going home for lunch on my bike instead of undergoing that kind of treatment.)
We didn't have trash cans or recycling bins or house plants on the walk way outside our room back then. I do remember heavy silver grey trashcans with lids at the end of each hallway, and in the far corner of the playground, a black "thing" where the trash was burned at semi regular intervals.
The smell of burning paper let us know the janitor was burning trash again.
The white picket fence is a new addition as well.

This was my first grade class room with Mrs. Hawkenbrack.
I learned to read in that room and for the most part had a pretty good time with my friends.

I sort of remember the was quite little over fifty years ago.
We never set foot on the wee bit of grass around it.

There were three buildings with four class rooms in a row.
The last door in this picture was the doorway to my 6th grade class, beyond that were the double doors to the auditorium and cafeteria.
In sixth grade we had square dance lessons in there and danced to the catchy new song "Itsy Bitsy Tiny Weenie Yellow Polk a Dot Bikini"...which I found vaguely in appropriate.
Bikinis were a pretty new idea and we early maturing sixth graders had a pretty good idea what all the excitement was all about.
First-Second graders were in the lower first building  row, Third-Fourth  were in the second row, and the Fifth-Six graders had the last row.
Usually there were two classrooms per grade, or sometimes we had a mixed grade class.
It was a hideous surprise to find myself stuck in the mixed Fifth-Sixth classroom as a Sixth grader as those in the Sixth Graders classrooms were treated with "Big Man On Campus" awe.
The twelve of us who were squeezed into the mixed class were viewed as really just fifth graders...again.

Oddly, we were some of the tallest and physically mature of all the sixth graders.
(That's me with my hands clasped in front, and I was the same age as the other girls.)
I often wondered how the placement decision was made.
Our teacher was unforgettable.
He was a man, of mixed raced, and he wore blue eye shadow, eye liner and mascara.
His hair was piled high like Little Richard.
Um huh.
Why the parents didn't scream about this get up in 1966 I have NO idea.
We were expected to line up by height and in two lines, boys in one, girls in the other, and wait outside in the hallway until he arrived each morning, usually late.
He would unlock the door while hanging on to a full coffee cup and his newspaper.
He looked at each of us through blurry eyes as we passed by him.
Role was taken, and then four students (two from each grade) were expected to give a "current events" report on a newspaper article.
He himself was in the back of the room reading his own newspaper as this went on.
About 45 minutes into the day he would slouch up to the chalk board and give us our assignments.
And select a student to go stand outside until recess...which was about two hours away.
Guess who got selected a lot?
Uh huh.
Richard, or Fred, or Jill (and some times all three of us) spent hours leaning against the pole outside, required to stay where he could see us.
Our feet ached from standing on the concrete.
No one ever mentioned this.
We never knew why we were routinely kicked out of the classroom.
(below: me at my age 12, in 6th grade birthday party.)

And I got straight A's on my report card that year.

The view from the windows in the front of the room was to the tiny windows of the back of the building below.
The hedge below never bloomed or turned color.
It remained unceasingly green year around, and especially seemed un-festive at Christmas time.

Inside the classrooms, which we now know had asbestos tile flooring, we were seated at tables, two to a table, with cubbies built in under the desk top.
Rocking back in our chairs would get us in trouble...the tall boys always seemed to be getting busted for doing that.
It wasn't until years later that I realized that the tall boys legs were scrunched into the "one size fits all" hard chairs and rocking back was the only way to relieve the ache of sitting in a too small chair.
Our chalk boards were green...another nostalgic insult as all the "Little Red School House" images included a smart looking black chalk board with lines already drawn.
Green just lacked a traditional academic style to me.

The walk from the top building down.
We did have skateboards back then. I wonder how they kept us from riding the slope on the boards back then?

The lower playground, as I mentioned, was asphalt.
There was an upper playground as well, which was plain decomposed granite.
Chalk marked playing fields for kick ball and sox ball were up there and several tether ball courts as well.
We played outside year around.
Having scrapes with bits of gravel embedded from the playground mishaps were part of every day life.
When I was there, there was no grass growing up there at all.
The chain link fence closed around our field with dusty bushes that had little botanical interest just beyond our finger tips.
A good memory of the upper field:
For awhile we had a Principal named Mr. Upp who drove his own fire truck!
Each year there would be a school carnival and the kids could get rides around the upper playground on the fire truck.
I just learned this past week that Mr. Upp also owned a private day camp and would pick up kids from their curbs in the fire truck and drive them to the camp in the summer time.
How fun was that!
He also is remembered for coming to each classroom with a birthday child to administrate the traditional birthday spanking across his knee.
I got spanked in Kindergarten.
It didn't was kind of neat being the center of attention while he lightly spanked and counted out the new age and then added "and one to grow on" with the final spank.
All of us who remember this tradition are agog at the thought of  what law suits would occur from such harmless spanking now days!

