Family Stories: Mama’s School Memories

Mama’s School Memories

School Days, School Days

Dear ol’ golden rule days…

Readin’ an’ ‘riting an’ ‘rithmatic,

Taught to the tune of a hickory stick!

My mother’s school days began in Siloam… the very same small hometown of where she was born. On “Day One” of grammar school… she met her “Best Friend” for life… Willie Mae Walker. They both looked at each other saying, “I don’t think I’m going to like it here.” Those words cemented them as lifetime friends! After Willie Mae’s father moved the family to Union Point, the girls were devastated… mama was left to continue school alone, eventually going to high school in Greensboro alone, without her best friend… but the friendship never ceased!

Siloam Grammar School  (photo courtesy of Susan Dyar)

Mama’s School Memories

“I remember May Day’s held at the Siloam school… we even had a Maypole! On that day we had all types of jumping and racing games in the schoolyard. My brother, Leroy, was elected King of the Maypole one year… I think I was probably in the first grade. It was usually an all day affair at school.” 

“Did I ever tell you I was a good runner in school? I could outrun all the boys in school! Kendrick Lewis and I often fought to see who’d be first in line at the lunch room… and often it ended in a fight; sometimes I beat him and sometimes he beat me. When we lived in Perry I used to run around with all you kids, one time I raced one of the boys down to the tennis court around the corner; can’t remember who won. I don’t think I could do anymore running now… I’d be afraid I’d fall and break my neck.”

“It seems like all my life in school, people made fun of me… like I was a nobody. Even in first grade my teacher, who I’ll never forget, made fun of me; her name was Mae West. I was talking to my friend Kendrick Lewis as she walked by, and she said to him, “can’t you find someone better than that to sit with?”  Willie Mae and I used to sing a song about her… “I’m Mae West and I’ll do my best.” We’d sing it on the playground and twist around like her, and laugh… she never heard us though. She did try to walk and twist like the movie star Mae West.”

“I wore a hair net to school one day in the 7th grade that was given to me by my Aunt Mae. I had my hair all pretty and rolled underneath like a movie star… my teacher, Mrs. Smellings, made me take it off. I was so upset and hurt that she had picked on me, and making me take it off. My friend, Kendrick Lewis, took up for me, saying “I think it looks good, why did you make her take it off.” It hurt me so bad. I don’t forget anything anyone has ever done to me.”

Picture taken about 1942-45: Mama on right middle photo… she would have been between ages of 12-15. I’m leaning toward a younger age as I’ve never seen this photo of her before, and she looks like a somewhat young teenager. Her “Best Friend” Willie Mae Walker is directly across from her on the left.  (photo courtesy of Susan Dyar)

Mama (right) with Best Friend Willie Mae Walker (left)

“When I attended school in Siloam there was a small store not far away called Mr. Mooneyham’s. The owners lived next door to the store… which sat just across the cotton field, on the other side of the school. I remember how we’d take turns crawling through the cotton field on our hands and knees to go and buy penny candy for everyone. It was a really small one-room store where they sold candy and a few odds and ends. While one person went, the others sat at the edge of the school yard to wait. The one day that it was my turn, I found our principal, Mr. Burke, waiting for me when I returned. He didn’t do anything to me… he just told us girls to not do that anymore. If it had been the boys caught, they would probably have gotten paddled. One time Kendrick Lewis put a book in his pants before he was paddled, and then got in even more trouble. He was the doctor’s son… and we were very good friends.”

Siloam School teachers

Siloam school early 1940’s: Mr Roy Burke was the Principal. Teachers: unknown, Martha Sue Freeman, Kathryn Snellings, Mr Burke, Irene Gentry, Margaret unk. (photo courtesy of Susan Dyar)

Mr. Jimmy Copeland, drove the school bus that picked me up every morning… we mostly just called him Mr. Jimmy.  He was the one who always waited for me, as I took too long of a time in fixing my hair in the morning… and deciding what I’d wear to school. He said that the best gift I ever gave him, was when I graduated from high school and didn’t ride his bus anymore. I remember always being the first one on the bus in the morning and the last one off in the afternoon… and I remember how he’d sometime just stop the bus if he saw someone he wanted to talk to… leaving me to sit on the bus… often in the heat of the day! I always thought that was my punishment for making him wait for me.”

“The bus used to pick me up at our farm, but during WWII, to conserve gas for the war, the bus stop was moved and everyone had to walk. Our bus stop was now at Bryson’s farm… the farm just right before ours coming from Siloam. Patriotism was very important during WWI and WWII – not like today.”

