Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

West Whiteland Black Hole

I did a search on Google for West Whiteland Elementary and turned up nothing, except one image, which was a photo I took of the building several years ago. How odd, for much of a mystery surrounds this particular school for me, I was certain it existed. I attended there for most of 1948 through 1949. For pete's sake, there on the left is the picture I took of the place, so it was real.
So I pulled up a Google Map and followed the roads until I found the place it was located and discovered it was now the Exton Elementary School and had been since 1962. On the school's website it gave a short and sketchy history. The school opened as the West Whiteland Consolidated School in 1941, coincidentally that was the year I was born, so I attended in the first decade of its existence as well as my own.

But what happened there? I began grade school at Downingtown East Ward on Washington Avenue, right across the street rom where we lived in 1946. I remember my First Grade teacher quite well, Mrs Mary Warren. She was a big woman, not overly heavy, but tall, at least from a six year old's perspective. She wore print dresses and these thick heeled shoes. She was sort of scary and she was strict. It was a different time and teacher's could lay hands on unruly or non-co-operating pupils. one of her favorite forms of getting your attention was to come up from behind and pull your hair if she felt you were not attentive.

I never had this experience. Mrs. Warren liked me. A lot of teachers liked me; it was a curse. Being Teacher's Pet did not make you popular with your peers. What got me in so good with Mrs. Warren was my ability to read. I could read long before ever going to school and when called upon to read "Fun with Dick and Jane" I put real emphasis on the command to "Run, Spot, Run". Yes, I did not drone out the text, I red with expression, which Mrs. Warren pointed out to the entire class, "was the way you all should be reading."

And here the strangeness begins. I didn't finish First Grade with Mrs. Warren. Halfway through the school year, during the Christmas break of 1947, my parents and I moved to the countryside near Glenloch. Just after New Year's Day 1948 I went into West Whiteland Consolidated School and finished First Grade there. I remained in West Whiteland for all of Second Grade and the first half of Third Grade, moving back to Downingtown and East Ward after New Year's Day 1950 and into the class of Miss Elizabeth Ezrah.

That is my Third Grade picture on the left, my first official school photo. I have an official yearly picture from that one throughout the rest of my public school life. I missed a First Grade photo at East Ward because we moved before one was taken.

There are no photographs of me at West Whiteland, official or otherwise. That is the thing, there are
no photographs, no report cards, no nothing, not even memories of my time in that institution.  I can't tell you who the principal was, can't name a single teacher and only one other student, but that is the one kid in that school whose home I visited. His name was Bobby Cuelers and he moved to Downingtown about the same time we moved back, thus was also in my class at East Ward. I can't remember anything about our relationship in West Whiteland.

The photo of Bobby to the right was taken in Sixth Grade at East Ward. By then whatever friendship we apparently had at West Whiteland had dissolved, just as any of my recall about it has. (Bobby always reminded me of James Cagney a little in looks.)

My First Grade report card only adds more puzzlement to this mystery.

This is my report card from East Ward, but I only attended class there from September through December of 1947. By January 1948 I was attending West Whiteland. You can see on the front that my teacher was Mary L, Warren and the Supervising Principal was Charles P. Emery.

On the back of the card it says I was promoted to Grade 2 and that this was approved by a M. Wallace.  I have no idea who M. Wallace was. Mrs. Rhonda Yost was principal of East Ward.

Was M. Wallace the principal at West Whiteland?

If so, why was she signing the report card issued by an entirely different and separate school district?

You can also see my mother's signature on all four marking periods. The inside of the card only complicates things. My marks are shown for all four marking period, plus the final exam and the final mark. Again, I remind you, I only attended East Ward for marking periods 1 and 2. My days of attendance are noted beneath the columns of grades, 29 in the first and 32 in the second. The other periods for attendance are blank.

The ink for the two periods at East Ward are both darker and in a different hand than those written in for the remainder of the year.  My performance also decreased in the second half, having had mostly A's at East Ward, I apparently had mostly B's at West Whiteland. My worst subject was Music, receiving a C and a B at East Ward, but no marks at all at West Whiteland. My overall grade point average at East Ward was 3.80, but fell to 3.375 at West Whiteland.  But who wrote my West Whiteland grades on this East Ward Card and are they true?

My Third Grade Report Card only includes the last two marking periods that I attended at East Ward, as it should.

This may all be silly after all this time. Why should I concern myself with what happened in early grade school? Well, that is the whole point. What did happen to me in early grade school? Why should two years over three school grades completely and utterly disappear from my memory? One would think I would remember something about that school, but I don't.

I have a vague, very vague wisp of something about soccer associated with West Whiteland, but I don't know why that. I do know it was the one team sport I knew how to play when I came back to East Ward.

It is a black hole in my life and why it nags at me is you hear about so many people who experienced a negative happening in their childhood that they blot out of their mind. Did something bad happen at West Whiteland?

I know I was different when I came back to Downingtown than when I left. I was outgoing before that period, but withdrawn and shy afterward. In my first years I was sociable and had many friends in the neighborhood, as shown in these photos of birthday parties, but when I returned in 1950 I was shunned or bullied by former friends and had to slowly develop new friendships, mostly with other outcasts.

I always attributed this change to the isolation of living behind the swamp in the nowhere that was Glenloch in those days, but did something happen at West Whiteland School that contributed to the struggles I had afterward?

I wish I knew.

1 comment:

Jon said...

Another very interesting post. I really hope that the mystery of those "forgotten" school years will eventually be solved. There is certainly a possibility that something unpleasant or traumatic happened at that time.

Constantly having to move is detrimental to a child. I attended six different schools in nine years. At the time it didn't seem to affect me, but in retrospect it was difficult. It was impossible to establish friendships and I never felt that I truly had "roots".