Fire Prevention Posters

Holiday Fire Safety - Overloaded electrical outlet

(Photo credit: State Farm)

Each year, a fireman would come to school to teach us about fire safety and prevention. Usually there would be an assembly in the gym/multi-purpose room for all the students to learn how to prevent common fires, and what to do if there is a fire.

When we went back to our classrooms, we were given booklets with lessons about fire safety, and some pictures of firetrucks to color.

We went to Art class, and began to work on our Fire Prevention Posters. Usually, the easiest and most popular topic was, “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” I guess this happened quite frequently back-in-the-day. And I don’t think very many people had smoke detectors in their house, either. (Nowadays, I set my smoke detector off just about every time I use the oven…my dog is not happy!)

I also made a poster warning, “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” We worked on them for several days, and the following Friday they were to be handed in, and entered into a contest. First, second and third prizes for the best poster were to be given out. A daughter of one of the school teachers always won first prize. My father was convinced it was not that her poster was better, but that she “knew” the right people.

So this year, my father decided *I* was going to win. We went to the store and bought large paper, the same size as the ones we used in Art class. He decided my poster would be “Don’t put too many plugs in one electrical outlet.” [Back then, many houses were built with only one or two outlets in each room. When electricity was new, it was only used for lights. No one could imagine all the gadgets we would have, and many times adapters which allowed more extension cords and plugs would be used to run the refrigerator, washing machine, lights, and iron all at the same time. Often, this would spark a fire.]

I admit that although it was my father’s idea, I did the artwork myself. I was careful and used rulers to ensure straight lines for the slogan. I drew a picture of the outlet and the plugs going into it myself. Then I colored the poster.

Since my bus was the first one to school, I was able to slip in before anyone was in the classroom (even Mrs. Whitlock) and take out my old poster and put in the new one.

Sure enough, two weeks later, I received the prize for First Place in the Fire Prevention Poster contest.

It always feels good to win.


Opting out of the Christmas Play

Kravlenisse (maybe Christmas elf ?), a Danish ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first class of the morning was English. Thankfully, some of us left Mrs. Whitlock’s class (get out of jail, free) and went to Mrs. Carr’s class.

Mrs. Carr was built like a Sherman tank, and taught us Russian sometimes instead of English. How she got away with us, I don’t know. Russia and the USA were enemies in 1969; I guess no one went home and told their parents we were singing “Silent Night” in Russian.

In the beginning of December, we started practicing a play to be performed at the School Christmas concert. I was always one for behind-the-scenes work, rather than taking to the stage, and luckily I was assigned to making some background props, and painting scenery. Each day, the class would read through part of the play before getting into our English workbook assignments.

There were to be three elves in the play; all three spots were taken by the petite, cute girls, who all were involved in ballet after school. It was a natural fit.

About a week before the Christmas concert, we learned that one of the “elves” had the chicken pox, and she would be out of school all the way through Christmas vacation. So Mrs. Carr decided that I would fill in for the missing elf. I was never petite, and I was considered “chubby”.  And I decided that there was no way I was going up on stage, dressed in tights and a short outfit to barely cover my butt.

I played along for a few days, reading the parts for the play during class. Then two days before the concert, I was able to convince my mother that I had a terrible pain in my stomach. I stayed home from school.

The next day took a little more convincing, but I did it. I stayed home again. And yes, the third day I was once again able to convince my mother that I was way too sick to go to school. And although I was so sorry to be missing out on the “fun” day and the parties and concert, I was just too sick.

I’m not sure if the play went on with two elves, or if they got a third at the last minute. I only know that I saved myself from the embarrassment of being up in front of the school in tight tights!

My younger sister came home that day, and reported that her own class was up on stage singing Christmas carols. One of her friends, Diane, suddenly passed out and fell over. The school principal then jumped up on stage to see if she was alright, and split his pants in the process. Now that would have been funny to see; I didn’t like the principal and was terrified of him.

But it was well worth staying home that day, even if I had to hear that story second-hand.

Checks on the Chalkboard

Cover of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie...

Cover of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Dateline: October 1969

Last night “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was on TV.

[We have a black and white TV, and a TV antenna. We have to get up off our couch to change the channel, and we only get Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. Supposedly, in the future, middle class folks like us will be able to afford color TV.]

Halloween is coming, which means costumes and CANDY. For a “chubby” kid such as myself with a “sweet tooth”, it’s one of the best holidays of the year.