School buses at Siloam Grammar School (photo courtesy of Susan Dyar)

“I wasn’t allowed to stay after school and participate in sports or other activities… that would have meant Daddy had to come and get me… he wasn’t having any part of that. I wasn’t a city kid… they were the only ones who mostly did activities after school; we were poor farm kids! I probably never even saw a car until I was about thirteen (1943). We went everywhere in Daddy’s wagon until he bought his first car, which was a Model T Ford. I feel I grew up ignorant living on the farm… basically only going to school and coming home. When I went to Greensboro High School I joined the basketball team… I guess daddy relented as I probably pestered him to let me… I was always Daddy’s girl!”

While visiting Mama one year… I begged her to sit on the schoolhouse steps again to match her 7-year old photo!

“One day after getting off the bus to walk home, a sawmill truck came by and stopped in the middle of the road to let the local men off who worked for them. They yelled out something to me as they jumped off and began walking toward me. I didn’t wait around to see what they were saying, or what they were going to do… I dropped my school books right there in the road, and took off running through the fields toward my house. When I got home, my legs were all cut up and bleeding, and I was crying; I was about thirteen at the time. After I told Daddy what happened. and identified one of the men, he took the axe handle and waited by the edge of the road. The only one I knew was the preacher’s son, and he lived just down the road from us. Mama was crying and crying… as she just knew that Daddy was going to kill him. When he walked by, Daddy grabbed him by the collar and dragged him down to his house to tell his father, Preacher Goss, what his son had done. Preacher Goss never allowed him to go anywhere alone without him after that, and he continued to go everywhere with his father until he passed away. After that incident, I never had to walk to the bus stop at Bryson’s again… the bus came right to the house to pick me up every morning. I’m sure daddy had something to do with that.”

“My brother Leroy played baseball and was really good… he played in Siloam and was also on the Greensboro High School team. Leroy’s friends often called him “corncob” and me “little corncob”… making me so mad. I remember Leroy was prom king once in high school.”

Siloam Grammar school with a young class on lawn… note the lunchroom building off on the left side… seperate from the school. 

(photo courtesy of Susan Dyar)

Lunchroom for Siloam Grammar School… a separate building from the schoolhouse. Mrs. Lizzie Ree in charge of lunchroom.  (photo courtesy of Susan Dyar)

“In school, if anybody’s lunch was stolen, it always seemed to be mine. We never had loaf bread in our house, Daddy always said that it was like eating a wasp nest… too many holes; everybody always wanted my lunch of biscuit and ham or sorghum syrup. I carried my lunch in probably a tin pail, as I didn’t have a real lunch box like the city girls… I was a country girl. I remember Mama making me chocolate milk… which was probably put in a mason jar. We mostly drank milk in our house, my mother hated sweet ice tea and only made it on Sundays, or when company came. She said the taste of it reminded her of medicine… but she made the best sweet tea.”

My father always blamed Mr. Wills for Leroy being drafted, and later killed. He had gone to the draft board and told them that Leroy should be drafted because he wasn’t doing anything in school. Daddy punched Mr. Wills in the nose when he saw him on the street after hearing the news of Leroy’s death; it was just after Mr. Wills told him he was very sorry to hear about his son. I’m sure whenever I showed up in his office at school, he didn’t want any more confrontations with my father. After he stopped being principal, he taught geometry and everyone passed his class. He usually let us grade each other’s papers, and we always  put 100 as the grade, as he never looked them over; that was the only reason I passed geometry.”

On my nightly phone call tonight, Mama began telling me about the Fuller Schoolhouse that Granddaddy owned. “Daddy owned 10 acres  on the road to White Plains where the old Fuller Schoolhouse sat. My father and Aunt Lena, his sister, bought it so Uncle Villa and Aunt Mae McKinley could live there. Uncle Villa (McKinley), daddy’s brother, had TB, and they needed a place to live away from everybody. While living there, a tornado came through and picked the house up with Uncle Villa and Aunt Mae inside, and sat it down in the woods on top of tree stumps. This was probably sometime in the 1940’s. They weren’t harmed, but the house was no longer livable. They then came to live at our house for a few months, and stayed in the back bedroom while Daddy and Aunt Lena built them a small house on Daddy’s land, just up the road from our house.”

Siloam schoolroom photo taken (1942-45) by teacher Mrs. Martha Sue Freeman… this would have been her classroom. Note the huge heater in the back of the class.  (photo courtesy of Susan Dyar… daughter of Mrs. Freeman)

“I was at school when that tornado came through and we had sat under our desks during the storm; it was pretty scary and I couldn’t wait to go home. A dog later showed up at our house after the tornado… a small black and white dog with spots, so I called him Spot. We never heard about anyone looking for him, so he stayed with us. Anytime a cloud came up, Spot would always run into the house and hide under my bed. He lived with us on the farm for a long time until he died.”

