I wrote this when I was 62 years old. I recently found it and I will use it for a couple of "Throwback Thursdays" I hope you will enjoy it.
A Memory Spoken By Jay Cole Simser
For most of my 62 years, beginning when I was four years old, I have been associated with one kind of school or another. For the past 38 years I have been an elementary school educator. During those years I have learned a lot. (The teacher always learns more than the student). In addition I have had a lot of life experiences all of which have given me some insights. I hope you enjoy reading this.
I grew up in Ames, Iowa and had a marvelous experience with my elementary teachers, Juanita Steele, Vivian Maybee, Marguerite Kirby, and Evelyn Carlson were dedicated professionals who saw to it that students learned.
Miss Steele was a fairly tall, prematurely white haired woman with a stern demeanor. My mother visited class one time and told me years later that she thought she was too strict. Nevertheless we loved her and would do anything for her. She taught me that the reason a man walks on the outside of the street is so that the lady would not get splashed by mud as the horse and buggy or car drove by. Of course I later learned that there was a different, far older, reason but I still like her version best.. She also made sure that I was well grounded in reading and began my love for reading.
The word to describe Miss Maybee was sweet. She was not as tall as Miss Steele but was a really nice person and a good teacher. We were doing activities and projects designed to give us life experiences and help us to learn long before the hands on method of learning was popular. In her classroom I remember that we brought in poles from the forest and made Indian (Native American now) teepees in the classroom.
Miss Kirby, fourth grade teacher, walked with a limp. I am not sure what the reason was but suspect that it had something to do with her hip. As she walked past me onetime I reached out and touched her hip. It was hard, not soft like skin would be. It had to have been a brace of some sort. I am not sure why I reached out to touch it, It could have been a dare or just natural curiosity. I am thankful that she did not notice. Miss Kirby read to us from the books of Marguerite Henry and I still love and read her books. She lived on a farm not far from Ames and a highlight of the year was a trip and picnic to her farm. Even though I lived on the Hog Cholera Research Station her farm was a wonderful experience for us.
Miss Carlson was the principal and was very strict and because I was an ornery kid I got to see her on several occasions. While she was strict you still knew, deep inside, that she liked you and wanted you to do your best. She also taught 1/2 days so we had her as a teacher as well as principal.
Years later when I joined the faculty of Ames Elementary Schools Miss Steele and Miss Carlson were both still teaching and both of them took me up to the Superintendent of Schools and introduced me as a former student. I don’t know what Mr. Hetzel thought but I was honored.
Continuing Memories Entry 2
The school I attended was Beardshear Elementary School. It was a giant of a building (to me) and you either went upstairs or downstairs when you first came in. One of my classmates was a lad named Nick Nolte.
One of the things I learned from Nick was how to get around parents. I would tell my mother that I was going to Dennis Wendell’s (another classmate) house to play. Dennis told his mother he was going to my house. I don’t think Nick had to tell anyone where he was going. We had a grand time in the pine forest on 13th street building a fort. That is until I looked across the way and saw my grandfather’s car parked on 13th Street and my grandfather striding across the field coming to take me home.
I don’t remember any punishment for this episode but I also don’t remember ever doing it again. Nick went on to a career in the movies and is a terrific actor. I am a fan. I was also a fan of his mother, Helen, and remember her as a really glamorous lady, tall, pretty, if not beautiful who wore floor length quilted satin robes. Since my mother preferred short duster type robes Mrs. Nolte seemed exotic indeed.. She moved to Phoenix, Arizona and I used to call her and visit when I went through on a trip. I followed Nick’s career before he hit it big through her updates. She predicted “He is going to be a star someday.” A prediction that proved true.
My mother and I lived with her parents (Clarence Gordon and Sadie Cole) on the United States Department of Agriculture Hog Cholera Research Station. My parents had been divorced and I only have one memory of my father coming around to see me. On that occasion I referred to my grandfather as “Dad” so I imagine that was an excuse for him not to revisit.
The Research station had a large white house on it without an indoor bathroom. One of the things which was put on was the bathroom and I remember the switch from outside to inside. It was quite a difference. For one thing it was a lot warmer and for another the smell was much nicer.
There was a station office , a one story building with offices on the north end and intriguing labrotories in the middle with an operating room connected to pig pens on the shuth. My grandfather worked with another man whose name was also Clarence. They used to call each other P.T. and I called Clarence Cameron P.T. also never suspecting that P.T. stood for Pig Turd.
There were pigs aplenty on the station as it was the research station devoted to the eradication of Hog Cholera. They developed the crystal virus vaccine there and were always doing post mortoms of the deceased hogs. I remember the operating room where this occurred as a large room with gray white walls and windows on two sides. I generally smelled like disinfectant and was kept very clean. I followed in the footsteps of my aunt by watching my grandfather work on the hogs. My mother’s sister told the story of accompanying her father on trips to farms and watching him operate on cattle. Evidently the cow would stand quietlywhile he operated on them
In the operating room dead hog would be brought in and stretched on its back. Its four legs each tied to a chain and the hog would be stretched out on the table. An incision would be made from neck to lower belly and the organs would be taken out and examined. I can still visualize Granddad thrusting his hand into the open cavity and pulling out a heart or a liver or a handful of bowels. He smoked a cigar while he did this to kill the smell coming from the hog.
