My how things have changed. And, I think many of the changes have not been for the better.
When I was just a lad — grade school age — the hub of information in my hometown of Geneva, Alabama closed every day about 5 p.m. I'm talking about the hours of operation for the local public library.
In Geneva, the keeper of that knowledge was Rebekah Kenan. She followed in her mother's footsteps, serving as librarian for the town for 32 years. My mother was a huge fan of "Miss Rebekah" as virtually all of the townspeople called her. My mom had virtually perfect handwriting and Miss Rebekah called on her when she needed to have something written out formally in my mother's beautiful cursive handwriting. I have a copy of the history she penned of famous 200-plus year old oak tree in town. It's priceless.
I was also a huge fan of the public library ... especially in the summer. Not that I was a bookworm, but because the library was one of the first buildings in town that was air conditioned. There was nothing better than cooling off in that stately brick building after a hot day of bike riding through town. We'd grab the first magazine we saw and pretended to be soaking in the contents when we were really enjoying the cool air.
Today, there are hundreds of millions of users online ... and some of them are barely out of diapers! These are the users of the World Wide Web. I can't imagine a world without the Web ... parts of it, at least. I remember the late 70s when WSFA-TV subscribed to LexisNexis, one of the early searchable databases that was accessible to several folks in the newsroom. But it was really expensive to use and we were constantly over-budget when it came to that service. But it was great to be able to have access to publications that were really helpful to reporters in researching stories. It sure beat looking up events in the newsroom's 1960 set of World Book Encyclopedia.
Back to growing up in Geneva and how the Internet is playing such a role in the telling of tales from my childhood. On Facebook, I noticed that whenever a fellow Genevian's post features the old elementary school, you get a great response. By "old elementary school," I'm referring to the elementary school where I attended in the mid-50s, not the current Mulkey Elementary. The "old," two-story school was built around the turn of the 20th century with a brick facade and really high ceilings in the classrooms.
As recently as last week, someone posted a picture of the "old" school building with its unique fire escapes. I haven't seen any like them since except the one at Geneva's First Methodist Church. They were made out of metal drums welded together to form a tube connecting the second floor and the ground below. At the elementary school, there would be fire drills from time to time to see how long it took for all the classes on the upper floor to get out safely. And I have fond memories of the end of the school week on Friday afternoons when my class regularly had the option of sliding down the fire escape rather than walking down the stairs. I guess you'd say it was one of the perks of being an upperclassman.
There was talk about the lunchroom, which was located in the basement of the old elementary school. Those women who worked there did a fabulous job turning simple ingredients into great tasting meals.
There was a story about the school basement during the great flood of 1929. It seems as though a "record breaking catfish" was found flopping around when water was being pumped out of the basement at the school. I'm not sure if that story was legit or whether it was just an old wives' tale. One never knows.
Responses to the Facebook post about the school included memories of the merry-go-round on the playground. This was not your typical fairground or midway ride for kids. It was made (as best as I remember) out of angle iron and wood. There were two push-pull drives that powered the device in a circular motion. The harder you pushed with your feet and pulled with your hands and arms, the faster the merry-go-round would turn. (go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-OBRQRVkZo to see one in action). I'm sure there were a fair number of sprains or broken bones on the most popular ride on the playground. Fortunately, I never fell victim to an out-of-control merry-go-round!
Finally, who could forget the school's auditorium and its long list of visitors. We sang there, and enjoyed plays and presentations. It was also a regular stop for "The Bible Man" who shared stories from the bible and awarded prizes to students who memorized the most bible verses and recited them to their teachers and fellow classmates.
No one could forget the visitor that everyone feared the most — the Geneva County Health Department nurse. She showed up on a regular basis to give us shots vaccinating us against a variety of childhood maladies. I think everyone in the school had heard the story of how the nurse broke a needle off when giving a boy a shot in his arm. Most everyone knew that story was not true, but it made a great story for the kids to tell whenever the nurse show up at school!
I hope this helped you recall some of the good times in your "old school" building when you were just a kid, too.
Until next time, stay well and safe in these uncertain times.