There Was A Fish
Tank In The Hallway
What I Remember From Elementary School
by James Oliver,
class of 1968
July 20, 2005
The days of Highland Springs Elementary
School are far away, but not completely
forgotten. Looking at the old
photo of that once-grand building on
Springer Connection web site conjured
thoughts of long ago that I’d
like to share. If you
time it may hit home. Here goes:
The time was the late 1950's.
One teacher taught all subjects in
one large room, so the loud clang of
the bell did not mean to change class,
but instead signaled the long waited
moment of recess, lunch or going home.
large clock hung at the back of the
classroom that refused to move once
it got within one hour of three o’clock.
The desk and your seat location, once
chosen, became your permanent address
for the year where you would fidget,
rest, have a laugh attack, daydream,
stress out from neglect of homework
duties, and struggle with the sometimes
dreaded ‘butt itch syndrome’ that
came from detergent residue left from
an inefficient rinse cycle. I think
we might even have learned something
while we were
There was a large aquarium in the first
floor hallway. I heard that someone
had dumped something in it and the
fish croaked. Someone said it was Wally,
but I wouldn’t know. Rumors of
mischief broke the monotony of the
day like the morning news. We were
a well-informed city of runts.
WALLY SMELLED LIKE
Going to school in the mornings was
like a mini-social event, along with
the neighborhood dogs that showed up
to grin and swagger around the group.
Sometimes we had
to wait in miserable
cold for the bus. It was not uncommon
to burn something to stay warm.
One day Wally Haynes set a tire on
fire and the wind caused the whole
near the bus stop to burn. After getting
on the bus, Wally flopped down in the
seat where I sat. His coat smelled
burnt from having
tried to beat the fire out, and he
was still in a panic while looking
at the Fire Department and contemplating
what trouble lay ahead. Nothing was
ever made of it, but it was a funny
the rest of us.
SPRING FESTIVAL PARADE
There used to be an event called the ‘Spring
Festival’ that came early on
a Saturday morning. It was a grand
parade that marched down Nine Mile
Road and ended up in the school yard
behind the tall, brick elementary school.
It had marching bands and
the Queen of Highland Springs and clowns
throwing miniature loaves of Wonder
Bread from floats into the crowd.
A group of stores in a two block area
helped sponsor the events: Ed’s
Sporting Goods, Selden’s, a couple
of barber shops, Owens' appliance
store, High’s Ice Cream, and
Hechler Chevrolet. They were considered
the center of town for Highland Springs.
The Henrico Theater held down the east
leg of HS (Look out, here come the
newsreels and “The Three Stooges” or
short subjects before the movie).
After the parade was over, a massive
crowd of kids and parents roamed among
games that followed. The
area buzzed with booths selling
hamburgers, hot dogs and snow cones.
Scattered around were fire engines,
and community service displays.
Once, the local Saturday television
dance show called ‘Teenage
there with the host Dave Davis. The
hits rang out over a two large speaker
Little Anthony and the Imperials, Bobbie
Rydal, The Coasters, Fabian, Vinton,
Dion, Freddie “Boom-Boom” Cannon,
Elvis, Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers,
Neil Sedaka, and Fats Domino were favorites
at the time along with the occasional
one hit wonders like ‘Alley Oop’.
A few of the more popular couples were
there from ‘Teenage Party’.
They kicked up the dust, bee-bopping
in the area
under the enormous old tree that stood
behind the school. Buck shoes, cool
locks, duck tails, big skirts, horn
rim glasses and big hair were very
fashionable at the time. At least back
then we weren’t all bald.
Behind the school was an endless recreation
area. There were four baseball diamonds,
a playground, and
places with trees and picnic pavilions
and lots of grassy acres. In the evenings,
the older guys from high school would
park their polished
Chevy Impalas and Ford Galaxies (there
was also an occasional Desoto or Plymouth)
on the large concrete pad near the
I always liked the white brick building
where the music was taught by Mr. and
Mrs. Westbrook. It was the only
original school building still standing.
It would’ve made a great house
if it was somewhere else.