The landscaping has improved over time and I do not recall any houses in view back then.
La Jolla used to not be so densely populated.
Even then it was a wealthy area.
My family was not in the same financial league as most of my classmate's families.

I wore hand me downs from my cousins and with pigeon toes, I also wore saddle shoes fitted with corrective soles, with cotton socks until I went to middle school.
My classmates wore Keds, Keds with pointed toes no less, and nylon socks.
Or daringly, no socks at all.
I was dork...tall, gangly, pale, and very uncoordinated at sports. one worried about it in the least.
And the upper playground was not monitored by adults.
It got pretty tough up there sometimes. One day I was grabbed by a group of girls from the other sixth grade class and they ripped off part of my dress and held me down in the dirt until I fought them off and slunk away.
Good times...not.

For many of my early school years I rode my bike home at lunch time, where I escaped the tedium of the classroom and the constant class warfare for a bit.
Donna Reed was on TV during lunch and I enjoyed that show over bowls of tomato soup and sandwiches.
Eventually I managed to stay at school and ate lunch outside year around, overlooking gravel topped flat roofs and foggy vistas.
The lunch court today looks just exactly as I remembered it.

I did smile to see the same old drinking fountain on the wall out in the lunch area.
For some reason, each drinking fountain at school had pecking orders.
No one would use the first, or maybe the third fountain.
If someone unpopular drank from the fountain, then the fountain they drank from was declared to have cooties and was to be avoided at all cost.
It was a tough crowd.
I still remember those declared to have cooties, who seem quite ordinary to me now, save for a bit of wardrobe variation and clues that wealth did not flow in their houses.
For those sins they were singled out for mockery.

The lower playground asphalt is now gone, and the chain link fence has been replaced with a more stylish black fence.  Basketball hoops are new too.

The school shut down after I was became an adult and sat vacant for many years.
The neighborhood demographics did not include many school age children after the 1970s and the few children who did live nearby were carefully chauffeured to private schools.
Then it became a private school.
"The Children's School" it is called now.
I laugh at that sly, so tongue-in-cheek.
Saying "our children go to the Children's School" sounds redundant to me!

Now "Little Red School House" kids also were shown bouncing merrily along in yellow school buses with braids and pigtails flying.
We didn't have a school bus...we all walked or rode our bikes to school each day.

I crossed five streets before I came to this major intersection where one pushed a cross walk button and waited for the light to turn before crossing over five lanes of traffic, waiting right where the "No Ped Crossing" sign is now.
This was all navigated as a five year old!
Each year the parents would say that *someday* some kid is gonna get killed crossing there.
No kid ever did get killed or even injured, but decades after I graduated an over pass was finally built so the kids could cross over the street safely.
I think it was right after that that the school was closed.
Hoo boy.

I can still remember how it felt to stand at that corner, lunch box gripped in my hand, feeling the breeze from the cars whizzing by just inches away.
And punching the crosswalk button a few more times, hoping it would turn faster and I could finally be on my way home.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ah San Diego!

Another fast trip home last weekend.
Home being San Diego area, home for the first 46 years  of my life.
And where our parents still live.
It is no secret that it is part of Southern California which is known for being a bit insane.
("Insane Diego" is a nick name of my home town.)
Underwater pumpkin carving anyone?

Especially the pumpkin on the right...apparently a pumpkin in a scuba mask?

My current home is deep in the glories of autumn colors.
It was hard to fly out on Thursday, to San Diego, where autumn is barely discernible.
Where the colors are colors are watercolor blues and grays and muted sand year around.

Bernie travels a lot.
He recently hit the "1 million miles of air travel" milestone.
Isn't that amazing?
I never would have ever thought I would know someone who has flown a million miles.
After we flew in to San Diego we went over to pick up a rental car.
I got quite a charge at seeing our name on the car rental Preferred Service Board.
He gave a quick look for our name, walked over to the assigned vehicle, opened the doors, loaded our luggage, got in, turned the key and off we went.
No muss, no fuss.
I asked if he had requested the car model.
He said no, he didn't care anymore, but if I wasn't happy he'd switch it.
I didn't care either.
It was a nice new Chevy  SUV.
We drove off in record time.

The San Diego airport is right next to the San Diego harbor.
It is always good  to see the San Diego sky line again.

