Burckhalter School Days…..#4 (the 40’s)

He started school once again, this time at Burckhalter Elementary, walking the equivalent of ten city blocks, his home being the 7900 block and the school was at the 6900  block.   Because of his earlier head injury he started school in May,  being part of the mid-term class of January. Mike discovered his 1947 class was somewhat smaller than most, thirty-one students in all,  sixteen boys and fifteen girls,   a possible reason for the size could possibly be attributed to being a January mid-term class.  Because of his late enrollment, being a transfer student from Melrose Elementary,  the semester had already begun.   His arrival with his mother that first day found the class in session, being introduced to Mrs. Drury and the first grade.  So Gary (Mike) Willson began his educational journey, destined to spend the next six years with his newly acquainted classmates at Burckhalter Elementary.

The Burckhalter school building was new and had opened the previous fall semester and they had yet to remove the old original building which stood parallel to Burckhalter Ave.  It was barren and stood forlorn, boarded up and even haunted looking.  One morning being late for school, Mike found the normally locked and fastened door chain hanging loose and did the unthinkable.  Entering the empty building, briefly pausing, then the realization, running down to the other end, but door was locked from the outside.   Making a hasty retreat, he left the way he had entered.  The shortness of breath subsiding a feeling of accomplishment pulsated through him, for he did something that not many had not done.   After the  removal of the old building that summer,  he felt like he had lost an old friend,  he reasoned it was because of the secret they shared.

Fun With Dick and Jane

The first grade at Burckhalter was a reflection of American heritage, each morning the class standing, the right hand over their heart, facing the flag for the Pledge of Allegiance.  At the beginning of class after a weekend was designated as ‘sharing or show and tell time’. Those who desired to could stand up in front of the class and share a weekend outing  or something they had brought from home.   The classes first book, Fun With Dick and Jane, a reader that was introduced to the classroom in the 1930’s.   A normal progression for a class would be one teacher for each semester, the semesters designated as  L (low) for first semester and H (high)  for second,  normally not having the same teacher for two consecutive semesters.  There were exceptions, the advent of the 4th, 5th and 6th grade there was additional instructors for band, music and other non curricular activities.

Inkwell laden desks

  With the curriculum  came the introduction of numerical addition and subtraction, the elucidations and penciling of the written word.  Later with the class advancing in grade level they experienced the convention of penmanship, the ritual of filling the desktop ink wells, the passing out of the pens, instructions on the proper holding position and the practice of cursive and slant.  Mike soon making a discovery, by volunteering to pass out the pens to the class,  he could retain one with a perfect point, thus ensuring better penmanship. Along with the grade advancement there was the inevitable homework assignments, the all important spelling list handed out to be studied at home and the notorious spelling and arithmetic pop quiz.    School was like a giant puzzle, the enlightenment of discovery and fitting the pieces into perfect precision and sometimes spurning a captivating  interest like listing to a never-ending favorite radio program.

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger

The boy found that fervency was everywhere, all you had to do was seek it, listening to the radio was his door to the world of adventure.  The Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid, Superman, Straight Arrow, Sky King,  Gangbusters, I love a Mystery, the list was never  ending.  He emulated his hero’s in games as most kid would do and explored their world and behold it opened his eyes to all that surrounded him.

No sidewalks - fun walking

No sidewalks – fun walking

There was a sense of aspiration in the little things that surrounded one, the clouds, the stars, the wind and even walking to school in the rain, his slicker and rain boots protecting him.   The ending four blocks of Greenly Drive having no sidewalks and the rain puddles were like little lakes to sail ice cream sticks on, skim rocks across or splash with his wadding boots.  The water would gush down the open culvert on the steep hill of Shone Ave. with a roar and bellow over the covered openings  under the cross streets, sending it into the air like a raging river.

Greenly Drive and the Water Works fence.

On the way to school journeying by The Water Works, adjacent to a bus stop was a large three-tiered decorative fountain that had been  placed within the fenced area among the pines.   On many occasions the Plant employees would leave the water circulating through the fountain.  One winter day there was an unusual event in the city, a hard freeze occurred and huge ice cycles formed and hung from the different fountain tiers like sword blades.  Mike having never experienced this aspect of nature  and was mesmerized with the event.  It was something that needed to be shared with others.  He located an area along the fence line where he could crawl under and proceeded  to do just that.  The ice cycle was cold, but  he could sacrifice discomfort for what he had to do.    A proud bearer  carried it to school to show all his trophy.

