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Historically Speaking: Autumn memories of growing up in Roswell

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The captions reads, "Downtown Roswell, Kress and Woolworth Stores" — date unknown.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

I recently wrote an article titled, Growing up in Roswell, summer memories; the seasons have changed, so guess it’s time for autumn memories.

My memories of autumn mainly revolve around school. Going back to school usually signified the beginning of fall, as the first Monday after Labor Day was the start of the new school year in those days.

Of course, the beginning of school started with the proverbial shopping trip for the new school supplies. We always had our list and looked forward to the new cigar box with the new crayons, pencils, erasers, paint, paint rags, Big Chief tablets and so on. In those days, these items were purchased at the local dime stores, as there were no “big box” stores then. Larry Knadle, who owned Knadle’s across the street from Kress’ and Woolworth’s five and dime stores, said that every Labor Day weekend, there would be lines going out the doors of both stores, of everyone buying school supplies.

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In the older grades, things got more serious. We had a three- or two-ring binder with dividers for each class, some classes required wide-ruled notebook paper, others required narrow-ruled. I truly don’t remember why though. For the students in the older grades, the focus was more on what classes you were going to take and with which friends. The shopping trips usually focused more on the new school clothes you hoped to buy.

Back to grade school though, it was always fun to try to get to school early, to play on the swings, the merry-go-round, the jungle gym, kickball, tetherball, or just to play tag, chasing each other around the grounds. In my memory, the playground breaks during the school day usually consisted of playing jacks, hopscotch, four square, red rover or whatever else our or our teachers’ minds could come up with for entertainment. One of the big thrills we would have was when an occasional big plane would fly over the school yard from Walker Air Base. Those big bombers would fly so low, you felt as though you could reach out and touch them. They were loud, too.

In the classroom, our days truly consisted of — the old adage — learning reading, writing and arithmetic.

I remember well the sheets of mimeographed paper the teacher would pass out, which had a faint smell of alcohol, warm off of the press. These pages usually contained pictures with dotted lines below each picture for us to spell the word which described the picture. Sometimes there would be beginning or ending letters, to give us a hint, or help us out. For arithmetic, it was the same, there were usually little pictures with something like sticks or apples, that we could count, to add or take away, and with a line underneath to place our answer on.

We would generally walk or ride our bikes the quarter-mile or so to school, along with the rest of the neighborhood kids. It seems the only time you got to ride in the car was if it was raining or snowing. Even then, sometimes we’d still have to walk, with galoshes and an umbrella, and an extra layer of clothes.

Lunch boxes in those days — the best I remember — were either Roy Rogers-themed, or possibly a princess or a fairy for the girls. Generally, it was the brown paper bag, with the wax paper-wrapped sandwich and an apple or something inside, and a nickel for a carton of milk.

Our reading groups always consisted of Dick and Jane books. Dick and Jane had a dog named Spot. Reading started with sentences like “Run Spot run,” or “See Spot run.” The more advanced you got, the more words were added. Dick would release the balloon, and the sentence would be, “See it go!” “See it go up! “Look Jane, see it go up high!” My favorite times were when the teacher would have us put our heads on the desk and she would read to us after lunch from the Little House series or the adventures of The Boxcar Children.

For writing — out would come the mimeographed sheets again, with big dotted letters that you had to trace over the dotted lines a few times for each letter of the alphabet, and then form the letters all by yourself.

The same for math, for the numbers, we had mimeograph sheets, with the dotted numbers, instead of letters, to trace over, to help us learn how to write our numbers. Hard work, especially with those big fat pencils.

Saturday morning was “Howdy Doody” time, followed by “The Roy Rogers Show” and cartoons. You never wanted to sleep in on Saturday morning, because you might miss your favorite shows.

Soon after school started, we could always look forward to our first school holiday, which was the fair parade day. Oh what fun! In those days as I remember, it seems everyone dressed in their best Western wear. Cowboy shirts, hats and boots were generally the norm. The fair and carnival was like Disneyland coming to your back door, what fun we had.

The next thing on the list we looked forward to in the fall was always Halloween. We would start talking in advance about what character we were going to be for Halloween, whether it was a ghost, a hobo, a princess, a cowboy/cowgirl, or just buy one of those hard plastic masks with the eyes, mouth, and nose holes cut out and the little elastic straps that went behind your head, which never seem to stay on straight for you to see or breathe, especially at night.

We would start mapping out, in advance, which neighborhood houses we were going to go to first for trick-or-treat, in the order of what treats were given where, from our memories of the year before. The plastic tasting penny candy, wrapped in twisted ends wax paper, was always last on our list, but bubble gum was a big plus. Of course, in those days, all I remember was paper grocery bags to collect your goodies in. You had to be very careful that the top of the bag wouldn’t tear and spill your loot in the dark of the night, while your friends were running ahead to the next house. Oh the dread! I think some of the smarter kids took pillowcases.

Then there was always the school Halloween carnivals, with fishing games, cake walks, chili dogs, and generally, a cotton candy machine, caramel apples, or my favorite: popcorn balls. It seems you could always find hot chocolate or hot cider somewhere, too. What a thrill those evenings were for the kids.

Of course, if you were in high school, the focus was on homecoming, bonfires, hayrides, football games and decorating for homecoming parades.

Next on the list was Thanksgiving. I can still remember singing in school, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!” We would cut out and color paper turkeys and Pilgrims, make Native American headbands with a feather in back, or craft turkeys out of pinecones, to decorate the family table on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day, we’d wake up to the delightful aromas of turkey and dressing already baking in the oven. Generally, friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins — the entire family — would come over with covered dishes to add to the feast. Football games would play on the television, weather and upcoming winter would be discussed. Coffee would be brewing all day. Us kids had fun catching up with our out-of-town cousins, and being shooed outside to play, or sometimes we’d get to go to the local matinee at the Plains or Yucca theater, after we did the dishes, of course.

Then, we could start looking forward to Christmas.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.