Nerves jangled for first day of junior high in ’47

It was the beginning of September 1947. Summer vacation was all but over and I was going to a new school — East Junior High School.

Labor Day should have been a great day for me. I flew to Cleveland with some friends of my parents in their light plane to see the Cleveland National Air Races. In spite of the fact that the Thompson Trophy Race was thrilling, I couldn’t really get my mind off the fact that school was starting tomorrow. I had that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach — that fear of the unknown.

That day after Labor Day, Dad dropped me off at East Junior on his way to work. I was about a half hour early — and so were most of the kids. We milled around by the east entrance and the front steps — mostly looking for our classmates from grade school.

The strange new kids came from Laird Avenue, McKinley and Willard elementary schools. I was from Garfield. These new kids I met were all right! A few of them became lifelong friends.

Although the classrooms were in pretty good shape, the concrete floors in the hallways were crumbling and dusty, and one could easily trip on a piece of flooring that had broken loose. This was in stark contrast to the polished terrazzo hallway floors back at Garfield.

But what freedom! We no longer had to stand in line for everything, and we could run at full tilt to get to our lockers.

While the girls went to home ec, the boys all had wood shop under Mr. Howard. Although we learned about woodworking — especially learning to use a lathe, this was the place where we boys could gather and that’s where most of us learned about the birds and the bees. Well, actually, we learned about girls. I still don’t know much about either birds or bees. (No snide comments, please.)

After wood shop, we boys went to the next class, where the girls would bring their baked creations from home ec. In spite of the fact that some cookies may have been as hard as that loose concrete, we learned to be diplomatic and comment to our eager bakers that the cookies — or whatever — were delicious.

Nature study was all right, but spending hours chasing insects and gathering and identifying leaves for credit turned out to be a near disaster after my cat, Chaser, ate most of my collection of insects that I had left out on our dining room table.

Friday night dances were fun but were loaded with anxiety because, for me at least, it took a tremendous amount of courage to ask a girl to dance — especially that one I thought was just the right one. Chaperone and Principal Raymond Glass made sure none of us danced too closely, but it wasn’t much of a problem for us shy seventh-graders.

Gym class was difficult because most of us from Garfield had never even laid eyes on a basketball. The guys from the other elementary schools were veritable aces at basketball while I thought that not stepping on the black line that ran around the perimeter of the gym floor was a show of my extraordinary skill.

Other than my entering first grade, I had never experienced such anxiety and fear that entering junior high school brought. Little did I realize that that experience was only a harbinger. But we learn to cope, and that was good training for the future.

By the way, East Junior is gone now. In its place is a huge empty lot on South Street with three struggling trees. Do the trees stand for seventh, eighth and ninth grades?

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com

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