Country School Memories

Memories of Attending a Country School – by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain

I attended a two-room school for three years. That sounds quaint and old-fashioned, but Kansas in the 1950s and early 1960s hadn’t yet consolidated the rural schools. West Branch School, east of El Dorado, Kansas was a square brick building with a spacious basement and on the main floor, the two classrooms.

 

west branch school from real estate listing.png

West Branch School – rural Butler County, Kansas

 

Mrs. West taught the first four grades, where my younger sisters, Cindy and Karen attended. I was in the upper grades, taught by Mrs. Mildred Waltman. While I was in 6th grade, my sister Susan was in the 7th grade, and my brother, Owen was in 8th grade, all in the same room. Mrs. Waltman taught all three grades plus the 5th graders.

Those four grades shared one good-sized room. The blackboard covered one wall with some large maps on a roller above it. Classes took turns being instructed at the sturdy table placed in front of the blackboard. The teacher divided her time four ways, switching from math to English to geography and from one grade level to another.

When it wasn’t our grade’s turn at the front of the room, we worked at our desks on assigned work. If we finished our assignment, we could always listen in on the class being taught at the table or we could choose a book to read. The bookshelves ran all across the longest wall under the windows. Being an avid reader, I’d hasten to finish my class work so I’d have time to read.

At the end of the school year reading awards were given. Gold embossed seals, each representing five books read, almost completely covered the inside of my reading certificate in its royal blue fake-velvet cover.

pencil-pixabay

It’s hard to imagine the workload for a teacher handling four grades at once, but Mrs. Waltman rose to the challenge. Each grade consisted of only two to four students, so essentially she customized the curriculum and we received individualized attention.

When West Branch students graduated from 8th grade, they took the bus into El Dorado Junior High to merge in with 400 students for 9th grade. The students from the country schools took placement tests and were assigned to math and English classes based on the results. I noticed that most of us ended up in the honors level classes.

The social adjustment of going from a small school to one so large was tough. Most of the town kids had attended grade schools together and had a two-year head start on Junior High when we arrived. The cliques and friendships formed over the years were not receptive to country kids. We felt like outsiders and I never overcame that feeling all through high school.

We missed the camaraderie of our cozy classroom and the freedom of the playground. In our country school, we knew everyone and they knew us. At recess, all ages from first grade through eighth grade played softball together or jumped rope or played running games. The school ground included a vintage merry-go-round that spun at dizzying speeds when the older boys pulled it round and round. You could sit on the splintery seat and grip the handrail or if you felt daring, you could stand on the seat and hold the upright pole. Sometimes centrifugal force took hold and your feet left the seat while you clung to the pole flying through the air.

When the weather was too bad, we could play in the basement of the school. I remember the 8th graders bringing a record player and we tried to learn the latest dances. This was just a few years before the Beatles took rock music by storm.

We rode the school bus to West Branch and brought our lunches in square metal lunch boxes. At our house fixing five lunches required an assembly line in the morning as we made sandwiches and packaged up homemade cookies. The school provided the square cartons of milk to go with our lunches. I think we had to bring “milk money” to pay for it, but I don’t remember how much it was.

Thank you, Mrs. Waltman, for making my years at a country school, ones that I remember so fondly.

(this has also been posted on the Our Echo website where people can share family stories)

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Mom Called Me Ginger

Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain

 All Things Ginger

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, wanted to name me after Ginger Rogers but finally went with a more conservative name, Virginia. They had a family friend named Virginia.

Then they called me Ginger all my life anyway. It’s a fun nickname to have, but I found out it means different things to different people. When I lived in Australia, I found that Ginger was usually a nickname for a red-headed man.

When I first meet people now when they hear the name “Ginger,” they often say “I used to have a cat named Ginger.” Sometimes it’s a dog, or a horse, but it seems to be a common pet name.

Here are all the things that Ginger brings to mind. When I asked my friends, 42% said it makes them think of someone with red hair. 38% said it made them think of Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire. In the younger crowd, 19% associated it with Ginger on Gilligan’s Island television series.

Reasons to love being a GINGER

Ginger sounds perky and youthful and spicy. One lady couldn’t remember my name on our second meeting. “It’s something spicy, isn’t it? Like nutmeg.” Close, but not quite.

When I was a library director, I used my given name, Virginia, as “Ginger” just sounded more like a fan dancer than a librarian. As a writer, I use my official name also, but my friends still call me Ginger.

Ginger Is a Flower

ginger flower

Photo by Ginger Allain

Ginger Is a Popular Pet Name

Ginger is a color description for cats, meaning one with reddish-gold fur. The name is also popular as a pet name to mean energetic and peppy. On a list of popular dog names in the U.S., Ginger ranked #24. For cats, the name Ginger ranked #28 on the Australian list. People name their horses Ginger too.

There’s a Ginger Beer

It’s not alcoholic, it is more an offbeat soft drink like root beer is. Anyway, we discovered it last summer when a friend showed us how to make a Moscow Mule. It requires ginger beer, lime juice, and vodka.

You drink it in special copper cups with lots of ice.

Moscow Mule Copper Mug Low Poly Geometric Art
Moscow Mule Copper Mug Art

Even More Ginger Things

ginger tea

ginger ale

gingerbread men

gingerbread architectural details on Victorian houses

candied ginger root

ginger, the cooking spice

 

The Middle Martin Kid

Last year, our cousin in California rummaged out some vintage family photos, scanned them, and shared them with our cousin group on Facebook. What a treat it was to see some that were totally new to me.

martin kids from Lori

In trying to set a date for this photos, I started with the youngest in the photo. That’s Karen, born in mid-1952 so this might be Christmas of that year.  Clyde is holding Cindy, who’s next to the youngest.