NO CRYING IN BASEBALL
I was never good at baseball, but
I tried out for the Little League
one time. Early one Saturday before
tryouts, my friend
Walter Garrett and I climbed the spruce tree next to the
open corridor that connected the two main school buildings.
It was a race to get to the catcher’s
mitt that we had spotted on the roof.
When we got up there, we discovered that the glove was old
and rotted, so we raced to get down to the ground. In my excitement
I jumped into the
to the ground on my back. I thought
I was a goner, but managed to get up after about an hour. In
pain, I hobbled over to the tryouts, but could only
manage to throw a ball that rolled pitifully across the
as the first baseman raised his eyebrow. I probably should
have gone to the hospital, but I thought it would be a hassle.
The day had arrived for the ‘choosing
of players’ for each team. I
figured that at the worst, I would
be chosen by one of the crummy teams.
One by one the names were called.
last name was called that Saturday
morning, I remained alone on the bleachers
unchosen and unwanted.
Sure it sucked, but in the end it
worked out for the good. I was too
commit to showing up for practice
anyway, so in that sense, I was off
I was content to hang out during
the nighttime ball games. I recall
the buzz and the excitement of roaming
swing sets, among the other kids and
I would drift between the four diamonds
while games were going on, and periodically
migrated over to slap the tetherball,
along with some other fellows that
standing in the worn out circle of
grass. Near the playground was a
wooded spot with a path that went from
small swings area to the rear of
the Henrico Theater. That path held
of sexual exploits. Of course, I
never actually witnessed or participated
in any. I just heard about it.
How can I not mention the curious
icons of HS that hung out in the schoolyards?
Everyone knew them. Some had dropped
out of school but still remained
part of the "crowd".
They were odd characters, all dudes
of course, usually grossly overweight,
sometimes drunk, some a bit mentally
challenged and gaudy, but they were
popular, well-liked and supplied fodder
school gossip and
alternate hangout would be in the front
of the Center Pharmacy. Day after day
they’d be there, propped up near
the entrance. Sometimes I thought
they lived there. They offered a colorful
touch to that era and most of us can
probably recall a few of them.
I didn’t like the brother-sister
team of safety patrols. Maybe the sister
was alright. I’ll be honest,
the brother could be a jerk. One moment
you're a friend, the next minute, he’d
turn you in. You would have thought
they were racking up points for ratting
on you over any trivial thing.
the "incident" with the
banana, in the large, prison-like lunchroom
(Where was that
lunchroom? Was it in a basement below
the auditorium?). At
time it seemed like a harmless act
of humor in front of a few girls. I
hauled into the office and confronted
with the vice principal.
It was a strange confrontation that
at one point, brought up the question
of the infamous ‘sink incident’ in
restroom. I was appalled that he asked me if I had anything
to do with it (Which I didn’t!). You guys that were there
might dig into your memory banks
and recall the day that odd announcement went over the P.A.
system for all the boys to go into the auditorium. A ‘turd’ had
been discovered in the sink and there was going to be hell
to pay. What a sicko!!
Then the vice principal confided that
he hated to even touch himself when
going to the
bathroom. Whoa! That was more then
I wanted to hear. I was freaked out!
Hey, it was just a joke with a banana!
I’m probably still traumatized.
To pay my 'debt' to society, I
was sentenced to work detail. Morning
trash pickup became my routine for
a week or so. The rule was to fill
the trash can, so the surrounding neighbors’ garbage
came in handy for stuffing my stash
of trash. I still think the lunchroom
banana thing was funny.
FIFTH GRADE HORMONES
made their debut around fifth grade.
The odds were that the
girl in the next row of seats (in
my case Linda E.) would contribute
to an occasional case of humiliation
when I was called to abruptly stand
at times to answer a question. There
was always a fear that would happen,
so if you had time you would discreetly
rearrange everything in advance, just
in case. I know I wasn’t the
only one. Oh well, where the hell are
those hormones now?
remember the yearly talent shows
were mediocre but for one performer.
