Long Ago Nightmares of a Child
January 18, 2015
AT FIVE YEARS AND NINE MONTHS, I started first grade at Elyton School in Birmingham, Alabama. I walked half of a mile with other children, without adult supervision, across busy Third Avenue West and over Village Creek bridge. We stopped at Mr. White’s store to receive empty cigar boxes to safely keep our pencils and crayons. After arriving, we sat on the front steps and identified cars until a bell rang, and the doors were unlocked allowing students to enter.
I carried a peanut butter sandwich in a brown paper bag. My mother tied enough change in a handkerchief for a half pint carton of milk , two oatmeal cookies and a cup of ice cream. The handkerchief was pinned to my dress. The big thing during lunch was to turn the ice cream cup upside down, push the bottom so the ice cream would fall out onto a cookie, and place the other cookie on top. Instant ice cream sandwich.
Three salient memories frightened me during that year.
My sweet , but firm teacher, Miss Kelso, placed me in a corner in the hall just across from the principal’s office. I cringed as Mr. Wilder saw me every time that I stood in that corner!
I was taken into his office for a nice long lecture and given a note to take home to my parents who were instrumental in re- enforcing the punishment of another lecture.
What had I done? For those of you who know me, you won’t be surprised to know that I was talking too much.
Mounted to the outside of the upper floor of the building was a metal , elongated tubular incline which provided a method of evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency that made the stairwells inaccessible.
I have a vivid memory of dropping into that dark tunnel with my feet pushing the back of a child in front of me and the feet of someone behind me touching my back. During that terrifying drop , I imagined that I had been funneled into the mouth of a giant snake never to be seen again. The long stretch of slide to the ground in the outside world was like todays water park tubes without the water and the thrill of excitement.
Miss Kelso taught my class the history of World War Two. December 7, 1941, Japanese pilots flew over Hawaii in a sneak attack and bombed Pearl Harbor. They sided with Germany and Italy, and the United States had to fight all three. Hitler’s twelve years of barbarity finally ended after thirty-million people had lost their lives on battlefields, mass shooting, forced labor camps, and gas ovens.
During the time of my first year in school , World War Two was at an end, but air raids were still practiced weekly. We had to be prepared In case German planes dropped bombs on our city.
We students scattered under desks on our knees with hands clutched around our heads and necks. I didn’t dare to open my eyes. The loud wailing sound of the air raid sirens were terrifying. It seems that we were in constant fear of threat. I had nightmares of armed soldiers breaking into our house and taking me away.
Reflecting on this memory of a very crucial time in the history of the world , I realize how isolated I was from the horrors of the war and how secure I was in that most perilous of times. I thank God for all those patriotic Americans who did their duty so that I could grow up in the United States.