Recently I went to River Valley Mall in Lancaster for two purposes: to get some much needed exercise and to buy a pair of shoes. Finding the shoes I wanted and the correct size, I then attempted to get them on. After some minutes of twisting, turning, and labored breathing, I finally succeeded.
I walked a few steps, found them quite comfortable, and decided to buy them. They were my favorites, Skechers, and quite expensive, but I had just gotten a raise in Social Security and knew I could well afford this purchase. At the check-out counter I was asked whether I needed anything else. I replied that it would be nice to have shoe horns available for patrons, especially elderly ones like myself.
“Oh, we have those,” answered the friendly young lady. “You can buy them here at the counter.”
“Buy a shoe horn?” I replied in disbelief. Then my sarcasm kicked in.
“You mean a person has to pay to try on some $90 shoes?”
Immediately I thought of the good ole days when we went to the Arcade Shoe Store here on Main Street, where we were not only helped find the shoes and sizes but were even assisted in trying them on. Shoes were much less expensive back then, and shoehorns were included with each purchase, I reminisced.
Shoe stores aren’t the only places that have changed since the good ole days. After the publication of my Christmas column, I received a phone call from a person I’ve not seen or talked to since high school. During our conversation about my writing, she asked whether I remembered the time I got in trouble in study hall for talking.
“I always felt bad about that, “she said. “It was because of me you got called down, and you were just answering my question.” I vaguely remembered the incident. I had been asked how to spell a word and was sharing my knowledge when Ms. Krinn reprimanded me.
“School has changed a lot,” we laughingly agreed. “Today kids are getting into trouble for a lot worse things than talking during study hall,” I added.
My mind went back to the good ole days at West Logan Elementary School where I received my first eight years of education. There were two grades in each room, and in grades three and four, our teacher, Ms. Gladys Lee, had a unique way of maintaining silence in her classroom.
On the blackboard (they were black back then) were the names of every student in the room. Each week Ms. Lee had a person in charge of “whisper marks.” This person (and as I remember, it was usually a girl) sat facing the other students and put a tally mark by the offender’s name each time he/she committed the grievous offense of whispering. I forget the exact number but think perhaps it was five whisper marks that brought the forfeit of recesses for a couple of days.
Learning took place in a quiet atmosphere back in the good ole days.
Certainly we didn’t have to worry about anyone bringing a gun to school back then. But there were some other fears we had even in the good ole days. One was getting a paddling. And, of course, if you got a paddling at school, you could expect one at home.
I’m still old-fashioned enough to believe that corporal punishment can be effective if done properly. But I do not believe in beating or demeaning anyone through public humiliation, and that’s what often happened at West Logan School during the good ole days. Looking back, I now realize that we witnessed child abuse on more than one occasion, especially with the teachers in the upper grades that are today called middle school.
One teacher actually boasted about the marks on her paddle that had come from a boy with a back pocket full of marbles. She brandished her “weapon” in the same fashion that an Old West gunslinger would show off the notches in his gun. This woman was very knowledgeable and a good teacher. I learned a great deal from her. However, I now see many of her actions as sadistic. I have a vivid memory of one little boy who tearfully pled not to be spanked, and over 60 years later I remember feeling his shame and humiliation.
In grades 7 and 8 we had our first male teacher. He was usually easy-going, and I didn’t have to work very hard to rise to his expectation level. He was the favorite of most of the boys who delighted in putting forth minimal effort, but the girls feared him—not because we dreaded incurring his wrath and receiving a paddling but because of his inappropriate touching. After putting his arm around a girl and engaging her in conversation, he would gradually move his hand to her breast area.
Today he would be incarcerated because those actions are now considered sexual abuse. But it was different in those innocent days of the 1950s. I was in my forties before I shared with my parents what I and nearly every other girl had experienced. They were stunned and asked, “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“You just didn’t talk about things like that back then,” I replied. “Besides, he was a teacher, and I was a kid and had no rights.”
Because of psychological distance, it’s easy to romanticize the past as we criticize the present. Yes, shoes were cheaper and shoe horns were free, classes were quieter, and school discipline was enforced in a structured environment.
But not everything about those good ole days was really good.
Karen Kornmiller writes a bi-weekly column published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.