What are you going to be?

A decade into its life, C.E. Mason Elementary was an established school showing children how to behave in the world around them. Kids studied hard, played hard, and got the kind of advice you can imagine a serious adult might wag a finger at the youngsters and deploy. Hearing stories of the school from the 1950s and early 1960s is a reminder that the anxieties and playfulness kids bring to school with them today are the same their parents and grandparents brought with them when they were youngsters, and the concern and care educators and parents have for kids isn’t all that different now than it was when Eisenhower was president.

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Back then, however, the voice of education echoed over the school intercom.

“I could nearly write the message the principal read over the intercom every morning,” a C.E. Mason alum told me this fall, recounting word for word the stentorian adult voice that filled the school to start the day.

Are you going to be ‘Mr or Miss Daydreamer?’ Are you going to stare out the window all day, thinking about your horse or favorite TV show and ignore your teacher? Or you going to be ‘Mr or Miss Ants-in-your-Pants?’  Are you going to wander around the room and not to your school work?”

“Same speech nearly every day,” he remembered, the words as fresh in his mind today as they were almost sixty years ago.

Richard and his brother came to C.E. Mason Elementary as fifth and fourth graders, transferring when their neighbor put up a fence to keep kids from walking through his driveway. New to the school, he remembered sitting in Mr. Miller’s class and thinking that all the kids knew each other. “I just wanted to fit in,” he told me. “Not stick out.”

The “Playshed” was Richard’s favorite place at C.E. Mason. “It was the big round topped play area,” he recalled, describing the Quonset Hut that still stands just northwest of the main building. “We played four-square, which was quite competitive and serious at C.E. Mason, compared to Raleigh Hills. I had a friend named Larry who was overweight, but quite good. His mom was a cook in the cafeteria at BHS. I didn’t see him again until our 20th High School Reunion. Everyone was raving how great Larry looked.  He’s lost weight and was very virile and good-looking. He is now a physical therapist in Alaska. He told me that he was embarrassed that everyone commented about his appearance. I asked him when he lost all the weight. He said, “Years ago. I lost weight as soon as I got away from my mom’s cooking.”

Lunches were a big deal at C.E. Mason, which had a cafeteria in an age when not every school did. Richard remembered once coming home from school and telling his mother that he had discovered that he really liked beets. “I asked her why we never had them,” he said. “She was silent for awhile and then admitted my dad hated them, and that’s why we had never had them in my childhood.” Thank goodness for the C.E. Mason cafeteria.

But it was more than beets that stuck with Richard most from his days at C.E. Mason. For a student who just wanted to be a part of the crowd and not stick out he had one major strike against him.

On Richard’s first day in Mr. Miller’s class the principal did more than just quiz the kids about what they were going to be. Richard remembered: “The principal announced on the intercom on the first day of school that for the first time in the school’s history, there were grandchildren of C.E. Mason attending the school.” Richard and his brother.

To be the grandson of Dr. C.E. Mason meant more than a little notoriety. It also led to an incident Richard remembered with fifth grade “horror.”

“The school had some kind of contest for being quiet on the bus, or not leaving litter, I forget the specifics.  The winning bus, we were told on the intercom, would have “C.E. Mason ride on the bus with them.” I was horrified. My grandfather was about 83. He had thick glasses, a big gut and he shuffled when he walked. I doubted he could even climb the stairs of the bus. I couldn’t believe they would subject me to that kind of humiliation. I learned a few days later that C.E. Mason was actually a stuffed tiger mascot that the principal kept in her office.  She really had me worried for a few days.”

Richard Mason’s memories paint a vivid picture of C.E. Mason Elementary. Like so many who attended the school in those first dozen years, his are recollections of a time when order and high expectations pushed up against the exuberance of youth. Competitive four-square, beets, and stuffed tigers, 1960 feels a world away, and still just like yesterday.

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