Living on the West End (Mill Village): A school year
By Bill Shepard
May, 1930s! Choose your year! Springtime could be seen in every direction one looked. Spring fragrance of the Wisteria, showing its colors high in the tops of tall cypress trees, filled the air. The Seven Sister rose bushes could be seen climbing fence posts and old tree stumps, even spreading along ditch banks and less traveled dirt roads. They would play a part in the oft-remembered event just ahead. The school year at St. John’s Grammar School was winding down. The year that had begun back in September of the previous year was about to end. Of course, there was a lot to be done. Grades four through seven would be preparing for the final examinations that would be given during the last week of May. These tests were given twice a year. Tests covering the first half of the school year were given in January. The second half was administered at the end of May. There were no standardized tests in those early years. Teachers taught their subjects, made their own tests and corrected them. If a child did not receive a passing score on those tests, they were required to repeat their grade the next year! There were no “social promotions” in those days. Some were known to stay in the same grade more than two years! I looked forward each year to exam week! Only one test was given each day. On arrival each day the children were not allowed to enter the building until it was time for the testing to begin. Every blackboard in the classroom would have handwritten questions on them. The teacher, having finished with her instructions, would remove the coverings from the blackboards and the work began. The thing I liked most about exam week was as soon as a student had finished with their test, they were free to leave the classroom and go home. I was usually among the first to leave. I wasted no time! The open fields and pasturelands, along with the waters of Swift Creek seemed to be calling me. It was springtime! Even to this day it seems I can still hear my teacher asking, “Willie, did you do your best?” I would answer, “Yes, Ma’am,” place my papers on her desk and leave the school. The next morning, I would hurry to the bulletin board where the grades from the previous day would be posted. The teacher would have graded all the papers and posted all the grades. That procedure would continue all week. At the end of that week one could know if they were to be promoted to the next grade level or not. I suppose I was fortunate in that I never had to repeat a grade. At the end of each year, my report card bore the message, “Promoted to the next grade level!” The Memorial Day program at the end of the school year was indeed a memorial event for the children. Those who participated each year made beautiful and lasting memories. My sister and I shared some of our memories of those times recently. I would not be surprised to know that some reading this article are saying, “Me too!” The day before the event, children on the mill village would be scurrying about over the village in search of flowers to make into a wreath or bouquet to be placed at the “tomb of the unknown soldier.” Flowers that bloomed along the roadsides, or fences, or fence posts would be gathered. Some children would have flowers from the florist, but not many from the village could afford those. The little graveyard near the village was a good place to go in search of wildflowers. I remember the day of the big event well. The children would be standing in lines on the front campus of the St. John’s building. It must have been a beautiful picture. Little children, dressed in their best, clutching tightly in little hands their bouquet of flowers. Instructions had been given; there was no talking; misbehaving of any kind would not be tolerated. The only sound to be heard was the sound of little feet shuffling along the concrete streets. It was a long march from the school campus to the town square, but we marched two abreast and not saying a word! Hard to believe, but true! I cannot think of any school that would try such an event today! At the tomb, the flowers would be placed from top to bottom; it would be a beautiful sight to behold by all passersby. The return to the school campus would be just as orderly. The kind old superintendent would heap praise upon teachers and students and then dismissal. I don’t know how long the school continued that practice. The memories made have lasted many years. Each year at this time of May they return to this writer in strong force. School ended on the last day of May! Three full months of freedom lay ahead.