My father couldn’t read well, as he hardly had any schooling… probably no more than a fourth grade education, but he had much common sense and knew how to make money. Mama read all the mail that came to our house, but he could write his name and read a little.”

Book Mobile 1

Mama often talked about the bookmobile that came around to the farms… she checked out as many books as allowed… as she loved to read. Grandmama read them also before they were returned. Mama was a big reader, especially the Nancy Drew book series… but they were borrowed them from her friend June Boswell.

“I was only about thirteen when my brother Leroy died, so sometimes it’s hard to remember what he did when he was older. I do remember when he got his high school senior ring though, because Mama saved and saved by selling eggs, cream and butter to pay for his ring. Then he gave it to some girl to see, and she wouldn’t give it back.”

“I was sent to the principal’s office one morning from an incident on the bus coming to school. The bus driver wouldn’t make the boys roll up the windows that morning, and the air was ruining the girls hair on the bus, so I began singing this song, “John Jacob Jingle-Hiemer Smith, his name is my name too. Whenever we go out, the people always shout, ‘There Goes John Jacob Jingle-Hiemer Smith!” As we sang the verses, each verse became louder than the last. I sang it all the way to school… loudest of all… and drove our bus driver crazy that morning… he sent me directly to Principle C.C. Wills office. I went in and told him I was sent there, and after asking my name, and he learned that I was Leroy McKinley’s sister… he just looked at me, gave me ten cents and told me to go get myself a coke and sit down for awhile before going back to class.”

“Daddy and mama took me to town only once to buy a special dress for a Valentine dance at school…. and I fell in love with a certain dress as soon as I saw it. The saleswoman encouraged me to try it on, even though I told her that my father wouldn’t buy it. She insisted I just try it on, and let him see how pretty I looked. I guess I did try it on, along with the one they picked out for me – a plain dress with a sweetheart neck… which I didn’t like. When we returned home daddy handed me two boxes, and after opening them, I discovered that the dress I loved was inside one of them. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to wear my dress… so excited that my father had bought me that dress, and I was super proud of it. I wore it to school the next day, and I was nominated for Miss Valentine of our room… and won. I’m sure I thought it was all because of that dress. I saved that dress even though I outgrew it and when my brother’s wife came to visit, mama let her have it as it fit her… I was heartbroken… and mad.”

Auditorium in Siloam Grammar School… where many Halloween parties and other events were held. (photo courtesy of Susan Dyar)

As I talked to Mama on Halloween night (2009) I asked her what do you remember about the holiday. “We never had “trick or treat” when I was young, but we always had a Halloween party at school. No one came in any type of costume, that I remember… they had no money for that and probably didn’t even know what a costume for Halloween was. I never remember dressing up, we just came in regular clothes; it was a party that included your family. We bobbed for apples, had haunted houses to walk through… I remember walking down the Hall of Horrors. Someone would lead you down the hall in the dark, and you’d touch things like grapes and they’d tell you it was someone’s eyeballs – and we probably screamed at that point.  They usually had all the father’s bob for apples… I even remember seeing my father bob for apples one time. The mothers brought home-made cakes for the cakewalk, but my mother never brought one; it was usually just certain mothers who baked. Mama didn’t socialize with too many people, she was a loner. While the parents stayed inside, the kids played out in the schoolyard until way after dark. We’d hide and jump out from behind the bushes… trying to scare everyone and yelling Boo.”

I asked mama if she remembered cakewalks, and… “yes we had them at school, mostly at the Halloween carnivals. You walked around on numbered squares while music played, and when the music stopped, if you were on the number of the cake being offered… you won a cake! I think I remember winning one once. My mama baked a lot of cakes, and they were so good, but she never made any cakes for school activities; she didn’t associate with any of the women that baked and even when she came to school, she was quiet and kept to herself. If they had them at your school, I really don’t remember and I know I didn’t bake as I never baked cakes, I only made that lemon pie…. I sure could go for a slice of that right now!” (I remember having cakewalks at the Halloween carnivals I had at school, but I don’t think my parents came)


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To read Conversations with Mama, click Here

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9 Responses to Family Stories: Mama’s School Memories

  1. ReginaMary says:

    Great memories, Jeanne. I loved the photo of Mama on the school steps. When I graduated from school, I walked and never looked back! I love how the ladies dressed in the 40s. My mom has some wonderful photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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