I started kindergarten at Barrow School in the 1940s—I’m as old as dirt! All the grades were housed in the two original wings that now house pre-‐k, kindergarten and first grade. Compared to what it’s like now, it’s as if I did my time there on another planet.
I don’t know what the enrollment was then—I understand it’s about 500 now—but it was small enough for me to have known everybody in my class. And it was a neighborhood school. So I not only knew everybody in my class. I knew where they all lived. I went to their birthday parties and played with them in the neighborhood. I can still drive through the streets near Milledge Heights where we lived and pick out the houses where some of my school buds lived.
I don’t know how old I was when I was allowed to walk to school by myself, but I survived countless crossings of South Milledge to get there and back. On the way back, Barrow kids stopped in at Hodgson’s for nickel ice cream cones, a high point of our day.
In contrast to my grandniece, who just started first grade at Chase Street (the first Galis to defect from Barrow), I don’t remember any actual instruction in kindergarten unless you count rhythm band. Looking back on that now, I can’t imagine that it was meant to do more than drain off five-‐year-‐olds’ excess energy. I’ve been deeply interested in music since my early teens, but I can’t imagine that rhythm band had anything to do with that. Apart from that cacophony, when we weren’t napping on our little scatter rugs, we were being read to by Miss Thelma and Miss Chandler.
I don’t remember actual content instruction until first grade. And about all I remember about that is that numbers and words were involved. Ditto for second grade. My most vivid memory of third grade was the teacher, Miss Taber, who I think is still, um, extant. I remember her because she was the only teacher I had who wasn’t middle age or older. I also remember her because she was the only teacher who ever kept me after school. None of your business—very embarrassing for an otherwise boringly well-‐behaved child.
I was semi‐homeschooled for fourth grade. That is, the teacher would send material home for me to go through with my mom. That’s because I had some mysterious malady, whose only symptom was a low-grade fever but which nobody ever diagnosed, in spite of my being tested six ways to Sunday that year. I remember my mom being very anxious about all that, but it wasn’t until years later that I had any idea of all the bad things she would have been worried about. Anyway, in between visits to St. Mary’s, which was then on North Milledge, to be tested by nuns in funny looking outfits, I managed to learn some geography, which seems to have been high on the fourth grade agenda.
More numbers and words in fifth and sixth grades. I’ve never been on particularly good terms with numbers but I was a strong enough reader for my sixth grade teacher, I think, to put me in an advanced reading “group,” whose membership consisted of me and one other kid, whose name was Danny something. I can still picture him.
Sometime during my later years there, a wing was added to the building. It served as a combination cafeteria and auditorium. The construction went on while school was in session, which I thought was great. On days when there was no activity on the site, it was a treat to clamber up onto the unfinished structure during recess and eat Kool Aid granules out of the package (I swear).
Speaking of recess, I don’t remember any organized play except at the end of the school year when the upper grades squared off against each other in softball games. The year my fifth grade class took on the sixth grade, I enjoyed one of the great triumphs of my life. I was (and still am) seriously unathletic. Didn’t care about sports, and still don’t. So when teams were chosen up, I was always among those chosen last, and, for softball, exiled to right field where nothing much was expected to happen. However, I was bigger than most of the boys my age, so if, contrary to all expectations, I ever connected with a pitched ball, it was gone. Which is what happened when I vanquished the sixth grade with a home run, to no one’s astonishment more than mine.
Another high distinction I achieved at Barrow was being appointed to school patrol. Do they still do that? I hope not, considering how much busier Lumpkin is now. We got to wear a cool white plastic belt and bandolier rig with—wait for it—a badge! And, giddy with power, we walked out into Lumpkin when school was letting out to stop cars for crossing kids. That was insane. I don’t know how long it took the district to figure out that that was an assignment for grown ups. The only part of it that terrified me, though, was wrestling the dummy policeman out of the middle of the street back over to the right of way when my “shift” was over. It was pretty heavy for a scrawny ten-‐year-‐old.
But my dominant memory of my Barrow School years is that nobody into whose care and keeping I was left there ever, ever, ever just phoned it in. Everybody, from the principal (a fire hydrant of a woman who used to walk around with a dollar bill pinned to her blouse—I have no idea), to the teachers, to the cafeteria servers to the custodians all seemed unwavering in their dedication to our welfare. That’s the same sense I had when I went to the open house last month, which is why I get apoplectic when I hear people now going off on teachers. Who has a better claim to that kind of devotion than children?