June 27, 2022

70th anniversary memories

Ours was the very last class to graduate from the old senior high building, which was located on the same grounds as today’s Newton Public Library. The junior high building was just across the street to the east.

Most of our classmates started kindergarten during 1939, when our nation was still experiencing the whiplashes of the depression years. Preschool classes of today were unheard of. Rural and town students alike walked to school every day, no matter what the weather. Rural students, of course, carried their lunches, as well as many in town, because family funds were very tight in those days.

Standard school supplies in our early years consisted of a couple penny pencils, an 8 pack of Crayolas, and a $.05 Big Chief pad of writing paper. The family of “Dick and Jane,” their dog Spot and kitten Puff taught us our first reading skills. Lots of hours were spent at the blackboard honing our spelling and math skills. We learned well the basic three Rs of readin’ and ritin’ and rithmetic. The fourth R — recess — also brings back fond memories.

We used lots of black smudgy carbon paper, which we called tracing paper to copy and color a picture to proudly take home to our parents. This was decades before photocopy machines, and of course, fancy calculators, not to mention computers. We lived in the non electronic age.

As we progressed from printing to writing, the “Palmer Method” helped develop our penmanship skills. Along with this came those long skinny ink pens with scratchy tips which constantly had to be dipped into a bottle of ink. Spill it and you had a real mess.

Ballpoint pens didn’t come along until the mid 1940s. One of the first was the $12.95 Reynolds “Rocket,” which was advertised to write underwater. But they wouldn’t write very well on paper. Those who owned an early ball pen were the envy of their class.

Those character building days in elementary school seemed to fly by. Cherished memories remain when we go back and look at pictures of our classmates and teachers. Discipline was good, but each of us remember those times we got into one form of trouble or another. And how could we forget some of those school programs we had to perform for our parents at Christmas time?

Fun at home included lots of inside and outside games. Outdoors, it was marbles, hopscotch, hide and seek, jacks, blindman’s bluff, ante-over and may I. There was softball, football, skating, kick-the-can and of course, sledding, and fox-n-geese in the winter.

Indoors, it was monopoly, checkers, chess, Parcheesi, rummy royal, pick up sticks, dominos, puzzles, and lots of family card games. We rarely ever had to be entertained.

And then there was the radio. We all had our favorite programs from The Lone Ranger, Amos and Andy, Red Skelton, Jack Armstrong and Captain Midnight to Inner Sanctum.

You could twist the dial on those old time “tube” radios from WHO to KSO or KRNT in Des Moines. This was long before transistor radios and AM or FM stations. Blow a tube and dad would be taking it down to the repair shop.

Saturday night radio brought us the Iowa Barn Dance Frolics, broadcast live from the WHO studios with such famous stars as Slim Hays to Jerry and Zelda. Our whole family could sit around and enjoy “watching” the radio.

We might also remember some of mom’s daytime soap operas, such as Stella Dallas, Young Widder Brown, Portia Faces Life, Lorenzo Jones and his wife Belle, and the ever popular When A Girl Marries. Yes, indeed, the radio was a big part of our life.

Then came television. The first sets showed up in the late 40s, just as we were about to enter high school. Big wooden cabinets with vacuum tubes, small black and white screens, lots of snow. And programs for just a few hours per day. It would be years before trouble free transistorized sets and living color. But what a thrill to own a TV.

John McNeer