Thursday, June 19, 2008
VERNON GRADE SCHOOL CELEBRATES THE OREGON TERRITORIAL CENTENNIAL: 1952
L to R STANDING: Miss Agnes Carter, Mrs. Othus, Miss DeArmond, Miss Colbert, Mr. Jones, Mr. Purvis, Mr. Thiringer, Mr. Downey, Mrs. Lueptow, Miss Able, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Baynard, Miss Wendler, Mr. Nelson.
L to R SITTING: Miss Johnson, Mrs. Rhea, Mrs. Rumble, Miss Crout, unknown, Miss Fowler, Miss Eade, Mrs. Lowe, Miss Whitmore, Mrs. Qualman, Miss York.
These are the people who drew my map of life: the faculty of Vernon Grade School in Portland, Oregon. They’re dressed up to celebrate the 1952 Oregon Centennial of becoming a Territory, which always precedes becoming a state by a few years. (Most of the Western states couldn’t become territories until the Indian reservations were settled in 1850 and Oregon fits that pattern.)
I used to joke that when I walked into a Browning, Montana, event, the sound of my voice made the heads of all my former students go up -- and Bob Scriver’s voice made the heads come up of the generations who had him for a teacher, including Earl Old Person, now famous as "Chief for Life." These are the people who made MY head go up! Except that Mr. Garnett is not there. And no one can remember who that woman fifth from the left in front might be. She must have just stayed a year or so.
Now that I look at Mrs. Eagle, fourth from the right in the back row, it hits me with a rather electrical frisson that she was very likely American Indian! Probably her husband’s proper name was something like Walking Eagle or Screaming Eagle. And it may be that she dressed as a priest on this occasion, judging from her collar. (Think of what THAT means!) She was the teacher who finally unlocked the mysteries of reading for my brother, using phonics as the key. (I sight-read.) The woman next to Mrs. Eagle is Mrs. Baynard, whose name I had repressed. She’s the one who shied the ink pot at my brother, or so the legend goes.
Miss Colbert, who was definitely Chinook, eventually a tribal elder, and whose house in Ilwaco is preserved for visitors, is in the back row fourth from the left. Her book, “Kutkos, Chinook Tyee,” has just been restored to print and is justifiably famous, as much as the works of people like James Willard Schultz among the Blackfeet. Except that Miss Colbert WAS Indian and the only teacher in this group who became internationally known.
Mr. Jones, rather precious and with his eyes shut, is wearing a little bow tie. I suspect it was Miss Wendler, next to the end on the right, who married him and put him through dental college. I feel sure that Mr. Thuringer (on the left of the two bearded gents) and his companion were both vets, but I don’t remember Mr. Downey at all. Mr. Thuringer had a missing leg. His replacement contraption didn’t work all that well and was evidently painful. A few times he went off on tirades about war and hinted at what he had seen, but was quickly reined in by the administration. He taught shop (Great “war” there over whether girls should have to take shop or should stick to home ec where we learned to make pink applesauce by throwing in a handful of cinnamon candies. In shop I learned to wire a lamp -- very useful. I NEVER make pink applesauce.) Maybe that woman no one can remember was the home ec teacher. Maybe Mr. Downey was the PE teacher.
Mr. Purvis became the principal -- very archetypal. Sort of big, loud and full of himself. Taught math at this point. Elementary schools are almost always kind of henhouses, since somehow our 19th century culture shifted from believing that only men should teach to the idea that motherly women were the ideal until puberty. Maybe this is one of the unacknowledged effects of the frontier, where only unmarried women were desperate enough for the pittance of an income in one-room schools, as well as willing to either board with a family or live in a tiny room off the back of the school. Or maybe it had something to do with war, which killed off so many young men.
The school secretary, Miss Whitmore (Third from the right, sitting) was rumored to have rather a tight relationship with Mr. Nelson and, in fact, after retirement she and Mr. and Mrs. Nelson were driving down the long incline into Gresham when they had a terrible auto accident. My memory dims about the consequences, but I think they were grave. In my head they are entangled with “Ethan Frome,” but Mr. Nelson was SURELY no Ethan Frome.
I would have said SURELY that Miss York was a Missus, but we were all confused about such matters sometimes. We tended to believe that “nice” teachers were married and “mean” ones were not. Certainly male counselors and administrators would be more blunt about it, hinting at frustration as a source of unhappiness which might very well have been a projection of their own situation.
Look how flirtatious Miss Carter is! (The left end of the back row.) Picking up her skirt like an Irish colleen! And Mrs. Othus (next to her), who was known to have a VERY happy marriage despite her wig, is wearing a corsage, like several others including Mr. Purvis and Miss Crout, the art teacher. What could THAT have meant?
This is Mrs. Qualman’s class, combined grades one and two. My brother Paul has a white arrow over him. If I can make out my father’s scheme for names: The four farthest to the left are Diane Wilde, Raymond Siegel, Lonnie Carlon and Katharine somebody. Then Susan Christianson, Ethel Lilly, Eddie Phipps. Gary Johanson, Suzanne Hogan. The next line is Randy Wood, Ty Jansen, Paul Strachan (arrow), Mrs. Qualman, Donald somebody and Jeanette somebody. Farthest to the right and starting at the front are Gary Schreiner (a head as round as Charlie Brown!), Louise Evans, Michael someone, Pat McCarthy, Gary Swanson.
In those days (1952) no one objected when the class stood in prayer for a moment to start the day. Hadn’t God sent the US of A to save the world from Nazis and hadn’t we succeeded? It was only humility to believe God ordained this.
This is Mrs. Abel’s third grade class with an arrow pointing to my brother Mark. No names for the others. This is the class two years before my class, so some kids could probably be identified by us.
And here’s the piece de resistance! Miss Carter, proudly displaying that Christmas’ ingenious project! (My mother stands next to her with my dad’s hat and his extra camera.)
We were conscious that we should record the Fifties school years. It had been a tradition since photography was invented and roving professionals recorded classes across the frontier, knowing that children grew up or maybe died. We didn’t think about that much at the time, though polio cast a shadow almost as strong as AIDS does today. The thing in the Fifties was to be cheerful and well-adjusted, to work hard and contribute to society.