A Wooden Desk & the World
by Amy Kenneley
"When I call your name, you will go to your seat, put your school supplies into the desk, and fold your hands" And so began my year as a Fourth Grader at Hough School.
Waiting for my name to be called and my seat to be assigned, I hugged my plaid briefcase bookbag against me. It had black leather straps with a black plastic handle at the top. Inside were delicious things Mother had bought at Woolworth's.
One by one we found our seats. There were six rows of wooden desks, with eight seats to a row. The desks were screwed down to the scrubbed, unvarnished, wooden floor.
Good Desk, Bad Desk
The teacher had kept several seats near her desk empty. Everyone knew that was where troublemakers would wind up-- seated under her watchful eye. Already two boys elbowing one another behind me were possible candidates.
She called my name-- I couldn't believe I had the last desk in the last row…right by the windows! The teacher's desk was far, far away. I wouldn't be expected to raise my hand often-and my desk gave me a balcony view of Hough Avenue.
I lifted the wooden lid of the old desk, with inked and carved grooves across the top, an alphabet directory of former students imbedded into maple.
First to go inside was a big, thick pad of Manila paper, for art assignments-- although why Manila and not Vanilla I never did know. Next I put in a blue-lined Campus writing pad. The cadets with their high black hats marched in a line across the shiny cover. And for the first time, a three-ring notebook binder in blue cloth, with divider pages and real 3-ring notebook paper.
No more Laddie pencils for me, either. I had three yellow Number 2 Ticonderoga ones. The big 48-count box of Crayola crayons was next, and the huge art gum eraser, guaranteed to manufacture beige tumbleweeds when rubbed across any offending mistakes. From past experience, it would be needed.
The pads of paper were lined against one side of the desk, the crayons against the other side, and the pencils rolled easily into the pencil groove closest to the desk lid opening.
This was a new year, and now the war of 3rd grade writing, scene of my humiliation as a pen-and-nib ink writer, was past. With stained fingers I had brandished my inky sword, slashing and splotching my way across the porous-papered tablet-pausing only to get fresh black, wet ammunition.
To do that I would dip the tip into the ink bottle that was foxholed at the upper right of the desk, above the slope. A tiny rag was used to mop the splatters, but it was too small a tourniquet to bind the wounds of my writing technique. A procession of neat penmanship papers bordered the 3rd grade room--all but mine. Imagine, almost failing handwriting.
The Parker Pen
Sometime during the summer a decision had been made to abandon writing with the old pens. Fountain pens and those new ball point pens could be used,. Hooray for technology! So last out of my plaid treasure bag came a Parker fountain pen from an understanding Grandpa.
The blue-black ink bottle had to stay home, of course, but I could fill my pen everyday in anticipation of writing wonderful reports for my Fourth Grade year. The pen was dark blue with an almost-gold clip on the pen cap.
What brought the ink into the bag was a narrow lever- almost-gold, too- along the side of the pen. There was just enough room to insert your fingernail into the groove.
To refill the pen, you took off the cap, pointed the pen tip into the ink and pulled down the lever slowly, which deflated the baggy reservoir inside the hollow pen stem. When the lever was raised, the ink was sucked into the reservoir. A little wipe of a Kleenex across the pen point, and I was in business.
With the desk neat and organized, my eyes explored the room. It was rectangular, with very high ceilings of yellowing paint. Four white-globed electric lights emerged from the ceiling on yard-long rods. The door was of opaque glass panes, to keep our eyes from wandering towards anything interesting passing in the halls.
The blackboard ran across the room at the front, neat lines of white chalk and battered felt erasers alternating across the chalk tray. Suspended from the top of the blackboard were rolled up maps, set on springs just like our pull-down shades at home. A yard-long rounded pointer,minus the rubber tip, rested there, too.
The Cloak Room
Behind the chalkboard wall was a long, narrow passage leading to nowhere-the cloakroom. None of us wore cloaks, of course, but teachers insisted that we call it that. So cloakless, we were to hang our coats, sweaters, hats and mittens on the hooks lining the cloakroom cavern, and line our boots for rain or snow directly beneath our hook. Please bring a clothespin to keep your galoshes together, we were told.
The cloakroom was also the Fibber McGee's closet for teacher's supplies. Damaged books and broken desk parts lingered there. The most interesting item was the 6-foot pole with the metal finger on top, used for opening the latches on the tall windows and for pulling down the top window for ventilation, or to pull down shades to keep the sun out. Only boys were chosen for this task and it was quite an honor.
There was a small bookcase with well-used geography and arithmetic books.
On a tall stand beside the teacher's desk was a huge globe of the world. Unlike the vari-colored maps on the pull-down shades at the blackboard, this globe had only two colors-black and blue-blue for the oceans of the world, and black for the land masses.
Lined up like graph-paper models, the desks faced the blackboard, and the teacher. Her desk was in the exact center of the blackboard facing us. She could see everything…and everyone. Her desk top was almost entirely covered with a green writing blotter slipped into a desk pad with red leather edges.
Her pencils and pens-red marking pencils and blue marking pens-were in a cup with a broken handle set exactly to her right hand. Behind her hung the Regulator school clock. Its metronome pendulum swung fast or slow, depending or whether it was time to arrive or leave.
Against the side walls halfway down the classroom were two black iron registers, the holes to Hell, where heat generated in the basement's dark coal bins and shovel-and-poke furnaces could rise up, up, up to our room. As the months progressed into bitter winter, we discovered that the clanks and bangs coming from the basement usually occasioned a smear of soot clinging to the walls.
From there the heat rose to the tip top of the high ceiling, warming the lighted globes and the flaking ceiling paint, but giving us hardly any warmth at all.
Part 2 of The Wooden Desk and the World
Top of Page
Back to Amy Kenneley
Back to Memories