Here, gathered in our beloved South Dakota, are a few members of our Williamson / Mattson Clan. Charles and Luella are to be blamed (be kind, they didn't know what they were doing). We're generally a happy bunch and somewhat intelligent (notwithstanding our tenuous grasp on reality). I'm also proud to say that most of us still have our teeth.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Memories from Jefferson Elementary School, Rapid City, South Dakota. 1965.

Victor, just before starting 2nd grade at Jefferson Elementary.
It a pre Penny smile you see.

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
Thank you to everyone for the many kind birthday greetings sent to brighten my day. Well, if the next 52 years goes by as quickly as the first, I'll be an afterthought faster than the time it will take for the rest of that thick forest of hair I once had to fall out!

One of my objectives for this blog is to record our family's history. That history includes the time we spent growing up in Rapid City, South Dakota.

I loved Rapid City. I love Rapid City. I enjoyed all three of the neighborhoods we lived in. I enjoyed my many years in the city's public schools - except second grade. Second grade taught me one important life lesson - not everyone has your back.

I spent second grade at Jefferson Elementary School in Rapid City, located at the bottom of Signal Heights, the hill our modest duplex sat atop. Second grade was challenging for three reasons:
  • My teacher Miss May. Young, inexperienced, and a true suffragette.
  • Penny - the girl all second grade boys hated the most.
  • Mr. Arnold - the Principal and secret National Socialist.
Our classroom was located across the hall and down one room from Mr. Arnold's office. Our principal, Mr. Arnold, believed in strict discipline. If you broke the rules you paid the ultimate price - a trip to his office where the paddle awaited. Yes it was a simpler time in the early 1960's. Children didn't run wild through the school's like they do now. In those days the adults that were in charge. Today, it's the kids. We've gotten to the point where adults are terrified of even looking at a child wrong. What a miserable state of affairs we've created.

From my desk in the second grade I could see out the door into the hallway leading to the school's office. I witnessed the face of many a wayward student walking that long dreadful corridor. Their steps were slow as they passed our room. Occasionally the soon to be paddled child would glance into our classroom as he passed. I remember their faces and expressions. I remember their eyes dark and hanging with desperation and despair.

If my teacher, Miss May, caught us looking into the hall she would snap her fingers to draw us back to our coloring. Then I would wait. It never took long before the paddling commenced.

"I won't do it again! I won't! Whack, Whack, Whack, Whack!" The sound of the board against the child's backside resonated through the hallway followed by the crying and yes, sometimes screaming. At which point Miss May would get up from her desk and walk slowly toward the classroom's door looking at each of us along the way. She always wore a slight smile on occasions like this.

"You see children," she would say putting her hands together as if in prayer, "If you misbehave you'll visit Mr. Arnold. Listen, do you hear that boy crying? Which of you will be next?"
At that point in her speech she would stop and survey the room. You felt her mind probing yours. She was searching for anything that would deliver you to her. Any lie, any cheating, any tripping or spitting - any misbehavior would doom you to her first and then Mr. Arnold. I really believed she had the power to look into my soul so I did my best to think about something else instead of my multiple transgressions. Her probing eyes instinctively paused on mine. She knew I had the black heart of a mischievous second grader disguised by a sweet smile and round pleasant eyes. She knew one day I'd break and confess all.

Miss May always stopped just before closing the classroom door to take one last glance around the room to reinforce her joy at the thought of feeding one of us to the lions. That's when she'd reveal with her eyes the boy most in danger. It was always the poor wretched child last looked at as the door closed.

The girls in my second grade class loved Miss May. She never looked at them; she never scolded them. The girls enjoyed the loathing she demonstrated for boys. They enjoyed the terror her looks and pauses inflicted on us. As a youngster I imagined she was a master of disguise. On the outside she had the appearance of a young school mistress without guile. On the inside my mind saw something else; the most horrible thing a second grader in 1965 could think of - the green wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz. I'd look at her fingernails for traces of green whenever I had occasion to visit her desk. A trip I, and every other boy, avoided with the same trepidation as a trip to the school nurse for your shots.

Miss May's favorite student was my nemesis. Her name was Penny. Her face was splatter with brown freckles and the top of her head ablaze with red hair. Penny, the name to this day makes me shudder. To the unknowing classroom visitor, Penny looked like a little angel, but I knew better. I knew her by her other name - Despair. I never knew her last name. Perhaps she didn't have one. Nero didn't have a last name. Claudius didn't either. What about Jezebel?

Beside being an honor student, Penny's other vocation was my tormentor. For her it wasn't a job but a calling from the almighty. It was His way of punishing me for failing to wash behind my ears or tossing the vomitous green peas into the trash mother would heap on my plate at suppertime. God knew my sole was in jeopardy and sent Penny to stomp me into humble submission.

At recess Penny watched me like a hawk. It was her `Make Victor's life intolerable' time. Any girl that liked me would be was hunted down on the playground and pulled into Penny's group of cackling hens. After a few minutes the girl would emerge looking at me like I was a bloated dead cow oozing with pus.

I hated Penny - or as close to hate as a second grader can come. I would have sold my soul to the devil just to see Penny marched off to Mr. Arnold's office. Those few minutes of her on the receiving end of a good paddling would make eternity's flames worth it. Her cries, paired with Miss May's look of horror, would be candy to my eyes and ears. The first whack would bring every boy in the second grade to his feet cheering.

The uncontrolled enthusiasm caused by Penny's paddling would transform from cheering into rioting - starting with the the breaking of crayons and the toppling of desks. Teachers would surrender their classrooms under the barrage of globs of finger paint. Anarchy would reign in the second grade at Jefferson Elementary School, Rapid City South Dakota -

until Mr. Arnold opened the door.

To Be Continued.............



  1. I call "shenanigans"!!

    I grew up in Rapid City (Rapid City Central class of 1978). I recall no "Jefferson elementary". A look at http://public.rcas.org shows no such school. Care to produce some evidence (address, etc).

    Thanks in Advance

  2. goodgrls@rushmore.comApril 9, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    I too went to Jefferson Elementary. So did my parents. I still see my kindergarten teacher at the grocery store as well as several other teachers I had while attending there. Sadly, Mr. Arnold passed away several years ago. I worked at the school several years ago (it is now Jefferson Academy). What a great school......good memories.

  3. I went to Jefferson School as well! It was also the grade school of my parents in the late 40's. It is Jefferson Alternative High School today. Sadly, Mr. Arnold died several years ago. I still see many former classmates and my kindergarten teacher around town. What a great little neighborhood school. Good times.