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Bear N Mom - Growing Up in the 1950s - The School Years

Updated on May 23, 2016
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Growing up along the Allegheny River in the 1950's was an exciting and time for a child to learn and grow with personal experiences.

Aspinwall Elemetary, 5th & Center Ave.
Aspinwall Elemetary, 5th & Center Ave.
One of the Stone Castles on Center Avenue
One of the Stone Castles on Center Avenue

School Days

As I said earlier, the elementary school was around the corner and up the avenue from our house. I remember my first day of Kindergarten. The school was built on an inclining terrain and It was on the upper side of the school. You had to climb a three steps and cross a little sort of bridge with iron railings to get into the school. It was scary to me because I was afraid of heights, something I only realized later in life. Once in school you had the normal half day of structured play times and nap times with the milk snack in between.

After a couple of months I was allowed to cross the avenue to get to school by myself and would scamper home after school past the corner store. During the week, I didn't have money to spend on penny candy so I had to find other diversions to keep me busy.

And, other diversions I did find. I told you in an earlier passage that I was a wanderer and growing to the ripe old age of 5 didn't make me any better. I remember one particular late afternoon that I went home with another student to play at her house. What did I know about telephones and to let my mother know where I was. My new friend lived in a stone house across from the school and up the hill a little bit. When I got older I learned that her house and about 6 others were built into the hill as a kind of community. Their design was Austrian and the complex even had an artisian water supply built into the hill.

But, I digress from my story. Later in the evening I wandered back down the hill past Conn's store and around the corner to my house. OOPS! My dad was up from his nap and I was late for dinner. There he stood on the top step of our house with a switch off the mighty maple that grew in front of our house. With a swoosh of the switch, I made it past my Dad and got to the kitchen. I was given a real reprimand by my Mom and sent on to bed.

I grew very close to my Dad in spite of his disciplinary tactics. I remember that his birthday was on Halloween and we would have a really nice dinner and cake that night before my brother and I got into costumes to go trick or treating. Costume were not bought at the store in our house. My mother had been a character actress in her early years and she would open up her great trunk and make over a costume for us to wear.

As I got a little older and my Dad didn't escort us on our begging trip for candy, I remember we had an established route for the joy of begging for our treats. I would start out on 5th Street because a lady up there gave our shiny red candy apples to the earliest children to stop at her house. Then we would go around as many streets as we could until it was time for the Halloween parade which ended up at the high school for a movie and to recieve a treat bag from the Volunteer Fire Department. After the movie Halloween was officially over and all trick or treating was supposed to stop. But, in my older years I learned that a gentleman on Western Avenue would give out quarters to children when he ran out of candy bars. I always contrived to get there later in the evening when I got too old for the cartoons at the high school.

Like I said, as I got older and more worldly I realized what homes gave out the best treats. There was a house on Western Avenue that invited all of the children in for gingerbread cake and apple cider. Then as you left, they gave you a candy bar to take home with you.

It's a shame that you can't do these things today because parents don't trust your neighbors any more. Halloween was my favorite holiday, whether it was because of trick-or-treating or because of my Dad's birthday. When I became a parent I tried to keep up the tradition of that family on Western Avenue and I would bake brownies and peanut butter cookies to give away to the babies while giving candy bars to the older children. Today I can't do that but I still give out store bought wrapped oatmeal cookies with icing in between them. I'm known as the cookie lady in my neighborhood. Some traditions just live on.

We will talk about elementary schools and high school in my next reflections.

St. Scholastica School in the 1950's
St. Scholastica School in the 1950's

Elementary School

In our Borough there were 2 elementary schools, the public school and the Catholic school. Until you started elementary school there was no chasm between children. You either liked each other and played together or you didn't. Once you entered one or the other school there was an automatic taboo put on your head. At the time you didn't realize it and you just went along playing with the children from your school

Each day started out the same with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. From there the difference were plain and simple. The Catholic children were taught their religion at school. The non-Catholic children were taught their religion on Sunday mornings at Sunday School. The Protestant children had Bible Study. The Catholic children had Catechism which was a teaching of the fundamentals of Catholicism.

No matter what school you went to you attended school in town. My schooling consisted of getting up early and being in school ready to start your day at 8 am. You learned reading, writing and arithmetic. History and geography were taught in the upper grades. There were no special courses for children who had learning problems. As a first grader, I stayed after school almost every day to catch up on my in school work because I could never get it done on time. I realize now that I had a hand-eye coordination problem but I was left to my own to fix the problem. There was no testing to decide why I was slow. The answer to the problem was stay until you get it done.

One thing was the same no matter what school you attended. You respected the teachers and didn't talk back to them. If you did, you not only got reprimanded at school but you got another dose when you got home. There were no secrets kept at school. Your parents knew when you acted up and there were repercussions both at school and home.

