The Castle, Part II

Davis School, 1904, a few years before it burned

“My first teacher was Miss Margaret Joiner. I liked school and soon made lots of new little friends. Mary was in third grade just down the hall from Miss Joiner’s room. The first graders got out thirty minutes before the older kids so I was told to play on the playground or stay in the room until someone came to pick up Tiny and Mary. That would have been fine except for the fact that there was a boy who seemed to be slightly retarded and wore thick glasses beneath which I could see his badly crossed eyes. He was always on the playground after school so would tell me and a girl named Omega Lary, who waited to ride on the school bus, that he was going to cut our tonsils out. I fully expected him to carry out his threat and was scared to stay after school.

GHS Football game, 1928, Davis School in the background

“Then I had visions of being left all night in that big old building. I would not tell anyone what the problem was, but every day about one o’clock I would start crying, just sobbing, until finally one day Miss Joiner took me down to Mary’s room to see if she could help, but since she didn’t know what was the matter she was no help at all.

Mamie, perplexed by her little sister

“Other than this trauma first grade was fun, learning to read ‘The Little Red Hen, The Gingerbread Boy, Billy Goats Gruff,’ and other stories.I did go home and cry (I could always bring on the tears at the least provocation) because the teacher told us to draw a boy and bring it to school the next day. I did not realize that the boy could be a stick figure or anything else and did not have to be a work of art and I was ready to quit school. My teacher, Miss Joiner, could be mean sometimes, such as she was the day she made James Nader stand in front of the radiator to dry his pants which he had wet probably because he didn’t want to go to that terrible old basement. Of course he was humiliated, just as I was when she called me a baby in front of everyone because I couldn’t tie my own shoes after I had taken them off to be weighed by the health nurse. From then on I dreaded the health nurse coming because I might not could tie my shoes even though Daddy had spent some time showing me how.

Sad Sara before her Davis School days

“If we misbehaved we were sent to the cloak room. Every classroom had an adjoining cloak room where we hung our coats. They would also make children stand in the hall, facing the wall, when they had been bad. One day a dark cloud had come up and it looked as if it were going to storm. The teacher had left the room for a few minutes, and, having been taught to be afraid of dark clouds, I decided to lead a few of my buddies out into the hall. When she came out of the principal’s office and spotted us, we were brought back into the room and made to stand facing the wall in front of all the other kids. I think I learned my lesson that time and only had to go to the cloak room one other time, that being in third grade when I would not stop talking in class.

“When we started to school we were told by the older kids that Miss Varnado, the very stern principal, had a paddling machine in her office and that she would use it on you if you misbehaved. We, therefore, avoided Miss Varnado whenever we could. All of the teachers seemed ancient to us although I am sure many were only in their twenties. They were all either single of widowed because married women were not allowed to teach. Since most of them had to work, they taught until they were old enough to retire. Many of them taught three generations in a family.”

Sadly, no pictures of Miss Joiner and the Davis faculty were in Sara's collection; these were some of the teachers at Greenwood High School during the same time period

Sara had a complicated relationship with old Davis School. We would often walk around the campus when I was little, because I, too, was alternately fascinated and terrified of this grand castle of a building. It was so Edwardian-era outrageous, with its three soaring stories and fire escapes and arched entranceways and always, always, that dark, spooky basement that had almost ruined Sara’s renal status. She swore up and down that she went through her first two years of elementary school without taking a single bathroom break, and I believed her. But there was, at the end, something sadly endearing about the aging hulk of a school. Sara came to love it more than she feared it and as the years passed, it morphed into a symbol of a happy, resourceful childhood. Who else would have led her first-grade friends into the hallway when bad weather threatened, like Judy Garland clutching Toto as they sailed out of Kansas? This little girl could recognize a storm brewing over the horizon when everyone else was thinking blue skies and sunshine, and she knew how to take cover before all hell broke loose. Just a shame the infamous Miss Joiner disagreed.

Ed. note: Jefferson Davis School was completed in 1904, at a cost of $15,000, to serve all 12 grades of Greenwood students. The architect was R.H.Hunt of Chattanooga, who was also the designer of the Leflore County Court House, First Methodist Church and the Elks Club. The GHS football field was laid out on the south lawn of the school. In 1914, a second building was added to the campus and in 1924 yet a third GHS was completed on the east end. It served as the high school from that year until 1959, when the current GHS was built on the Highway 49-82 Bypass. More on those buildings in future posts.

One more note: Omega Lary was alive and well and still in Sara’s class in their Junior year Deltonian (1938). She does not appear in the 1939 yearbook, leaving one to wonder if she fell victim to the tonsil-threatening bully of Sara’s tale.

About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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