I remember when there were no high rises on the bay.
I remember when the El Cortez was the ONLY high rise in San Diego!
Now we can barely find the building in the skyline.

I can remember when there were not so many ships.

Although there always seemed to be a lot of sailboats.

I remember when there were not so many cars!
It was only 4 pm.
Now I do remember seeing Navy ships outlined on the horizon.

Red tiled roofs: Very San Diego.

Palms lining streets:
Also San Diego to me.

The tall sail ship Star of India and the ferry ship are part of my mental picture of home.

So much traffic NOT during rush hour: Not part of my memories.
(This is insane!)

Planes jetting in right over head, so low sometimes you swear can see the faces in the plane windows.
Yes, that is how it has always been.
I do remember when the planes were all prop planes.
Jets came later...

Jacaranda trees in bloom in late spring: A signature San Diego memory.

Except this is OCTOBER!
Since when do Jacaranda bloom in October?
That is as odd as a daffodil blooming in November.
So weird!

The traffic!
See the building above the bridge with a bit of red pointing up from the roof?
That's the El Cortez, the "famous" high rise of my childhood.
It  had a glass elevator that ran up and down outside the building.
It was a real childhood thrill to be taken downtown to ride the elevator and see downtown all lit up at night.

There is no lull in the traffic at all now.

There is some bit of humor to be seen though.
Heated toilet seats?
In San Diego, where it never really gets cold.
How wimpy are the SD folks getting to be these days anyway?
Honk if you like warm buns indeed.

We drive east on 94 and soon see Mt. Helix in the distance.
It is the other San Diego Mount with a cross atop.
This cross was on private land so it wasn't contested all the way up to the Supreme Court like how the cross on Mt. Soledad was.

Apparently all roads lead east....
We went to Bernie's dad's home  which is just a mile off the freeway here.
We spent the night.
It was good to see Hal; we still really miss Barbara though.

The next day, Friday, we went out to La Jolla to see my folks.
Then I went back to La Jolla again on Saturday while Bernie stayed with his dad to help him with some minor home repairs.
I swung by the La Jolla Shores beach.
The palm trees were silhouetted against the typical grey beach sky.

Fog...there is almost always fog at the beach in the morning.
So many palms; I guess they almost make up a forest of palms.
I don't think I have ever  heard anyone speak of a palm forest though.

The palms and the other trees have been there for as long as I can remember, which specifically would be since 1958.
I remember this tree as a child, the tree with the white bottle brush shaped flowers.
My parents met on the beach wall, just a few steps away from here, in the early 1940s.
I should ask if the tree was there when they met at a beach party as teens.

There are still the low growing twisty trunked trees that sprawl just beyond the sidewalk next to the sea wall and the sand.

The trunks always struck me as strange.
Now they are more appealing to me for their strangeness.

The beach fan palms: I liked the fan shape palms branches better than some of the other palm shapes.

A look to the left, to the south from La Jolla Shores:
Just past the much hated box high rise, built in the 1960s, is the famous La Jolla Cove.
The cove is now barely bearable as a herd of sea lions have taken over the beach and flocks of pelicans now perch on the surrounding cliffs.
Both the sea lions and the pelicans make powerfully scented "droppings" which can cause gagging when the breeze blows the smell up the cliff.
When I was growing up, seeing a sea lion and a pelican was a rare and exciting thing.
Now there are so many of both that one can hardly walk on the beach.

Looking north to Scripps Pier.
I never jumped off the pier but most of the boys I grew up with did so as a rite of passage.

The palms have captured a kite...

The new life guard tower is now open.
For fifty...sixty years the lifeguard station was a plain two story brick building.
This new station, new this year, is architecturally quite different.

Instead of the old tower's red brick (red brick is really uncommon in Southern California) the new tower is made from several colors of brick and areas of mosaic.

I saw myself reflected in the new tower's window.

I saw my reflection and was surprised to see a person much older than how I was seeing myself in my mind.
In my mind, I was a child, a teen, a young woman walking the along the beach.
I had never thought of myself walking the beach at almost 60...

When my parent's built their home just three blocks from the beach back in 1958, they created mosaics to decorate the walls inside.
The mosaics were not too different color wise from these mosaics.
Apparently mosaics are making a comeback.

I admire the simple guard tower landscaping.
Beautiful, isn't it?

The brief shot of bright orange, shockingly bright, contrasting boldly against the constant gray beach  mists that surround it.
It is mostly as it has always been there.
I hope as it will be, always, in the future too.
To be continued...