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I Remember (Part 1)

November 11, 2012

“I remember …” is a fairly standard creative writing exercise (usually credited to Natalie Goldberg from her seminal book, Writing Down the Bones).  The idea is to “Begin with ‘I remember’. Write lots of small memories. If you fall into one large memory, write that. Just keep going.”  I actually attended a short course on memoir writing several years ago where the instructor used this exercise as a starting point for one of the lessons (I have the piece I wrote squirreled away somewhere; I focused on the summers our family had spent at a rental cottage on Lake Ontario when I was very young as they were [and still are] some of my strongest and best memories).

Bag Full of MemoriesThe “I remember…” exercise came to mind this past week when I unearthed a small paper bag (stuffed into a box with almost twenty years of unsorted photos that I’ve been meaning to organize) that contained various mementos of my school days: report cards, attendance records, badges and ribbons, and school photos ranging from Kindergarten through Grade 12.  They brought back a flood of memories – and since I’d already begun reminiscing, I thought it might be kind of fun to share some of the things ‘I remember …’ on my blog.

NOTE: Since this is bound to be a rather lengthy treatise, I’m going to break it up into multiple parts: naturally, I’ll start today with my very first year at school (Kindergarten); next week I’ll reminisce about Grades 1 through 4 (‘Junior’ Primary School); the following week I’ll encapsulate Grades 5 through 8 (‘Senior’ Primary School); I’ll spend another week (or two) on High School (Grades 9 through 12). 

I remember …

Brantwood Public SchoolI began attending (half day) Kindergarten in September of 1958.  As much as I was excited about going off to school, I really wanted to stay home with my mother and my new baby brother (who’d arrived in July of that year – a surprise for Mom, who’d turned 40 that February and hadn’t planned on adding to the family just as her youngest was about to start school).  Still, I had no choice, so each afternoon I would accompany my sister (who was 2½ years older than me and who came home each day for lunch) to Brantwood Public School (coincidentally, the same public school that my father had gone to [it was built in 1920]; my brothers and sisters all went there as well. Unfortunately, the local Board of Education deemed it ‘redundant’ in 2010 and it was mothballed after 90 years of service to the neighbourhood).

I remember that we had to take in a blanket (to lie on during daily ‘quiet times’), a pair of slippers (outdoor shoes were not allowed), and three cotton hankies (teachers didn’t distribute ‘tissues’ to children with runny noses).  I remember keeping my personal items in a wooden ‘cubby’ in the closet that ran across the back of the room (the cubbies were one square foot ‘boxes’ stacked three high and probably 10 across). The closet also had hooks (each one labeled with our name below it) for hanging up our coats, and there was space underneath for rubber or winter boots.

Valentines Day 1959

My sister and I heading to school on Valentine’s Day, 1959 (both dresses were red; my mother added the hearts for additional adornment).

The school was four blocks north of our house; it fronted onto Allan Street (we lived at the corner of Colborne Street [King’s Highway #2, later renamed Lakeshore Road East] and Allan). We were ‘supposed to’ stay on the south side of ‘the highway’ for one block (east to Douglas Avenue), and cross with the crossing guard (Mr. Arbor), and then walk up Douglas to the school playground (only teachers and parents [on parents’ night] entered through the school’s front doors on Allan Street).

Finch Noyes HouseI remember that, occasionally, on the way home, we’d cross Douglas a block or so up and walk through the overgrown property that surrounded the abandoned Finch Noyes house (an entire square block in size, it was directly across from our house) to try and catch grasshoppers or look for rabbits and squirrels (the Finch Noyes house was torn down in the early 1960s and a series of apartment buildings was eventually built on the property). I remember Mr. Arbor coming to the house to ‘tell on us’ each time we didn’t cross with him (he wasn’t ‘just’ a crossing guard – he knew every child by name and if someone ‘missed’ a crossing, he’d go to their house personally to see if they were sick, or ‘playing hookey’; you didn’t get away with a lot back then).

1950s Kindergarten Classroom

This is very much how I remember the classroom.

I remember the Kindergarten room fairly well (I had dreams about it for many, many years – right into my twenties, actually; in a rather disturbing recurring one, there was a trap door in the floor that would open and ‘swallow up’ children who misbehaved.  I have no idea what this dream was really about, but clearly I had some deep seated issues with that classroom that I don’t consciously recall). The room was located on the main floor of the two-storey school and there were gold letters over the door (bronze? gold paint?) that said ‘Room One’. The room itself was fairly large, with two pocket doors on one side and several windows (looking out onto Allan Street and Wallace Park across the road) on the other. There were mats on the floor in the centre of the room, low tables with miniature wooden chairs positioned around the periphery, blackboards and at least one corkboard on the two side walls, a closet that held supplies (powered paints, gallons of glue, dozens of paintbrushes with long wooden handles and white bristles, stacks and stacks of paper, boxes containing big fat crayons in a dozen colours), and a counter with a sink in it (for washing paint jars and brushes) in the back corner.

I remember spending a lot of time finger painting and cutting and pasting pictures from sheets of ‘construction’ paper (which came in multi-coloured pads of perhaps 100 sheets each) using plastic ‘safety’ scissors, wooden glue sticks, and a thick white paste (that was a non-toxic concoction that some of the boys liked to eat – for reasons that totally escape me).