About a block away from where I lived
was a small house. In the living room
was an upright piano with thumbtacks
on the hammers to give it a bright
sound. Wally Haynes lived there. When
there was a show, he was always saved
for last. And what a performance! He
would strut up the isle wearing a long
tail tuxedo, and then seat himself
at a piano in front of the stage. Then
he would crack his knuckles and commence
to cutting loose. Everyone was tapping
their feet and rocking in their chairs
as Wally pounded the piano, blasting
out jams of rock and roll, Scott Joplin
and heavy Dixieland. Of course,
he always won the competition.
In the school building was a basement
that served as a library. It was tucked
away. Nothing special, I just remembered
it so I thought I‘d bring it
There are scattered pieces of life that I associate with that
era, in no particular order:
- Eddie’s Drive-In
- Miracle Mart
- Zayre’s Department Store
- The Glenn Drive-in movie with separate
- Jerry Oakley (the little guy)
- 45 rpm records
- Moon hubcaps
- Gasoline for 25 cents a gallon
- Climbing up the HS water tower
in the middle of the night with a
friend on a dare
- Kelly’s burgers
- The log cabin dance place
- Sharp’s Grocery
- Hitchhiking without thoughts of
- Mickey Mouse Club
- Colonial Stores
- That duck pin bowling alley (Leigh)
- McChesney’s hardware store
with the metal roof next to the Mason’s
building near Holly Ave.
- T.C. Williams Auto Sales
- Girly shows at the State Fair
- Amos and Andy, Superman, Brenda
Lee on The Red Foley Hour, Dr. Kildare,
Groucho and Bandstand,
- Eisenhower, the Edsel, Studebaker,
Esso stations with free air and oil
checks, having the windshield cleaned
and gas pumped for you without getting
out of the car.
- TV in black and white with antennas
and getting up to crank the channel
button with 13 numbers for three
stations. Gunsmoke, Lucy, The Honeymooners,
Wagon Train, Ed Sullivan.
- The Twist, hula hoops, Mr. Bo,
the row of movie houses near Broad
and Eighth streets.
- The brand new Southside Plaza,
the Tantilla Room, The Sheik
- Typewriters, bomb shelters, Sputnik,
Khrushchev, itsy bitsy bikini, and
- Skipping school and being talked
into walking to town with a couple
- Getting whipped for skipping school.
- Getting up at 4 am in the snow
to deliver that sorry paper route
on a heavy bike with one gear.
- Falling for Moe White’s ‘missing
finger in a box trick’.
- Seeing the picture of the high
school teacher (Mr. Butler) in a
comic book ad as Mr. Muscles ( the
one where someone kicks dirt in the
puny guy’s face on the beach).
- Slugging down a limeade at the
- Uncontrollably laughing with Danny
Meade in the back of class and trying
not to be noticed (which made it
- Watching a fellow third grader
light up a Chesterfield and wondering "What’s
up with that?"
- Waiting to see a car come down
Nine Mile Road.
Remembering the teachers can be a
challenge. Ms Justus, Ms Simms, Ms
Davis, Ms Mundie, Ms Lipscomb, Miss
Rayborn (wait- that was Beaver Cleaver’s
principal). I thought I could remember
more. Like I said, it’s a challenge.
THE SCHOOL FIRE
there when the school burned down.
I propped myself up with my bicycle
and watched as the stately building
wasted away, throwing out yellow flames
from the large windows. The sky that
day was gray, overcast with rain that
backdropped the somberness of that
event. The engulfed structure held
fast while the fiery monster kept eating
away at it. In my mind, the building
seemed to be screaming for help, but
all too late.
The crowd stood at the
corners and among the fire engines
and hoses covering the street. One
elderly lady fell and was helped up
by a newsman. We all stared at the
destruction. Some even wept. For all
who had attended that school, there
sentimental attachment. And in the
end, it wasn’t just the bricks
and mortar, but a monument that held
decades of memories. Its last moments
were at hand.
Generations of kids, parents and grandparents
who had attended that elementary school
lost something special that day, and
Highland Springs lost one of its most
Later, I saw Wally
Haynes staring at the fire. I wondered
why his coat
again smelled like smoke. Just