CAHOKIA GRADE SCHOOL 1943
Donated by Sharon Newton Burnes
Dale and Dean NEWTON, Center Front
of years ago. I think Paul was 53 years of age when he died of cancer. I
really liked Paul. He was a good person who, like most of us, had a cross or
two to bear through life. Thinking of him calls up a host of memories of
Paul, Johnny Levin, Joe Howell, Maurice "Sonny" MaGourik, and I, along
with a number of others, grew up together in what is now known as "old"
Cahokia. This was the original village before several annexations occurred.
I can't remember when I first met Paul but it had to be during the first few
years of grade school, probably second grade because Paul was a year younger
than me. At that time we both attended Cahokia Grade School. The school
building is still there but has had several modern additions.
The original part was quite unusual with a rotunda entrance that opened
to a broad staircase leading up to the main floor with two large classrooms
on either side. There was one teacher
for each classroom and grades were distinguished from each other by rows of
desks, one row for each grade. Sometimes one grade was no more than five or
six students. Mrs. Wright was the teacher for the lower grades and Mrs.
Beiss for the upper. Physical education was simply two recess periods of 15
minutes each, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon.
There were two large basement rooms, one on either side, where we took
recess in case of rain or in very cold weather. These rooms were also used
for music and art classes conducted once per week by traveling teachers that
went from school to school.
Mr. Peters, who lived next door to the school, was the school janitor
and maintenance man. He also participated in our education in one way or
another and helped look after us. He kept the furnace burning, swept the
floors, bandaged knees and made sure the playground equipment worked safely.
I remember one year Mr. Peters brought a very large Spoonbill Catfish
to school and all the classes were let outside to see this wonder. It was
much too large for one man to carry so he brought it draped over the front
fender of his Model "A" Ford. The bill of the fish, which is shaped like a
spoon's handle, stuck out past the front bumper. The tail was resting on the
running board that made this fish about six or seven feet long from tip to
tip. It probably weighed well over a hundred pounds. As I recall, that was
not unheard of for Spoonbills during that era. It was very likely caught by
one of the huge dip nets that were permanently installed along the canals
and tributaries leading to the nearby Mississippi River. Anything event of
this type was considered part of our education. It was Mr. Peter's show and
I also remember Mr. Peters building a cage for our school's pet snake.
One of the older boy's caught a Blue Racer snake in the school yard and the
teachers allowed him to keep it there at school as a nature exhibit. We kept
it in the basement. Once every week or so the boys would catch frogs during
recess and release them in the snake's cage. We would all stand around to
watch the snake as it first snatched the frog, then stretching its flexible
jaws around the sacrificial meal, slowly worked it into its mouth. It was a
gory display for a six-year old to witness and was one of my first
encounters with the harshness of life. I remember it made my stomach queasy
to watch this and I wanted desperately to help the poor frog. I've had a
soft spot in my heart for frogs ever since.
The Popcicle Winter
Then there was the Popcicle Winter. I can't recall if there was a train
wreck or just what it was that caused thousands of frozen popcicles to be
discarded but someone unloaded a couple of tons of orange flavored popcicles
at the landfill in nearby Monsanto, Illinois. The landfill was located
directly behind the city hall. Fortunately, the weather was below freezing
for several days in a row. These continuous low temperatures allowed the
popcicles to remain popcicles and not melt into orange syrupy goo. Mr.
Peters, our school janitor, must have heard about this Popcicle bonanza and
went to the landfill and brought back a pickup truck load in his Model A
Ford truck. . He brought them to the school and distributed them to all the
kids. I remember going home with a big box containing maybe a couple of
dozen or more, all orange flavored.
When word got out, there was a run on the dump to get popcicles before
they melted. I imagine just about everyone who lived in Cahokia at the time
(500 Population) had a freezer stuffed with popcicles. My Dad came home with
two additional boxes to add to those we had. Almost all the kids came to
school with orange fingers and tongues for the next several weeks.
You have to realize that back in the forties, many families didn't have
a lot of money and things like soda and popcicles were few and far between.
In my family we were lucky if we had one soda every other weekend. We might
have two the same weekend if we were extremely lucky. Kool-ade was our main
fare and we loved it. Popcicles and ice cream were only for parties and when
guests visited which was not that frequent.
The ultimate treat, was a trip to the Dairy Queen. This was such a
special event for my family that you joyfully anticipated it days in advance
and everyone planned exactly what they wanted before we even set out to go.
At that stage of my life, as far as I was concerned a chocolate malt was the
food of angels.
So, with that in mind, you might try to imagine what this might have
meant for a boy like me in Cahokia, Illinois in the year 1948 or 1949, to
lay in bed at night before going to sleep and think that in the family
larder there were not one, not two or three orange popcicles - but several
dozen! Oh, but if I could only feel that wealthy and blessed again.
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