1950s Children's BookI remember a long, low bookshelf full of picture books.  Our teacher, Miss McDonald, would select one to read to us right before ‘quiet time’. After ‘story time’, we’d retrieve our blankets from our cubbies and spread them out on the mats for a twenty or thirty minute ‘lie down’ (this was, I think, at about the same time that the older children went outside for recess).  I remember some of my classmates would fall asleep and Miss McDonald would have to wake them up.  I remember being given snacks – Arrowroot cookies and milk (in little plastic glasses) – after we’d put our blankets away (I still love Arrowroot cookies; my maternal grandmother always kept a box in her cupboard to share with us as well!)

Upright PianoI remember a big brown upright piano sitting in the corner of the room.  Miss McDonald would play it while leading us in a sing-along (I don’t remember what songs we sang, although I know all the words to ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’ , ‘I’m a Little Teapot’, and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, so it may be this is where I learned them). I loved to sing, although apparently I wasn’t very good at it (beside ‘Joins in group singing’ on my report card, Miss McDonald wrote, “Her tone is somewhat low”.  I still can’t sing worth a darn – which is why I only do it in the car when I’m alone!)

My Kindergarten report card shows check marks (with an occasional comment added) for ‘Satisfactory growth for a child of his ability’ in all areas:

  • Enjoys group play
  • Shares, waits his turn
  • Obeys promptly, willingly
  • Self control (“Quite good”)
  • Accepts responsibility (“Very quietly”)
  • Sits, stands and walks correctly
  • Ability to dress
  • Relaxes easily
  • Is tidy, clean
  • Speaks plainly
  • Expresses his thoughts in sentences (“Very well”)
  • Response to stories, pictures
  • Joins in group singing (“Her tone is somewhat low”)
  • Sense of rhythm
  • Neatness
  • Colouring, painting, pasting and cutting (“Does excellent work”)
  • Work is completed (“Does good work”)
  • Follows directions.

In the ‘Teacher’s Remarks’ section, Miss McDonald wrote the following: “I am very pleased with Margo’s work. She works quietly and with little direction. She is an attentive little listener.” (November); “Margo continues to do good work. Classroom behaviour is satisfactory.” (February); “Margo has made satisfactory progress. I’ve been very pleased with her handiwork.” (June).  In June I was promoted to Grade 1, along with 51 other students (our names were listed in the local paper).

The first house I bought (back in 1972) was three blocks north of Brantwood School, on Douglas Avenue.  I often think that if I’d stayed there (instead of moving to a much larger house in the next town over in 1979), my own children would have attended the same school as I (and their grandfather and aunts and uncles) had, and they would have spent their first year in Room One with a teacher probably not far different from Miss McDonald.  Instead, they went to a different school and had different Kindergarten teachers (Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Maynard).  I wonder what they’ll remember about their first year at school when they reach … the other side of 55.

Kindergarten Report Card

My Story Continues: I Remember (Part 2)


  1. December 4, 2012 8:26 am

    This is wonderfully written, Margo. Your description of the classroom — especially those big fat crayons and the other art supplies — is perfect. Our kindergarten was very similar, right down to the upright piano. The use of the word his on that report card is interesting, too — you’d never see that now.

    Looking forward to the other posts in this series.

    • December 4, 2012 9:08 am

      Thanks. I’ve covered ‘the early years’ to date and hope to have my high school recollections finished this week. Its amazing what the mind recalls when pressed into service.

  2. November 14, 2012 9:18 pm

    I remember a lot about my school days, even though it was about a hundred years ago, give or I was obsessed with playing with the Elmer’s glue. I had puddles of it everywhere.
    Oh, and I nominated you for a Liebster Award, if you’re interested 🙂

    • November 15, 2012 8:00 am

      I remember spreading Elmer’s glue on my fingertips – very thinly – and then peeling it off as if it was skin. Gotta wonder why! Thanks for the Liebster nomination – I’ll have to ruminate on your questions!


      • November 20, 2012 1:08 pm

        You know what? Putting glue on a finger gets out splinters. I just did that a couple of days ago when I had one lodged in my finger that wouldn’t come out till I used the glue. Duct tape works too, if you haven’t got glue. A bit of a laugh but it works.

  3. November 13, 2012 10:06 pm

    Love your post…isn’t it fun to remember how different life was when we went to school? I attended a one-room school from grades 1 – 6 and remember so much of my life back then…learning French via CBC radio–oeuvre la porte…ferme la porte…playing Red Rover at recess….taking my cod liver oil pill….lining up to go into the building–the girls in one line the boys in another…

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • November 14, 2012 9:09 am

      I’ve already included some of the things you mention in my next (planned) post! Things were certainly different back in ‘the dark ages’, weren’t they? I’m not sure the kids really have it better today (do they really NEED tablet computers and electronic blackboards in primary school?!?!?!?) Glad you enjoyed the post – hope you like the follow up ones as well!


  4. November 12, 2012 2:27 pm

    I can remember plastic scissors and that’s about all. Useless things they were.

    • November 12, 2012 6:41 pm

      I suppose the idea was that a child couldn’t cut themselves, but you are right – they were pretty useless!


  5. The Smile Scavenger permalink
    November 12, 2012 1:42 pm

    Wow! Your memory is so full. I can hardly recall my first teacher’s name sometimes…

    Great post! 🙂

    • November 12, 2012 6:42 pm

      Thanks. Once I got thinking about things (after reading my report card and looking back at photos of the period), I was surprised how much I actually remembered. Names keep popping into my head (of kids I went to school with). Some things are a bit hazy but a lot has come back!


  6. November 12, 2012 4:28 am

    Reblogged this on filmcamera999.

  7. November 11, 2012 1:07 pm

    Love this post, and the pictures!

    • November 11, 2012 1:48 pm

      It was a lot of fun remembering … glad you enjoyed it.



  1. I Remember (Part 3) « The Other Side of 55

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