I never knew Harry Morris as a person. He was, I understand, the first local soldier killed in WWI. But, from the third to the fifth grade, more than half a century ago, I attended the school named for him, and I still have strong memories of it and the students and teachers who were there when I was.
Dan Sable, a classmate with whom I reestablished contact after more than 50 years, recently visited Rockford and took some photos of the old building, no longer a school, though I forget what he said it was now. It looks pretty darned good for its age.
There were only 68 students in the entire school and, I believe, three teachers, though I only remember the two I had: Mrs. Larson, who bore a strong physical resemblance to Eleanor Roosevelt and was the most memorable teacher I ever had, and Mrs. Heinz, who should never have been allowed near a classroom. All I remember of Mrs. Heinz is her flaming red hair and temper to match, her obvious dislike of children, and the fact that if she ever lent you a pencil, you’d better be damned sure you returned it at the end of class.
I have a couple other photos showing the entire student body, and I still recognize many of them, though I’m less sure on the names. There’s Dan and his cousin Marion Bender, with whom I also reestablished contact and met for lunch shortly after I moved back to Chicago. There’s Lillian Anderson, and Jean and Jesse Almond, and Dennis Huffel, and Darwin Shores, with whom I had a running feud, and who Dan tells me is now dead—though that’s impossible because he’s right there in the third row.
I remember the long…probably about a mile…walks to and from school, past a dump where, on the way home, we’d stop and break bottles. I learned to ride a bike around the time I started third grade, but the bike my dad bought for me was really too big for me to reach the pedals comfortably. I was coming down the hill from school one day and couldn’t stop as I approached the intersection at the bottom of the hill closest to home, and was hit by a car as I zipped across the street. No damage, but it scared the bejeezus out of me and my parents, and I largely walked to school thereafter.
I made my stage debut at Harry Morris, playing Raggedy Andy in some school production. My father’s comment: “Did your voice have to be that high?” And my earliest writing was in the form of the periodically-written “newspaper,” The Bugville News, outlining the various disasters befalling the citizens of Bugville. A la Martin Luther, I would post the paper on the front door.
I remember the PTA mothers taking turns coming to the school during the winter to make us all hot soup…tomato and chicken noodle being my two favorites…and half-pints of milk (I always got chocolate), and going to the bathroom in the school’s basement during recess and crying because no one wanted me on their team for some game we were playing.
As far as I can remember, I only skipped school once, during my time under Mrs. Heinz’s regime. Several of us decided we’d stage a walk out…or rather a “not go in.” We played around somewhere most of the morning and then, around lunch, I went home to ask my mother if I could have some money to go to the movies. That was obviously not the wisest of decisions.
There are far more memories of my days at Harry Morris than I have the space here to relate, but they do go to demonstrate how many things lie just below the surface of our day-to-day consciousness, and how long they stay with us.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: