Sunday, April 29, 2012

Memories of Anderson Elementary

Everyone has memories of their school days. My fondest are of those spent at Anderson Elementary, a beautiful white wooden two-story with character. It is no more, unfortunately; demolished sometime during the late 1970s when it was deemed a fire hazard. I am not sure what year it was constructed, but my mother attended classes there in the 1930s.

The spot where it sat is now a baseball field, right in the middle of the tiny village of Anderson. When I pass by that site, the memories of days spent there come flooding back. I mentally travel up and down those halls, enter each classroom, climb the steps and walk into the old auditorium, walk down those dangerous “fire escape” steps, see the coal pile alongside it. I remember the teachers, my classmates,  the things I learned there. These memories are as vivid in my mind as if they happened only yesterday.

Anderson School was recognized all over the county as being one of the best. It included elementary and junior high, through the 9th grade. Teachers at the two high schools that received Anderson students for senior high  – Lauderdale County, or Rogersville, and Lexington – acknowledged that their Anderson students were always way ahead in what they had learned; star students.

Teachers back then were “old,” at least they seemed that way. Many were unmarried, having attended college and gone into the teaching profession to support themselves. Today, we have so many young teachers, a good thing for students, I think. But I am not complaining about my teachers; they were the best.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Elna Camp, or “Miss Camp,” was like our substitute mother. She babied those having departure pains from mothers, nursed our skinned knees when we fell during recess, was patient, loving and kind. Second grade gave us Miss Cleo Givens, a bit more stern than Miss Camp, but just what we children needed. She was a very good teacher.

Third grade brought us to Miss Velma Weathers, who was my mother’s cousin. I had thought she might cut me a break since I was kin, but that was not the case. I think I never got over the fact that she didn’t choose me for the Aunt Polly role in our class’s yearly play, “Tom Sawyer.” She was a unique lady, exposing us not only to our lessons, but to nature and the applied arts as well. She bought all 20 or so students a miniature plastic Recorder and taught us to play. She took us on walks through the nearby woods, teaching us the names of trees, identifying moss, insects and small animals – trying to instill in us a love and appreciation of nature. It worked, for me at least. She also was a conservationist long before it was fashionable, having us return from the lunchroom with our half-pint milk cartons, which she had us tear in a certain way and flatten. They would then be stacked in the “cloakroom” (why is that perfectly good word never used anymore?) for the janitor to use to start morning fires in the potbellied stove.

Yes, as improbable as it may seem today, our classrooms were heated by coal-burning pot-bellied stoves! Mr. Camp, husband of Mrs. Camp above, and later Mr. Fred Evans, arrived very early to start and feed the fires that would keep children warm during the cold season. Throughout the day, teachers sent male students to the pile with buckets for coal to replenish the fire during the day.

Mrs. Susie Hamilton, “Miss Susie,” taught us in fourth grade. It seems classes became “harder” this year and we had to work more. But there still was time for selecting books from the shelves at the back of the room and reading them for “extra credit.” Miss Susie was noted for being a “tough” teacher and I believe we all were a bit afraid of her. However, I was “teacher’s pet,” or at least that’s what my classmates accused me of! I think I was just fearful her wrath would be directed at me so I always tried to excel to please her.

The fifth and sixth grade classrooms were on the second story of the building. For some reason, passing to the fifth was an exciting moment for students. As underclassmen, we were forbidden from every climbing those stairs! And now it would become our daily home!

The Musical Miss Ruby Daley taught fifth grade. I remember lots about this year. It was the first time our entire elementary school presented a spring operetta and Miss Ruby organized it. She loved to sing and led us in daily singing lessons. Some of the regular songs I remember are,”Froggie Went A-Courtin',” “Home on the Range,” My Name is Yon Yohnson I Come From Wisconsin,” “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,” all the patriotic song and others too numerous to mention.

But about the operetta. It was called Wedding of the Flowers and fifth graders played the part of the roses. Miss Ruby brought all the mothers of the girl students in for a demonstration on how to make our costumes from pink and green crepe paper. Oh, how well I remember that little number; kept it for years.

During practice sessions, Miss Ruby would illustrate the dance steps we were to perform as we came onto the stage and I can to this day see her twirling around --  in her dark printed shirtwaist dress, thick stockings and old-fashioned black laced up high-heeled shoes (the same kind that are, well, now back in style again!). Certain other classes were the violets, tulips and daffodils. I still have the operetta booklet that belonged to my sister, as she was the pianist.
I could not find my copy, but a Google search produced this image on eBay. The wonders of the Internet!
Sixth grade was exciting because we got a new teacher – and a young one. All the previous ladies were “old,” or at least to us they were. They were no more than in their 40s and 50s, but the way they dressed and their demeanor was a throw-back to the old days. Now we were getting a teacher (maybe early thirties) and she dressed in a more modern way. Mrs. Vida Mae Owens, a very sweet lady, dealt with us in an extremely kind way, preparing us for junior high, when we would move over to the adjacent brick one-story building. I just remember being inspired and in awe of her and I also remember the beginning of my life-long addition to reading. She encouraged us to check out books from the Bookmobile, which traveled from the large county library to outlying areas. The Bookmobile was a tremendous asset for rural children who otherwise would not be able to travel the 25 or so miles to the county library in Florence. I did a search and found it was established in 1948 and ceased operations in 1972.

The Jr. High School Auditorium, which also was used by the Elementary School.

Well, there it is; just a few of my memories of growing up at Anderson Elementary School. Occasionally I speak with former classmates of our experiences there and we all agree it was a wonderful school and we were so privileged to have had that experience.

What are some of your memories of school days? Are they pleasant? Are you still in touch with classmates from elementary school?


  1. Loved the memories of Anderson School!! Anytime I drive thru Anderson, I just automatically glance over to the empty lot where our old school building once stood,and a flood of good memories come rushing back. We were so innocent and so protected by wonderful teachers. Thanks, Sanda, for your vivid recollections!

    1. I seem to have a very good recall of school days. I was such an impressionable child!

  2. What lovely memories!
    My jeweler was my classmate from the early school years.
    I attended a school run by Roman Catholic nuns, and they were all very strict. No funny memories, except that on one windy day the wind caught her veil, and for the very first time we saw her bare head..

    1. I can imagine the laughter from the children when the nun's veil blew off! I know Catholic school must have been very different from public schools.

  3. I also have fond memories of Anderson School. I only wish I had been more like my sister and interested in books and being a good student. My grades were "high" average I guess but never as good as hers. I was more interested in recess, playing jack rocks and putting puzzles together. One of my fond memories is when the weather turned warm and we could pull off our shoes and go "bare foot" on the soft grass. I remember the shrubs around the old building and how they smelled.

    1. Oh, those were mostly happy, carefree days of childhood. You would remember the shrubs and the way they smelled. Such a gardener always!


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