I’m the middle kid (Ginger) and sitting in the middle of the sofa, next to mom (Gail). Older sister Susan sits between me and Dad. Owen is the oldest and brought his BB gun for the photo. I wonder if that was his Christmas present that year.

#NationalMiddleChildDay just happens to be today, August 12. The purpose of the day is to honor children born between the oldest and youngest siblings. At the time of this photo, Karen is the youngest but a few years later, Shannon came along. That relegated Karen to middle child status too.

I’m having fun noticing details like the shoes and clothing. What is the design on Susan’s sweater? Mom is wearing nice-looking high heels.

Owen, Mom, and Dad seem to be looking at the photographer. Karen, Cindy, and I are looking off in another direction. Maybe Aunt Marge is over there making faces to get us to smile. Susan has her eyes on the baby.

 

The 1950s Cowgirl

ginger childhood rocking horse cowgirl

Ginger Martin in full cowgirl regalia on a rocking horse made by her dad. Clyde Martin made the small chair in the background too.

We Always Wanted to be Cowboys

This photo of me reminds me of all the fun we had playing cowboys and Indians when we were kids. Primed by all those Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies, we played for hours riding our imaginary horses.

For the little ones, there were rocking horses, but for outside, we had stick horses with a sock head. If there was no stick horse, it was sufficient to hold one hand in front as though holding imaginary reins. Then we galloped about the yard urging our sure-footed horse faster and faster to escape the Indians or to capture the bad guys.

Back in the fifties, most kids had some cowboy attire to wear. Here’s my brother in his vest and chaps. Quite the little cowpoke, isn’t he. Years later when he returned from the Vietnam War, we saw the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The grown up Owen looked a lot like Robert Redford in that movie.

1950s little cowboy

Owen Martin with cowboy chaps, gloves, and vest

I also had a cowboy hat. Add to that my holster and toy six-gun, I was the image of Annie Oakley or Dale Evans, at least in my mind. Of course, those heroines of western movies would have worn boots instead of white sandals with anklets.

Owen_and_Ginger_Guess_who_s_being_smart_now._I_ll_bet_these_big

Gail Martin wrote on the back of the photo: “Guess who’s being smart now. I’ll bet these big bad cowboys won’t climb any board fences. I think they’re dancing now.” She’s referring to the fall my brother had from a saddle on a fence which resulted in his broken arm.

You might think we are standing on an old-style television, but it must be a bedside table. We didn’t have a television until I was 13-years-old.

cowboy broken arm

Owen in his bathrobe and sock feet sneaks up on an outlaw. I wonder if the hats and guns were Christmas presents and maybe Mom (Gail) got a Brownie camera too.

Here’s one more photo.

cowboy hat

Little sister, Cindy, clasps a new looking teddy bear. She’s in her footed pajamas and wearing a cowboy hat. Looks like everyone got a hat. 

 

Remember Catching Fireflies?

Childhood memories from Gail’s daughter, Virginia. 

All you need is a jar

Running around the yard at dusk trying to catch fireflies was such fun. My parents relaxed in lawn chairs, while we used up our excess energy. The grass felt cool under our bare feet.

Putting the fireflies in an old peanut-butter jar let us admire our captures and provided a small lantern as the fireflies lighted up. Dad had punched some holes in the lid so the fireflies could breathe.

The lights blinked on and off, keeping us enchanted by their activity. At the end of the evening, we released our captives and headed inside to bed.

Remember Catching Fireflies? Tell us about your childhood memories of summer evenings.

The 1950s Toni Doll

If you’re old enough, you might remember the Toni doll made by Ideal in the 1950s. The one shown here is my sister’s Toni doll. She named her Belinda.

 The Toni doll promoted Toni hair products and the doll had hair that could be styled. Some were ruined when their young owners gave the doll a haircut. Belinda never suffered that indignity and still has her original hair.

Over the years, she did lose part of her eyelashes from one eye and most of the pink in her cheeks was scrubbed away over the years. Somehow she broke the tip off of one finger. Perhaps we dropped her on the sidewalk in a moment of carelessness.

My mother made some old-fashioned dresses for Belinda that have sort of a literary flair. The green dress above makes me think of Jane Austen’s Regency fashions. There’s a blue plaid one that makes me think of Dr. Zhivago and another that reminds me of Gone with the Wind.

Photos from our family album

Did you have a Toni doll? What doll was your favorite?

Memories of Barefooted Summers

Written by Gail Martin’s daughter, Virginia.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. Summers were carefree times of playing in the creek and rambling in the woods and fields. Our feet were bare.

When I look at the old black and white photos, they bring back so many memories. Seeing my age 5 smiling face flirting with the camera takes me back to those happy times.

Madison KS teacher

Ginger and Cindy Martin with the second-grade teacher, Miss Shimp. Madison, KS.

Ginger and Cindy Martin with teacher Miss Shimp

In the photo above, the lady is our older sister’s second-grade teacher from Madison. I’m the curly-headed child on the left. My little sister, Cindy, got to cuddle with the teacher, Miss Shimp, and I was dreadfully jealous. I’m not sure why Susan isn’t there for the photo with her teacher.

Sometimes being barefooted wasn’t fun. For instance, the honey bees loved the clover in our yard. When I stepped on one of those, my poor foot would swell up and throb fiercely. Mom would put baking soda on it and wrap it in a cool damp cloth but little else was done for it. I’d stretch out the situation, whimpering and hobbling around, to get the maximum attention from Mom that I could.

Memories of a 1950s childhood - Ginger Martin

Here I am, little Ginger, with a puppy and a red wagon.

Photo from our family album

The photo above is me at a younger age. Barefooted again and with an armful of puppy. I’m betting that’s a red wagon that I’m sitting on but I don’t remember that far back.

Were you allowed to play outside barefooted in the summer way back when?