EDITOR’S NOTE: This is #6 in Chuck McLaughlin’s series of stories about his life. If you’ve missed one, see the links at the end to “catch up.”

By Charles McLaughlin
The months following Dad’s demise had a thin veneer of normalcy but beneath lay a stubborn pall that dampened our discourse and seemingly forbade laughter. Yet Mom, a true survivor, bore up well and her example inspired the rest of us to finally move on in old “B” town.

But, Heh. I’ve gotten way ahead of myself here! I just skipped over what happened from the time we first opened our front door on “E” Street and the crickets ran for cover and the time the stuff hit the fan spoken of earlier!

Well, first thing was to get us kids signed up for school. So Mom drove us over to the Franklin grade school, a large red brick two-story building on 18th Street, and jabbered a bit with the Principal, Caroline Harris, who took control of us and Mom then drove off to tend to her whatever. Principal Harris then sorted us out by class and a class monitor led each of us to our assigned classroom.

Schools in Bakersfield were fully integrated, though most kids of color lived in East Bakersfield, attended grade schools there and thus did not attend Franklin in large numbers.

At this age and grade girls were girls and boys were boys and there didn’t seem to be any confusion about whether girls played football or boys played Jacks. Classroom seating was homogenous gender-wise and the school taught kindergarten thru sixth grade. Junior High, seventh thru eighth, was a whole different kettle of fish!

Chuck’s 3rd grade class – Chuck in 2nd row from bottom 4th guy from left 1937

The teacher/pupil ratio at Franklin was about the same as now (see pix), at least in Franklin, and God help you if you crossed a teacher! That was a given: the teacher was a goddess and you toed-the-line or found yourself in the principal’s office. Also, schools in Bakersfield back-in-the-day supported wholeheartedly the adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

It so happened Caroline Harris was a principal meaner than cat dung and being a card-carrying rascal and bound together with a small gang of rascals, I found myself in her office more times than I can count! When we came into her office she was prepared and we knew which chair to lie down on to receive licks from the wooden paddle she applied with serious remedial intent! We hardened criminals would fake remorse, repeat the bald-face lie “I won’t do it any more” we pledged last time and issue forth just as fake sobs and wails of pain while our partners in crime were trying hard to stop their snickering as they waited their turn. I truly believe, dear readers, over the years Caroline Harris spent more time beating our butts than attending to her administrative duties!

Right here I have to issue a warning to any sensitive souls who might find what is written next unsuitable for distribution. You see, I’m going to attempt to mitigate butt paddling at Franklin by juxtaposing it with exorcisms carried on by some schools in San Francisco and elsewhere! Exorcisms? You read me right, dear friends. Just ask any left-hander from my era and close by and they’ll set you straight! But here’s my take on it: This wasn’t just me levitating above my bed and a holy man dropping by to chase the devil out of me. No Ma’am. This was a teacher. That’s right. A teacher trying to cure me of the unholy sin of writing cursively with my left hand! Oh, Lord of Mercy, forgive the very thought of it! Here’s this innocent born-that-way leftie trying his best to please only to have his bare knuckles whacked with the edge of a ruler, not the flat side, mind you, but the edge of the ruler! That my friends, was painful. That, my friends, was a cardinal sin if ever there was one and right up there next to a crime against humanity! A practical-minded soul among you may ask, “Did it work?” Well, in my case Yes, in a half-ass sort of way. I became ambidextrous.

Classrooms were large, had at least five rows of immovable desks and each row was lined with about seven of them. Each student was assigned a desk and rarely was that by choice. Elsewhere in the room were the teacher’s desk, one much larger than ours and at the front of the class; behind her a large blackboard with a tray for erasers and chalk(both included); an American flag, usually to the right of the teacher; large louvered windows that made up one whole wall and a cloakroom at the rear. That was it! Sparse and to the point. Oh, I should mention the cloakroom served the dual purpose of hanging cloaks and housing students who were punished for some indiscretion.

In the second grade, I was introduced to what would seem to be a cute and insignificant task that, in reality, turned out to influence my life for the next 86 years! I was handed a triangle. Believe it or not, that was the beginning of my love of rhythm, music and performing! Soon I was striking everything in sight to discover what sound I would hear, much to the chagrin of those students and teachers in close proximity! In the fourth grade I was to experience the true awakening to the absolute beauty and nuances of music and the instrument I wished to play to make it: the violin!

It was Tchaikovsky’s fault! I heard the school orchestra practicing his Waltz of the Flowers (from the Nutcracker) one day and was struck dumb by the beauty of the violins and with the encouragement of my favorite teacher, Laila Fulkerson, within a few months I was playing in that orchestra…second chair but playing!

Technology and Grandma Seymour next up.

Need to catch up with the Ramblings series – here are the links: