Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"School Daze," from HOME IS WHERE...

         Thinking back about school: one building originally held the kindergarten through twelfth grade, but as the town got bigger, the school became over-crowded, and we started going to the firehouse for fifth grade, the church basement for sixth grade, back up to the big school for seventh grade, and then into the new school. Our school had been up the hill, kindergarten through 12th grade, until 1959 when Valley Central School opened, combining Maybrook, Walden, and Montgomery.

         I started at Valley Central in 1962 in eighth grade. It was different: there were dances, basketball games, and many new friends.

         When we were in the old school, and had no car, the school bookkeeper-nurse would bring us home if we were sick. Even the town doctor would come to the school to give us shots. That was a scary day for all of us.

         Mom must have had something with hair and us, because for probably three years each summer, we had to go uptown to Theresa  Falcon’s for poodle perms. We both went for a whole Saturday afternoon. These old-fashioned perms stank awfully, and you couldn't wash your hair for weeks.

         After one of these perms, I entered fourth grade. My hair grew a little before school, but photos still show it to be curly.
In line waiting my turn to have my picture taken, I had stood right next to the water fountain, and a sudden idea entered my head, so I stuck my head under the faucet and wetted it, using no comb just my fingers, and then it became my turn. Some weeks later, the photos came back for us to take home. As they were passed out, our teacher, Mrs. Resiert, decided to hold mine up as an example of what not to do. I was so embarrassed, I never forgot this.

         Other than this incident, we loved elementary school. Every Christmas we had a school program, the Nutcracker and Christmas Around the World. We always had the proper outfits. One mother we knew would sew these for us, or Mom would get us what we needed. We would get a ride with another family to and from the play because we had no car.

         We had this head of the school (Mr. Farren) who was so loud and mean he scared you to death.  On sunny days we were stuck in the gym after lunch, no talking. Mr.  Farren would yell, “I don’t want to hear a pin drop.”  He didn’t last long.

         For a few months we had a school bus driver, Earl, who had a sick sense of humor. One rainy spring day, I wore a white wrap-around skirt, and---being the last ones to get on the bus---there were no seats left. This day it was raining, so I had an umbrella, and in the aisle there were Elizabeth, me, Artie, and---right by the driver--- Barbara. Earl started the bus moving, sped up, and then slammed on the brakes, so down we all went: Barbara, Artie, and I, with Elizabeth on top of me. My skirt was mired and my umbrella was bent in half. Earl must have thought that this was funny, but he must have also known that his career as a driver was over. It was.

         A boy who lived across the street from us, Charlie De Angeles, decided at least two times a week who was his new girlfriend, so in tenth grade---in between Kenny and Tom--- Charlie said to me as we passed in the hall, "Now, you are my girlfriend." Of course, this was the same guy who growing up was a big brat. He had shot my pet pigeon and done a few more horrible things to Nancy and me.

         We had a few bullies in class: Billy Mays, Charlie, and Billy Edmonton. They were the bane of the teacher's workday. In seventh grade we had an English teacher, Mrs. Vargas, who lasted a very short time because of Billy and Charlie. One morning she was calling names for attendance when theirs were called, they stood up and dropped their pants. She quit right after that, and they were expelled. During her short time, she did make Doreen a pretty mohair sweater; this was one thing I got to put on for a school day by racing to the closet ahead of her.

         One thing we hated were the photos from the yearbook in high school. I made it to maybe one out of three. Being short, I was always up front. The other thing we hated were those gym suits we had to wear, mostly if we went outside for baseball or running. It felt like all eyes were on you from the classrooms.


We are serializing here Kathleen Blake Shields's recently published book, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood. Published by Outskirts Press and available from OP and from online booksellers like and, this memoir is exceptional in that it presents an upbeat story of a working-class family successfully bringing up three girls in the 1950s and 1960s in a tiny town in central New York State.

I am proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book. My web site is

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