So Charlie Brown listens to Linus tell us about the Great Pumpkin. As always, Snoopy steals the show. Snoopy has a crazy little laugh.

I’ll try to imbed this here:

If it doesn’t work, just think in your mind of a higher-pitched Scooby-Doo saying “haa haa heeeh haaa.”

So we went into Mrs. Whitlock’s class this morning. While she was sitting at her desk taking attendance, one of the boys, Dan Hollinger, started making Snoopy Noises. Everyone on that side of the room roared with laughter.

Mrs. Whitlock’s jaw dropped open. She ran over to the chalkboard and wrote “Dan” and placed a checkmark next to his name. “Now that’s enough of that!” she scolded. The kids muffled their laughter.

“Do it again”, Mike said. Dan eagerly complied.

Mrs. Whitlock looked up, jaw open again. Back to the chalkboard she goes, adds Mike’s name and puts a checkmark next to it, and another next to Dan’s name.

“One more time,” Mike tried to whisper but he was too loud. Mrs. Whitlock hadn’t even taken a step away from the chalkboard, and put another check next to Mike’s name.

“Another check and you’re in trouble,” she warned them both.

“Do it, do it,” Mike said.

“That’s it!” Mrs. Whitlock placed the third checkmark next to Mike’s name. “You will be eating lunch in the Music Room.”

Sure enough, she kept her promise. Mike was locked in the Music Room during Lunch Time. Before she locked the door, Mike asked if he could use the bathroom. Mrs. Whitlock refused. She pushed him into the room, and locked him in.

After lunch, we lined up to go back to class. We stopped at the door of the Music Room to collect Mike. As he walked through the door, he his a plate with, well, the result of not being able to use the restroom!

Mrs. Whitlock’s jaw dropped again.


Mrs. Whitlock, Going Green

Loose leaf paper

Loose leaf paper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mrs. Whitlock was “going green” way before it was politically and socially correct. Anyone who lived through the Great Depression, as she had, knew that you never wasted anything.

Our Math homework for Monday night was to be done on the front of the loose leaf paper. Tuesday’s homework was done on the reverse side of that paper. Wednesday, a new sheet of paper was to be used; Thursday, the flip side of Wednesday’s. Friday there was no Math homework. Hallelujah.

If you were absent on one of those days, you would hand in your homework when you returned to class. It would be given back to you the next day, with corrections. Then, it was to be put into the recycle pile. But it wasn’t called that, it was just the scrap paper pile. 

This pile of papers was located on the top surface of the heater. Every once in a while during the winter, the heat would blow full blast and the scrap paper would fly around the room. This was great fun because the school day was so structured that having something out of place and chaotic was a relief. It caused Mrs. Whitlock’s jaw to drop open in unbelief, as we all laughed out loud. [ LOL had not yet been coined.]

Once in a while, we would be required to go back to the scrap paper pile and use someone else’s paper that had only been used on one side. I found this kinda creepy. But since there was a format to how we handed in our homework, (written side up, pass it forward, the kid in front of you put his on top, etc.) you could be sure that your work would be seen and “checked off.”

Tomorrow: Checks on the Chalkboard

Before she taught me, Mrs. Whitlock taught my father

English: "Division 9" schoolhouse in...

One room schoolhouse(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mrs. Whitlock was one of those teachers who taught in the little one-room schoolhouse. She taught both my father and my uncle, during the 1940’s.

Fast forward to the 1970’s. We lived in the same neighborhood where my father had attended school. He lived on a farm, and walked to school. The little schoolhouse, though abandoned, was still standing. It was within walking distance from our home. I walked by it, but I saw all the “No Trespassing” signs and was afraid to actually go inside the building. By fifth grade, I had developed a conscience, and was never able to break any rules without feeling extremely guilty–even if no one was around to see it. [Of course, now as an adult, I realize this is also a gift! Having instruction of Right and Wrong is truly priceless.]

Those old schoolhouses had all the grades in one room. To think of it now seems difficult; but I’m sure there was a method at the time which enabled everyone to get a quality education. There would be first graders mixed in with sixth graders. Every child would be at a different level of learning. Yet everyone learned. Education was valued. Parents knew that education was the way to get ahead in life. Discipline was not a problem. In those days, teachers were allowed to hit children. And my mother always told me, if you got hit, you did not go home and tell your parents, because you would get hit by your parents. [I’m not saying this was good; I’m just saying that’s the way it was.]