After examination the hog would be taken to the rendering works plant just across the Skunk River. The research station was on a high bluff on the east side of the river. The rendering plant just across the river and when they fired up to render the dead animals the odor was worse than the animal for whom the river was named. We were not spared the aroma even though we were high on the bluff. Granddad’s cigar could no kill that smell.
We also had guinea pigs there and I enjoyed playing with them. My grandfather told me that if you pulled on a guinea pigs tail his eyes would pop out. I have shared that bit of wisdom with every student who brought one of these creatures into my classroom. Of course some of them believed me immediately, Others politely informed me that guinea pigs had no tails.
One animal which seems to be all tail is the snake. The research station had woods to the north and south. The woods on the south side were seldom ventured into but those on the north were fair game. We would play cowboys and Indians (politically correct in that era) and build forts. The fun went out of it for me when I came across a snake slithering along. I think it was the unexpectedness of it that startled me and I was sure that it was going to bite me and poison me. In retrospect this small harmless garter snake was probably just as sure that I was going to harm it and it took off in the other direction. Being a first rate coward where snakes are concerned I no longer enjoyed playing in those woods. This is the woods where I got the TeePee poles for Miss Mabee’s project.
A large farm house with two bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen, dining room and living room (where we put the first TV) was below. There was also a lean-to shed for storage where my grandmother kept her excess antiques. She was a collector and the house was filled with beautiful, old things. Look but don’t touch.
The house had a sleeping porch and there is nothing quite as wonderful as sleeping on a sleeping porch. Surrounded on three sides by screens the breezes blow gently over you and the scent of new mown alfalfa brought pleasant dreams – the first aroma therapy.
Growing up in Ames, Iowa was like growing up in a large, extended family.
My mother and father had divorced when I was four years old and we moved in with her parents Clarence (Dig) and Sadie Cole. My grandfather was the head of the Hog Cholera Research Lab on east 13th street and mother would drop me off at the School in the morning. As there was no school lunch program I would go for lunch at my grandfather’s brother’s home, a large brick house at 522 Crawford. The house was built by my grandmother’s father and the brick veneer put on by my great uncle. I can remember him putting the brick on the house and to me it is still the grandest house in Ames.
After school I would play and then walk to Main Street with Miss Steele. (That is where I learned about the gentleman walking on the outside.) I would wait for mother at Dixon’s drug store where I read comics and occasionally had fries and a green river or a coke. After she finished work mother would pick me up and we would go home, except on Wednesdays when I would go to my great aunt and Uncle’s at 522 Crawford for supper and wait until later to go home.
My grandfather had three unmarried sisters who lived at the “home” place at 13th and Burnett Streets. One of them was a first grade teacher at Roosevelt School for 40 years. Later in my career I wasfortunate to teach at Roosevelt School and loved the experience. I would spend Saturday nights with them (I think that is when my mother was out partying) and Uncle Lew and Aunt Kate would come for supper and we would always go for a drive afterwards. Uncle Lew had a Nash Rambler and would close doors by gunning the car forward until they slammed shut.
Aunt Avis and Aunt Kate and I would ride in the back seat. I don’t remember that Aunt Liz went along but she may have. Aunt Kate Mike and Uncle Lew rode in the front. I was thrilled when I had grown tall enough to stretch all the way across the back seat from door to door. These were great times always followed by climbing the steep stairs to the upstairs bedroom, through the great cold center room which had once been a large room for the male members of the family to sleep in to the smaller rooms on the west side of the house where Aunt Kate and I would lay and tell stories about Mrs. Peabody, a thoroughly imaginary person who entertained us for hours.
I learned about a strong love of family from these people and from my grandmother’s sister Ethyl Meeker. My mother had five sisters three of who lived in Ames. You can see that with that large a family there was not much I could do that someone didn’t find out about and let my mother know. This was the norm in those days. Almost everyone knew who you were and who your parents were and they all watched out for you and made sure you were safe. I was a tall kid and so easily spotted around town.
One disadvantage of being tall was that people always assumed that you were older than you were. They expected more from you than you were ready to give. I do remember one instance that stands out in relation to my height. Ames had several movie theaters, The Collegian and the Capitol on Main Street and the New Ames and Varsity in Campus town. The manager of the theaters was Joe Gerbrach and he was a frustrated impresario with special shows and games for us to play when we went to the movies. He hung his sailfish and swordfish trophys in the outer lobby.
The Capitol had matinees on Saturdays and I remember being dropped of to go to the movie when I was 11 years old. I had enough money for a child’s ticket and went to buy my ticket. The ticket seller did not believe my age and would not let me in. I was upset and went down to Dixon’s drug to telephone my grandmother who came right into town and read the ticket seller the riot act. “That boy does not lie.” was one of her statements and I think that is one of the reasons that I learned never to lie. If someone as good as my grandmother was going to stick up for me in that manner I would not be able to lie in the future.
Movies were a large part of our entertainment lives then. Television was just beginning to be popular and we listened to dramas on the radio. We used to go to movies regularly and I used to love the front rows. Cowboy and Tarzan movies were big draws and we learned that the good guys always won and one person could make a difference. One of the fun times at the movie theater was to have giant “kiddy” matinees and Mr. Gerbrach was the Master of Ceremonies. He would dispense silver dollars for the kids who could eat soda crackers and then whistle some tune. There were balloons and games and then of course, the movie.
Over the years I have watched thousands of movies. The movies I grew up with “left you at the bedroom door” as my mother used to say. Things have changed since then. There were also moral lessons that we learned by watching the movies and we also grew up with some of the greatest talent the world has ever known.