First Brush With Higher Education

Published: Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 09:54 AM.

            I reckon you could file this one under August malaise. Or it may fit into the “another school year is upon us” category. I tend to relate it more to a nightmare on Elm Street. It’s all a mite trifling when you look back on it from this side of the years. But there was nothing trivial, silly or innocent about it in 1956. Those steps were wide……and tall. And imposing as all get out! Leon told me sea monsters, escaped convicts and creatures from out of the Jarrell Switch Bottom lived on the second floor.

            He said the teachers “up there” whipped you before reading class “just because they could”.

            Life is full of plateaus and moving on to the next level is part of the growing process. Young adolescences especially are faced with seemingly endless mountains that have to be climbed, rivers to cross, bends to round……. Understanding all of that didn’t help one whit at the time. I didn’t want to go back to school! I was afraid of that second floor. I didn’t want to be put in an uncomfortable, unknown situation! And it doesn’t matter how you rationalize it as you mature. August, to this very day, is still one of my least favorite months!    

            I have no idea who designed our elementary school. It was big, austere and a tad   drafty on cold days. The first three grades were downstairs. The upper three grades were on the second floor. You couldn’t go upstairs if you were a first, second or third grader. Mr. McIver made it pretty plain that we “had no business up there”. We didn’t know if it was a school rule, simple tradition or some type of safety numbers problem. 

            I spent the first three years in that building without ever venturing even to the first level of those sinister steps. It was designed so you climbed up the first ten steps, wheeled about in the exact opposite direction and continued to the top. You couldn’t see anything by simply peering up. We heard noises from time to time. And Joe Galloway slipped up there one afternoon when the rest of us went to recess…… Joe and his whole family moved down to Bolivar the next month.

            There was something not natural about that second floor. And if you could have seen how vast, stark, boggy, wet, foggy and eerie the Jarrell Switch Bottom truly was—you wouldn’t have wanted to walk up on one of those creatures under any circumstance!

            The summer we graduated from the third grade me and Bobby Brewer made the only logical decision we could base on all the obtainable facts. We quit school. He had a cousin or an uncle who worked down at the Milan Arsenal. I don’t know exactly what we thought a couple of eight and a half year olds could do at a munitions plant, but we were bound and determined to give it a try. ANYHING was better than climbing those steps!



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