Mrs. Whitlock was elderly by the time I had her for fifth grade. But she was not feeble; you didn’t mess with her.

At the end of the day, during fifth grade

A chalkboard.

A chalkboard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Towards the end of the day, we would all go back to homeroom, about 15 minutes before the buses were called. We knew very well that the “other” fifth grade, Mrs. Carr’s class, would be playing board games, chatting, laughing. The boys would be on the floor playing with their Hot Wheels, or wrestling each other.


But for those of us in Mrs. Whitlock’s class, we had to pull out our Reading Books, and spend the 15 minutes reading. Mrs. Whitlock would have a different child read each paragraph. She would look ahead and see what was going on in the paragraph, and ask a question. Whoever knew the answer would then read the paragraph.


For example, if we were reading a story about a boy going to the store, she would ask, “How did Henry get to the store?” We would look ahead, and someone would (raise their hand of course, and wait to be called on), and reply, “Henry rode his bike to the store.”  Then that person would read the entire paragraph.


I was absolved of this reading most of the time; I’ll get to that in a minute.


At the time, all I could think was, why  can’t we play like the other kids? Why are we in jail?  Of course now, 40 something years later, I realize that she was teaching us to read ahead, think for ourselves, and glean meaning from what was written. Fifteen minutes a day, time 200 days, and that is substantial training for reading contracts.


I was “Tom Sawyer’d” into cleaning the blackboards most days. Mrs. Whitlock would remind every one, “SueAnn is the top reader in the school, and so she will clean the blackboards.” I was a little proud of this accomplishment, but it made the cool kids hate me. Looking back on it, it wasn’t such a grand prize. I was breathing in chalk dust, and then on Fridays I would have to use the damp cloth and wipe the blackboards down. That was kinda gross too. I just felt happy that I was actually good at something.


[These days, I’m good at dressing layers, so as to be ready for Hot Flashes.]



Poems and Sayings of my 5th grade teacher


Owl (Photo credit: JamesieAB)

Mrs. Whitlock had a few favorite poems that she brainwashed us with. Here’s one:

If a task is once begun,

Never leave it ’til it’s done.

Be the labor

great or small,

do it well or not at all.

Now that I’m an adult (I won’t use the term “grown-up”) I understand what she was teaching us. Do it. Do a good job. Don’t be a slacker!

I shutter when I see the current generation of kids (which letter of the alphabet are we on? Generation Y?) who have no work ethic. Scary stuff.

I recently saw a young girl, swinging on a swing. As I got closer to her, I saw that she had an iPad on her lap, and an earphone connected to her ear!

These kids are so dependant on technology to do their math for them, their spelling (spellcheck) and even to remember friends’ phone numbers.

Whatever happened to just being a kid? (Ok, let’s not go down that path….)

Mrs. Whitlock had another poem that she drilled into our heads:

The wise old owl sat in the oak,

The more he heard, the less he spoke,

The less he spoke, the more he heard,

Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?

A very simple way of saying: you learn more by listening than talking!

And although prayer in school was illegal at that time, she “forced us” to  recite:

Our Father, which art in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Forever. Amen.

And that was probably the most important poem of all!

I wonder how much trouble a teacher would be in, if they forced the kids to recite the Lord’s prayer? Might be a little less gun violence and teen pregnancy though……

My Childhood Home

* This is an embellished story * This is an embellished story

English: a nazi swastika Español: una esvástic...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I turned onto the road that led to my childhood home, I looked across the street to the Summer Camp that our Jewish neighbors owned. The camp had been closed up for the season – the rowboats taken from the water and leaning against the shed, the picnic tables covered, and the umbrellas pulled down and secured – safe for the winter, in anticipation of this summer’s reopening.

I had moved from the old neighborhood decades ago, but somehow found the courage to make the trip back. The gravel crunched beneath my tires as I inched up the long driveway to the old house. I  pictured how the house used to look, shaded by towering pine trees, with plastic sheeting covering the small basement windows in an attempt to hold in the heat.

The back door was the preferred entrance to the house. Next to the steps leading to the back door was a small patio floor which had a swastika embedded into the design of the bricks. Most people who visited did not seem to make note of it; it seemed normal. I often wondered if it was the deciding factor in why my father had decided to buy the house. The swastika was embedded into the patio floor, as the anti-Semitism was embedded into the family consciousness.

We had lived out in the country, and there were not many people around. The Jewish family up the road had a daughter my age, but my parents had discouraged me from associating with her. There were no other girls in the neighborhood, so I spent much of my time alone. It would have been nice to have had a friend.

