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Updated Friday, August 26, 2016 12:01 AM

School bell tolls remembrances of other days

By Donna Hunt
Herald Democrat

For the past week or so I have been watching precious little 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds’ pictures on social media showing their smiling faces as they start their first year in school. Most have been excited wearing their new “school clothes” including a backpack with some favorite character printed on it.

I have one granddaughter who started first grade, but is an old-timer because she started to school last year in kindergarten and already has learned a lot. She was ready for the first grade before time for school even began.

A couple of little boys, who are my daughter-in-law’s grandchildren, live in the Houston area. The oldest attended kindergarten at Lamar Elementary School in Denison last year and his little brother was only 3 years old and stayed at home. This summer they moved to Magnolia and everyone thought the youngest was ready for pre-K. He thought so too until the first day of school arrived.

He got up looking very sad that day while his brother was jumping around excited about his first year in “real” school. The youngest told his mother he decided he didn’t want to go to school. With a lot of talking, he was convinced to try it, but when the time came for her to take him into his room, he was crying that he wanted to go home. The teacher explained that he would be OK, and he stayed. That was the best advice a teacher could give because after he quit crying and got into the routine with other youngsters, he came home anxious to go back the second day.

Seeing all these little people’s pictures on Facebook has made me think back to 1941. I don’t remember my first grade teacher’s name, but it was her first year to teach. I do remember my second – Mrs. (or maybe it was Miss) McCoy and my third grade teacher was Mrs. Lois Neely. Both of these teachers had been at Central Ward School for a number of years and survived my second and third grade and taught there for a number more years.

There are only a few things that I remember about first grade. One was that I thought my teacher slapped my hand. I was a sensitive child and went home and told my mother that the teacher slapped my hand. Being a good mother, she went to school with me the next day to find out what happened.

As is the problem many times, I wasn’t communicating with the teacher yet. She explained that she was telling me something and touched my hand as she talked. There was no “beating,” correcting or punishing involved. She didn’t even remember touching my hand. She explained it to my mother and to me and as I remember we got along fine after that. The thing I remember most was eating meatloaf, creamed potatoes and pinto beans with the wonderful homemade yeast rolls that the cafeteria ladies cooked for lunch.

Central Ward had been “THE” school to go to in Denison for many years. My father, in fact, had attended school there before going on to Denison High School.

We only lived a little more than a block from school, in the 800 block West Gandy, and after a reasonable length of time — it may have been the next year or even in the third grade — I was allowed to walk unaccompanied to school, sometimes home for lunch and home after school. As I remember my folks thought I got old enough that it was safe for me to walk unaccompanied to school. It was safer for children to roam around the neighborhood without being frightened and parents weren’t as concerned about it as they are today.

Normally, it was safe, but I remember one day at noon I was going back to school at lunchtime when I was probably in the third grade, a car stopped about a half block from school. I don’t remember anything about the car except that the man driving reached over and opened the passenger side door but stayed inside the car. I had always been told to not talk to strangers so I didn’t leave the sidewalk. I think I was too scared to run.

He asked me if I had seen his little dog that he said was lost. When that got no reaction he asked me if I wanted some candy. By then I had gotten hold of myself and started running toward the school. The man quickly drove off and I never saw him again.

When I got to school I told the teacher and she reported the incident to the principal, Abner Ragsdale, and he called the police. I don’t remember what happened after that, except that a policeman came to the school and asked me a few questions.

I think back now after all the terrible things can happen to children today what could have happened to me if my parents had not warned me about talking to strangers.

Another time when our two sons were in Sam Houston School in the second and third grade, I was involved in an incident. We lived just across the street from the school on Owings Street. I had walked the boys to the corner and had just returned home when my youngest ran back into the house and said he had forgotten his lunch money.

He retrieved the money and ran out the door to go back to school. I was standing on the front porch watching him when I noticed a man parked about mid-way of my block and he started very slowly driving toward the school. A group of children were heading south on Tone Avenue in the block across the street, and he was watching them.

About the time he pulled up to the corner, stopped the car and got out. He walked up to a small girl, squatted down and began talking to her. Her friends walked on. Then he picked her up, jumped back into the car and drove away. By then I had run to the corner, but the car had driven off. I remember being alert enough to notice the license plate on the car was from out of state.

I ran to the phone and called the police to report a child being picked up under strange circumstances. An officer came out and asked me a lot of questions, then headed to the school to find out if a small child had not arrived. He learned that a first grader was missing. After a call to her home by the school to find out if she was supposed there, an alert was sounded.

It was a frightening day and latter that afternoon I learned that it was a case custodial dispute between the mother and father, who lived out of town. He was caught headed north toward Chicago as I remember. The little girl was returned to her mother, and I don’t know if anything happened to the father.

One thing for sure, I watched my kids after that until they got to the school door.

Let us hope that every school child has a safe, healthy, learning experience in school this year.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at

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