Nora Swango Stanger: Community matters

Published 12:03 am Sunday, March 24, 2019

Annabelle Schweickart-Jenkins, thank you for taking me back to memories of things that matter.

Annabelle posted the enclosed picture of the little, but so very important, community from my childhood. Every year, Mr. Arrington gathered his fifth grade students on the front steps of Waterloo Elementary School for a class picture. Nowadays, this is a typical yearly event for teachers, but Mr. Arrington was the first and only teacher during my childhood to take class photos.

As I look at this picture, remembering every name, I am taken back in time. In our school, the same students remained together from first through eighth grade, some of the most formative years of childhood. We knew each other, our parents and siblings. We knew where each other lived, what bus we rode to get back to our very rural homes. We knew what subjects we liked or hated, what stressed us out and what we most enjoyed. We struggled through embarrassing spelling bees and poor performances on tests.

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Sometimes we fought and didn’t like each other. But now, looking at these sweet faces I love everyone. I remember our recesses and the games we played. I can still see when Brenda T. chipped her tooth during jump rope and seeking the best rocks to play hopscotch with. I remember Diane always wore long braids and knew every detail about baseball. Ellen and Cathy seemed to be tied at the hip — best friends.

Mr. Arrington had us all playing softball during many recesses and I remember when an upper classman and I collided on the field, giving me a huge bump on my head. Mr. Arrington sent me with Mrs. White to the teacher’s lounge to lie down for a bit, and I marveled that teachers had their own private bathroom.

Beth was always so pretty and highly spirited, nothing ever seemed to hold her down. Sandy dressed adorably and never had a hair out of place. Becky, whose family was involved in a horse club, had the most amazing sweater with quilted, puffy horses on the back. She let me wear that sweater once. I also remember Becky asking me to go out for seventh grade cheerleader with her, even though I wasn’t popular enough to guarantee us winning.

I spent the night with Alice once and she gave me a kitten. But we both got into trouble when we played with the kitten on the bed and it used the quilt as a litter box. I distinctly remember a time I was being reprimanded by Mr. Arrington for something I had done and Sherri stood up for me, boldly and protective, not seeming to care if she, too, got a scolding.

Jeannie had a natural gift for drawing. I wonder if anyone ever encouraged her to develop her talent. Terry was the class clown and often had us in laughter, even if he didn’t mean to.

Once, when recess was over, we discovered Brenda B. was missing. What a nightmare for our principal! I remember Mr. Lunsford rushing her back into the school, his red face behind dark-rimmed glasses and his flattop gray hair seeming to turn whiter with every moment. She was fine. She had just gotten tired of being at school and decided to walk home.

We had a fall festival in October in the gym of the school. I remember my mom having a penny pitching booth for old dishware. At the time, we thought the dishes were the most beautiful possessions you could win but I’m sure they were mismatched and chipped. There was a fishing booth in the boys’ locker room where we’d toss a line, with a clothespin secured to a stick, across a curtain and pull back a treasured rubber snake or insect.

Every now and then, the PTA held a bake sale. We’d all take a nickel to school and, as the moms walked through our classroom, we were allowed to choose a tasty treat. Mark Coburn’s mom made the best popcorn balls. This treat was so good that they typically ran out before making the rounds to all students. I remember feeling like I had won a prize when I could get one of Ann Coburn’s popcorn balls.

Cakewalks, held in the small 1930s gym, topped off a bake sale day. Numbers were taped to the perimeter of the shiny hardwood floor and students would walk around the gym stepping ever so intentionally on the subsequent number as music played on a 45 rpm portable record player. When the music stopped, and you never knew when it would stop, a teacher would draw a number from a huge bowl. The student whose number was selected would get to choose from several beautifully decorated cakes to take home for his own! I don’t remember ever winning at the cakewalk, but I do distinctly remember a cake shaped like a rabbit, covered with white coconut frosting, outlined with pink on the ears, black whiskers and blue eyes.

I’ve not made it back for class reunions for many decades, but each of these precious people hold a dear spot in my heart. I wonder how you are doing. I know how hard life can be and I pray you are just as significant in your circle of the world now as you were to me back then.

Annabelle, you have made my day! Thank you for sharing a simple picture that brought back a treasure of memories.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at