As the ground scraped and spun under my tires, I thought back to the time I had sat in the living room, watched the large black-and-white television, and had stumbled across a documentary about the Holocaust.  I saw the piles of naked corpses, the children shivering and crying, and the barbed wire. The Nazi soldiers were wearing warm coats and carrying rifles.

I was nine years old.

I was confused and horrified. At supper that night I had asked my father what it all meant. I was not ready for the answer.

“The Jews were buying up Germany,” he started. I was aware that we were of German heritage, and my great-grandfather had come to America in 1890. “The Jews owned everything,” he continued, “and the German people didn’t have anything. So they decided to get rid of the Jews. THEY DESERVED IT.”

“Oh,” was all I could muster. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I was confused, but I knew better than to second-guess my father’s opinion to his face. I would be punished, and he would say I deserved that, too.

I reached the house, and turned off the car. The large trees were dead, the pine needles brown and lying in piles on the ground. The plastic on the basement windows was ripped and full of holes, blowing in the breeze. The windows of the house were boarded up, and the back door displayed an official “condemned” sign. Although the house was cursed in the spirit realm long before I had lived there, it had only recently been legally condemned. I looked more closely at the sign. It was dated April 21, 2011. Thirty years to the day that my father had died.

The patio floor had been repaved, and the swastika, which had once held prominence, was no longer visible. But I knew it was still there, hidden within the house’s memory—and mine. I took one last look at the old house, exhaled deeply, and got into my car.

I turned out of the driveway, and looked over at the camp. My neighbors were outside doing yard work, in preparation for the camp’s opening. I smiled and waved.

They looked at me funny.

But then they smiled and waved back.

The Swastika has no hold on me anymore.

** this is an embellished story.

Uncle Jim

dazzled maniac Jim Morrison drowns out the hau...

(Photo credit: quapan)

The first day of school, Mrs. Whitlock asked me my name. “SueAnn Porter,” I blurted out shyly.

“Are you related to Jim Porter?!” Her eyes bugged out of her head as she peered over her glasses.


She continued to stare at me.

“He’s my uncle, but we never see him. We never see him.”

“Ok. Hmph. You’re tall, so you sit in the back, in this row.” She pointed, and I obeyed.

When I went home that night, I told my parents about the conversation.

“Oh Good God!” my father yelled. “Am I ever going to get away from him?!”

“What?” I half-whispered.

“My brother Jim is a crazy nut. And people know my name and they assume I’m just like him. I don’t want this affecting you.

“We had Mrs. Whitlock for a teacher in the little one-room school-house out on Quarry Road. She knows Jim is a troublemaker. He was always disrupting class, playing pranks, and getting in trouble.

“In High School, he got arrested for throwing a girl out of his car.”

“That’s awful.” I couldn’t believe my ears.

Mrs. Whitlock asked me several more times during the year if I was related to Jim Porter. I replied exactly the same: “We never see him. We never see him.”

As the school year went on, Mrs. Whitlock realized that I was nothing like Uncle Jim, and she treated me better. In fact, she started bragging that I was “the top reader in the school.”

I think she got over it.

But I’m sure she never got over Jim Porter.

The Back Closet

English: A pair of black Converse sneakers

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the back closet of Mrs. Whitlock’s classroom there was an extra dress, a pair of sneakers, and a  hair brush.

When it was time for Gym Class, Mrs. Whitlock would put her sneakers on. She didn’t participate in the Gym Class, but she would walk us down the hall to the Gym. When the weather was nice, she would take us outside and make us run around the track. She herself didn’t run; what the heck did she need sneakers for? It really looked silly paired with her old-fashioned, to-the-calf dress.

Mrs. Whitlock was also seen walking to and from school, just as he had in the 1940’s. She didn’t have a new-fangled automobile. She walked in rain, sleet, or snow. Once in a while another teacher would offer her a ride and she would accept it. So I understand the sneakers from a “transportation” view. But just to feel one-of-the-crowd during gym class, I don’t get that.

The brush was for discipline. Although corporal punishment in the schools had been outlawed by the time 1970 rolled around, Mrs. Whitlock still found it useful to threaten to hit us with the brush from time to time. I never saw her use it on anyone. But she did one time grab a kid by the hair, take him into the boys’ room, and cut his hair off.

I never did figure out why that extra dress was there. Maybe if she got snowed in, she would have something different to wear the next day?