Gibson Branch Oakland Public Library System

The school library was on the second floor and available, but soon discovering the real treasure source was one block from the school, the Gibson Branch of the Oakland Public Library System.  On a scheduled bases the class would form a line outside and march down the sidewalk to the Gibson Library.  Once inside the librarian, Mrs. Salo, would assemble the class, arousing their interest by reading an excerpt from an exciting story.  Once the reading session was completed the class was on their own to browse.  The atmosphere of the library was mystifying,  an echo of solitude resonating to a point where you could hear your thoughts or so it seemed.  The varied fragrance of the bound multitude, an aire of leather, the musty smell of damp parchment serving notice of a presence, a wealth of  stored knowledge,  its exploration  a young person’s adventure.

The corner store across from Burckhalter

On the corner of Greenly Drive and Edwards Ave., directly across from Burckhalter was a family owned  small  convenience store.  It was the place where you purchased the authentic necessities such as gum or candy before or after school.   It also was where the younger students got their real education from those older student who presented the facts as the Gospel having acquiring their knowledge from the previous older students.    Important issue were relayed, such as the anatomy of the body and reproduction of the species,  the ‘Facts of Life’ being detailed in the vernacular never heard by a third or fourth grader.  The pride and prejudice concerning the importance of the world to those under twelve were discussed,  opinions and ideals formulated, some even shocking, but  most  to be lost or forgotten on the walk home from school.

School Block “B”

Through the grades he trekked acquiring  skills needed for goals and task before him.  School sports for the most part were all intramural, but discovering that participating in after school sports activities sponsored by the Oakland Recreation Department could be rewarding.     It was symbolized by granting those attaining a certain level of participation could earn a block “B” and a trip to a University of California football game at Berkeley.  Mikes after school pursuit achieving this goal, attending his first football game with several others in 1951.  Other participating activities included the school traffic patrol, which provided uniformed insignia hats for participants and instructions on how to sling their signs and halt traffic at the two school intersections as guardians of safety.

Mike Willson

Before exiting his tenure at Burckhalter Mike was subject to  a monumental task thrust upon him by an unexpected person, Mr. Hayden his sixth grade teacher.   The students of Mr. Robert Hayden’s Low sixth grade class were asked to suggest classmates names for the position of  Student Council President for their upcoming final fall semester before graduating in January.  Several classmate names were submitted, but to Mr. Hayden dismay, for some reason  all the boys declined.  Having not raised his hand, Mike suddenly hearing his name spoken, put in nomination but not by a student, but by none other than Mr. Hayden his teacher.  Upon hearing his name given, he followed suit and immediately declined, but his declension was rebuked by the teacher, and a list of acolytes were presented why he should accept.  Finally giving in, realizing his opponents would the two most popular girls in the class, Marion Wheeler and Janet Roemer.  From his view-point his election attempt for president would be futile, but because of only three candidates he was assured  the either the Vice Presidency or Council Secretary.

Janet Roemer & Marion Wheeler

The students eligible to vote in the election were members of the  fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes, each class having two representatives in the Student Council.  Most of  the fourth and fifth grade classrooms occupied the old portable buildings moved in during the war, these buildings having oil burning stoves and wooden floors.  Mike having written prefatory presentation on an index card and when entering the portable’s to introduce yourself as a candidate finding it a was a very audible experience, especially for someone wearing horseshoe taps on his shoes,  in fact some teachers bringing it to Mike’s attention,  asking him  to re-enter the room in a quieter mode.  This in turn brought a humorous reaction from the kids in the class, drawing more attention to his campaign.  Mike suspecting after the ballots were counted, that this event was what won him the election, Marion serving as Vice President and Janet as Secretary.

Johnny Youngblood and Mike – duet practice

1952 6th & 1947 1st. Grade Burckhalter report cards

Members of the 6th grade class

Part of his duties as President of the Student Council was to conduct the scheduled school assemblies, each program starting with the pledge of allegiance and the playing of  the national anthem by the school orchestra.  It was these  stage appearances that instilled in him a confidence of stature and public speaking.  His elementary school grand-finally was a surprise to his classmates and those in attendance, he and Johnny Youngblood performing a piano duet and each a solo composition at  the  graduation festivities.


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