Monday, August 30, 2010

The First Day In My Seventeen Years Of Education...

My first day of school at J. L. Giles Elementary in Beaumont was most memorable. The year was 1941. I was five years old. That day is as fresh in my mind as if it all happened last week. Mrs. Ruth Hill was my fantastic first-grade teacher.
One of the first events that impressed me was when Mrs. Hill began to call the roll. She said, “When I call your name, say ‘here’ so I can mark you as being present.” Then she started calling the names. There must have been at least twenty-five of us pupils in the room. What amazed me is that Mrs. Hill knew our names. I did not realize as a “too-young five-year-old” that she was reading the names from her roll book. I thought she was calling our names from memory. She was just wonderful.
Another thing Mrs. Hill initiated on that first day was what I’ll refer to as her “clean fingernails’ program.” She explained that each morning she would appoint a fingernail monitor to walk the classroom aisles and inspect everyone’s fingernails. Anyone with dirty fingernails would have their name put on the blackboard. Even though no one could read, it still was an embarrassment to be listed on the blackboard as the owner of dirty fingernails. I implemented a “safety program” to ensure that I would never have my name on the dirty fingernail portion of the board. When the monitor started down the aisle, I would clean my fingernails with my teeth. I got a lot of grit in my mouth but I never got my name listed on the board for having dirty fingernails.
Then Mrs. Hill asked each pupil their address and phone number. When she asked which street I lived on, I told her that I didn’t live on a street but that I lived in a house “real close to a street.” I knew that my address was 1375 Pipkin St. and that my phone number was 10472-W. Where I got a little confused was I didn’t know if I lived in Beaumont or Texas. It did not make sense that I could live in both places at the same time. Also, Jackie Garretson, one of my Pipkin Street playmates, already had convinced me that Houston was bigger than Texas. So my young mind had several issues to resolve.
The final mind-boggling adjustment I had to make occurred at 3 p.m. when the bell rang to end that first day of school. Keep in mind that the only public place I had frequented was church services. My parents were faithful members of the South Park Church of Christ, located at the intersection of Elgie and Irving Streets. We attended Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday nights, and any special occasions such as gospel meetings. Sometimes those gospel meetings ran every night for two weeks. At the close of each church service, whenever they were, everyone always mixed and mingled. Since my folks always seemed to be the last ones to leave the church building, I managed to do lot of fellowshipping. Generally this meant chasing Donald Rao through the crowd of adults as they visited. But I digress.
As that first day of school came to a close, I assumed all the kids were going to stand around the classroom and visit for awhile. After all, isn’t that what we did at church? So, when the final bell rang, Mrs. Hill told the class to stand. I understood why we did not have a dismissal prayer but at the same time, I did think that we would not be leaving very soon. I turned around and tried to shake hands with the girl behind me. About that time, the girl said, “Go, Winston.” I looked ahead and saw the other kids leaving the classroom in a single file. This really confused me. I thought, “What about the fellowship?”
I guess you might call this my first lesson on the separation of church and state.

Winston Hamby --


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