You got breaks called recess so that you could go to the restroom and then outside to play on nice days. If it was rainy you stayed in your classroom for the break. The at around 11:30 am you got your lunch break. There were some children who were bussed into school from a neighboring town and those students did not go home for lunch. I always thought they were the lucky ones because they had more time to eat and then go back outside to play. Because I lived in town I had to run home, gulp down my soup and sandwich and run back to school in time to start the afternoon at 12:30 pm.

I don't know if the routine was the same at the other school but that seemed to be the way our lives were spent from the day after Labor Day until Christmas Break. We got days off for the main holidays, but from September until June our days were spent in studies both in school and after school.

At 3 pm, our school days ended and we ran back home again. In our house, it meant that we had time to either do our homework or get ready for dinner because my Dad worked evenings. Our dinner time was at exactly 5 pm. After supper, we had to finish our homework and get ready for bed to start the whole routine over again.

Weekends were our only respite. On those days, I would wander down street to the commercial district to the local 5 and 10 store. In there I would look at all the toys, books and other things that were on sale.

As I mentioned in another segment, Saturday afternoons were spent at the local movie theatre watching cartoons and a feature film.

In the early 1950s, if you were not out playing with other children you were listening to radio.

As I got older, bowling was introduced to us and we belonged to a school league. In those days, it was duckpin bowling and I was never very good at the game until I grew up and started bowling in another ladies league.

The end of the school year was culminated by a huge picnic at an amusement park. Children and parents loaded onto the street car (that's another story in itself) carrying picnic baskets. All the way to the park the children would sing joyful songs and the cars would bounce their way along the tracks to the park.

Once at the park, our family and our neighbor's family would go and find a table in the picnic shelter and lay our baskets on the tables covered with table clothes to claim our seats. Then it was off to baby land in our younger years and the big park in our older years. Both sides of the park had roller coasters and that was my favorite ride. You had ride tickets for all of the rides except the pony ride and I always begged to ride the ponies. A break was taken to eat lunch. After lunch you had to be careful not to ride too many rough rides so that you didn't end up sick. Around 6 pm it was back to the street cars for the ride home and the day was done.

In our grade school years, summers were no different than when we were preschoolers. Mornings were spent at the field playing games and the afternoons were spent at the field doing crafts.

My grandfather had an automobile but he only took us to the county park once a year so that we could use the big swimming pool. On other weekends, if there was a picnic planned, my Dad's friends would load us into their cars so that we could go to the picnics. Sadly that too was usually only once during a summer.

As we got older their were other events that were strictly for the high school children, but junior high school students could attend these also. I will talk about those next time.

Aspinwall High School, Grades 7 through 12
Aspinwall High School, Grades 7 through 12

Junior and Senior High School

Once you got into 7th grade, you started all over again. You were the lowest on the totem pole and as a result you took a lot of kidding. What was so great about our school though was that from 7th through 12th grades everyone knew who everyone else was and where they lived. Our school had students from a neighboring town that was bussed into the school but for the most part students walked to school.

Sometimes the rumor mills would work a bit overtime and make it uncomfortable for one of the other students but all in all most of the students got along together.

The school was hallowed ground and no one made wisecracks about the teachers (at least not within hearing of the teacher or another teacher). Discipline was in place and if you got caught at school misbehaving you not only got disciplined at the school but you also got a second dose once your got home.

The class days was broken up into periods and you got to get up and move around from classroom to classroom. This was a big change from the all day, one room, one teacher routine that was the elementary scholar's day.

I was the oldest so I didn't have the family name syndrome played out on me. If you came from a family that the older siblings were either athletes, good students, tricksters or even a little rowdy in class, you were targeted. You were either expected to make good grades or maybe not so good depending on your brothers and sisters. That was the trouble with attending a small school.

The school year wove around sports and in the Fall you had pep rallies, football games and Friday night dances to look forward to. School spirit was always high and almost everyone went to the weekly games. Pep rallies were held outside and the weekly burning of a dummy dressed to be a player on that week's opposing team and school cheers lead by the cheerleaders were always a fun events.

If the games were played at another school, you bought tickets to the games and boarded the buses that were taking the students to the games. There were never enough buses, but if you were lucky enough you had a parent who would take you and some friends to the games.

After the games, there was a dance held at the local Women's Club that most of the students went to. Most Fridays you danced to the jukebox but on special games a band was hired to entertain.

At the end of the Fall, basketball season kicked in and there were Junior and Senior teams that all had a full season of games. The gym was crowded to capacity with students cheering and yelling in good spirited camaraderie.

School dances held in the gym were monthly and they were mostly sock hops where you took off your shoes and danced in your socks. In February you had the Sadie Hawkins Dance and the girls would swoon over the football and basketball players trying to get a date for the dance. It was understood that the couples who were going steady would take their boyfriends but the ones who were unattached were fair game.

More to come!!!!!

© 2009 Laura L Scotty


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