Remember when: back to school

Shari Lord and Sharon McClanahan (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – With kids across the county heading back to school Wednesday, many adults recall their first days of school and the many emotions associated with it. The Tribune stopped by The Festhalle Tuesday to talk to seniors who reminisced about their school days.

While much has changed, there are some things that remain the same.

Sharon McClanahan was born in Cullman but moved to Cincinnati when she was just 4 years old.

She said of her first days, “Nobody could understand me because I was a little Southern girl. Nobody knew what I was saying because of my Southern accent.”

McClanahan’s first day was confusing to her.

She laughed, “My mom left me at kindergarten and I just cried and cried and cried. I screamed and cried. I just couldn’t believe she would leave me.”

An only child, McClanahan admitted she didn’t know how to share and described herself as a bit of a loner as a young girl.

“I would get on this horse thing they had and just rock on that all day waiting for my mom to come back to get me,” she said.

She eventually made friends and ended up loving school. She graduated high school in Cincinnati in 1964.

McClanahan’s friend Shari Lord also laughed as she remembered her days as a young girl.

“I started school in Pensacola, Florida where my grandparents lived,” said McClanahan. “In those days, the little girls wore dresses, so I remember getting a new dress and my school supplies which were really cool. We had to have these pencils that were big and thick. I remember thinking that I can I could hardly hold this with my fingers.”

Lord’s first days were spent learning the alphabet and how to write her name.

“My name is Shari and I remember trying to make the S but doing it backwards,” she said. “I think the teacher worked with me all year trying to make sure I got it right.”

Lord’s father was in the military and one of her memories is the difficulties associated with moving often.

“I always hated the fact that you might have to leave the school. In some situations, we were on a military base and all the kids were in the same situation so you could connect in that way.”

Lord graduated from high school in Pensacola in 1968.

Both McClanahan and Lord loved story time and looked forward to their teachers gathering them around to read a new book. Neither could remember the name of their first teachers, but McClanahan clearly remembers her first boyfriend, Teddy.

Rosalee White and Camille Love both went to school in Cullman County. White attended Logan School and graduated from West Point High School in 1968. Love attended St. Paul’s and graduated from Cullman High School in 1979.

White said, “I don’t remember my first days of school. I went to school with my brother for two years off and on before I started to school. They wouldn’t stop me. Momma would just get me ready and I would just go to school with him.”

White loved Logan School but wasn’t a fan of West Point because it was so much larger. She was used to Logan School and she loved her teachers.

“I had Ms. Ethel Leak. She was there for a long time,” she said. “I had Ms. Freddie Wells and Mary Lou Hudson (Rusk). She taught out at Logan for a long time. Mary Ellen Freeman Jones taught me English for two years.”

The transition to West Point was difficult for White.

She said, “When we got there everybody was running around everywhere. The school is nowhere like it was. You had to go up on the hill to a class, or down yonder for a class, or another in the main building. It was just running and trying to find it. When you are new, you gotta find it!”

Love had a difficult transition, too. Having attended St. Paul’s through the fifth grade, her sixth-grade year at East Elementary was overwhelming. There were nine kids in her class at St. Paul’s and she remembers her first day vividly.

“I remember the dress I wore and everything,” Love said. “I was in kindergarten for the first time and Ms. Kidd, she was so sweet, and I loved her so much. It was so great. Those were just wonderful days because St. Paul’s was so small and they really cared about the kids and we could feel the love.”

Love’s days at St. Paul’s weren’t always perfect; she suddenly remembered, “Ms. Fox, my second-grade teacher, was mean as hell. She had the short hair with the perm and she wore cat eye glasses. She had no patience. Back then, little boys had crew cut haircuts. If the boys would act up, she would grab the top of their hair and slam their head on the desk. One boy, his hair was so buzzcut. John Denson was his name and he acted up and she just grabbed him by his ears and slammed his head on his desk. Man, I was petrified of Ms. Fox. I was like, ‘Whoa man, she is serious!’”

Ron Thompson graduated from Fairview High School in 1964, and although he rode the bus to school, he is pretty sure his mom took him to school on his first day.

“I liked school. I loved the sports element. Had it not been for the sports, I might not have enjoyed it as much,” he said. “I remember all my teachers and can name every one of them from first grade on.”

Thompson was a star basketball player at Fairview.

“Back in that day we didn’t give our teachers a hard time. There was always a clown or two…always did and always will, but we respected our teachers and if we got out of line, they only had to tell us once.”

He added, “I looked forward to the first day of school. Our summers were pretty much filled with work, so it was a pleasant change. We got up at the same time seven days a week no matter what. We didn’t know what sleeping in was.”

Thompson said the exciting part of school was getting new school clothes and new books.

“For a short time, we had to buy our books. We came to town for our school clothes. Nothing real fancy, but nice and clean. I never wore a pair of pants of shirt that wasn’t ironed and clean. From time to time you will see a fellow, usually older, with a pair of jeans on with that nice crease. Back in the day we wore Wrangler’s.”

While chalkboards have given way to white boards and tablets and Chromebooks have taken the place of hand-written papers, the anxieties and excitement of facing the new school year is timeless. Kids today and kids of yesterday share the same concerns. Hopefully, today’s kids will look back at their school days with the same laughter and fondness as the older generations do.

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Rosalee White and Camille Love (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

Ron Thompson and daughter-in-law Danielle Thompson (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

Christy Perry