Most of my grade school years were spent at Franklin Grade School in southwest Jamestown, ND. The school and playground took up three-quarters of a block. Almost all the block was gravel, except some stray crabgrass on the ball fields. A couple of ramshackle houses took up the remaining quarter of the block. Across the street to the north was Northern Pacific Railroad, a subject of a lifelong enchantment that you will read more about later. The playground was very barren. The only equipment that I recall of the entire playground was the slide. That was the place for one of my infamous escapades in the spring of first grade.
The first day of first grade was quite memorable. My friend Raymond, who lived in the cabins just to the south of us, was not one to want to leave his mother’s apron strings. That first day his mother had to sit in the cloak room (a door-less closet) at the back of the class room so that Raymond would consent to staying without crying. None of us thought anything less of him, as we were all a little intimidated by being away from home for the first time.
There were several farm kids assigned to our school. Since I was a town kid, those kids always seemed pretty strange to me. They rode the bus. They always wore overalls and even talked funny. We never saw them after school and they seemed to smell different. The boys were always the biggest and strongest of all the kids, but they never were in for fighting as some of the bullies from town seemed to be. Looking back on it they probably had to do chores every night and smelled of cattle.
I was fortunate to always walk home from school for lunch. The farm kids did something different. They stayed in the lunch room. It was in some sort of kitchen affair back there that I never got to see. Later in life I developed the trait of always exploring the school building, but not during my grade school years.
Another room that was quite foreign to me was the Special Education room. This is where the strangest kids were. We never saw them outside, never saw them take part in a program. We just never saw them.
Upstairs was where the upper class-men were. First, second and third grades were on the first floor. The big day came when we got to move to the second floor, south-east corner, for fourth grade. It was exciting to be able to walk down that long fire escape to get to the play ground! What fun! When school started in the late summer North Dakota the heat could sometimes get oppressive, and walking out the door from a sort of cool building into a blast of hot late summer air could feel deadly.
There were very few amenities at this school. We sat in the same room all day with the same teacher. Our grand kids have multiple specialty teachers coming through the room, and they go to different rooms, like the library. Not back then. There was only one class for each grade, so no switching year to year. We were the same twenty or thirty kids every year. Needless to say every teacher knew every kid in the place. There wasn’t much you could get away with. There was even less trouble I could get away with because some of the teachers (Miss Fairless, I think) had also taught my dad. Yep, he went to the same grade school, and he tended to get into trouble.
The school closed in 2000 and the local cable company purchased the building. Now computer and network gear, satellite communications equipment and offices fill the rooms. The new owners did have a sense of history and they restored some of the rooms to near original condition, including the large master staircase. In the lobby there’s a display of historical artifacts, including some grade school art from one of my uncles. Judy and I have visited the building twice. It’s a very nice tour, open during normal business hours. There’s a sign-up sheet where I could proudly attach two stars. One for having attended, and one for my father attending Franklin Grade School.