When we were growing up, we loved the stories that began with “Once upon a time.” We would listen attentively and if we could have put on a pair of extra ears, we would have done that as well. We would even encourage the other listeners to be quiet.

How and where we sat was important. We would straighten ourselves up, pull our clothes together to be sure our knees were not showing. The boys pulled at their hand-me-down pants because they did not want their ankles showing because most of the time, they would be ashy and the girls would laugh.

Story time was a most serious time in our school and home life. These tales could be woven by our parents, a teacher, a radio announcer or even a big sister or brother. We knew it was time for a good narrative when it began with “Once upon a time.” We knew that it was time to sit back and be excited, happy, sad or scared.

Today we are going to sit back and listen to our Sister Betty Bailey Irvin spin a narrative about a once upon a time experience of hers that we can all relate to in some aspect. She explained to me that I would get a different story from her other classmates. I told her that I was quite aware of that fact, but this time I wanted her perspective.

I sat and listened attentively as Betty told this story as she saw it.

“Once upon a time, I was a part of a group of kids later to be called the class of ‘59. There were none like us before and has been none like us since. We, the class of 1959, were introduced to the world in the late 30s and early 40s. Prior to then, we were just a glimmer in our parents’ hearts, minds and souls. Like weeds, we grew up, out of diapers, and into energetic little first graders who could hardly put on our clothes. Teachers were still having to help us put our shoes on the right foot. Our feet were hurting from the too tight shoe, and we could not figure out why. We were on the scene before baby boomers. We were the group referred to as the silent generation, or some referred to us as the traditionalists. In reality, neither title fit us, because we were evolving to become the class of Main 1959.

“Our first grade was actually first grade, since there was no preschool or kindergarten to get us prepared. We started our hard book knowledge at 5 years old. We had no warm-up time with hundreds of sight words. We had no school breakfast, but we had devotion every morning prior to class. Even at 6 years old, our devotion consisted of The Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. This class of ‘59 went to several different elementary schools scattered throughout Floyd County. I, Betty, attended South Rome Elementary School, which was a wooden frame building located at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Cherokee Street.

“My first-grade teacher was Mrs. Myrtle Jones, who in later years became Dr. Jones. I liked her so much I told my parents that I wanted to stay with her and repeat the first grade. My parents talked me out of that mindset. I had attached myself to her and truly didn’t want to leave her classroom to go to the second grade. When I saw the other Main 1959 joyfully leaving, I was able to pull away without leaving a broken heart behind. Lo and behold! I am glad that I took my heart with me because l liked my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Parks, just as much.

“Looking back now with more maturity, I think it was because I was only 5 years old and had not learned to deal with separation well. We gleefully climbed up the elementary school ladder. It was at that rung on the ladder that we started to work on our penmanship, making those legendary O’s on the chalkboard. We learned how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. We learned how to read all about Spot, Puff, Dick, Jane, Mother, Father and Baby Sally. Most of us were pretty good spellers, but our penmanship certainly could use a lot of improvement. We had not worked on our handwriting as much as other things at home. We had to memorize and recite poems, called memory gems. We faced many bumps along the way, but we sailed on and completed the sixth grade.

“By this time, we had lost a few of our classmates due to various reasons along the way, but we were still holding our numbers strong. Some had to drop out because they had fallen behind academically and could not keep up. Some had dropped in order to help with younger siblings, some had to go into the workforce to help out at home. Other classmates just could not see how reading, writing and arithmetic could help them later.”

Part II will run in the Feb. 13/14 edition.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award of Honor recipient.

Recommended for you

Comments disabled.