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You Don't Know Jack Adkins

Jim Oliver, class of 1968There 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 the Springer Connection web site conjured thoughts of long ago that I’d like to share. If you were around at that 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. A 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.

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.


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 field 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 out at the Fire Department and contemplating what trouble lay ahead. Nothing was ever made of it, but it was a funny moment for the rest of us.


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 the baseball games that followed. The area buzzed with booths selling hamburgers, hot dogs and snow cones. Scattered around were fire engines, pony rides and community service displays. Once, the local Saturday television dance show called ‘Teenage Party’ was there with the host Dave Davis. The hits rang out over a two large speaker cabinets.

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 Babe Ruth diamond. 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.


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 tree and fell 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 field 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. As the 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 lazy to commit to showing up for practice anyway, so in that sense, I was off the hook. I was content to hang out during the nighttime ball games. I recall the buzz and the excitement of roaming around the swing sets, among the other kids and some parents. 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 were always standing in the worn out circle of grass. Near the playground was a wooded spot with a path that went from the small swings area to the rear of the Henrico Theater. That path held legends 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 for school gossip and stories. Their 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.

Like the "incident" with the banana, in the large, prison-like lunchroom (Where was that lunchroom? Was it in a basement below the auditorium?). At the time it seemed like a harmless act of humor in front of a few girls. I was 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 the boys' 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.


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?


I 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 up.

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 areas
  • Jerry Oakley (the little guy)
  • Beatniks
  • 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 being murdered
  • Tru-aid
  • 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 polio.
  • Skipping school and being talked into walking to town with a couple friends.
  • 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 Center Pharmacy..
  • Uncontrollably laughing with Danny Meade in the back of class and trying not to be noticed (which made it worse).
  • 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.


I was 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 it was 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 remained a close 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 beloved landmarks.

Later, I saw Wally Haynes staring at the fire. I wondered why his coat once again smelled like smoke. Just kidding!



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