By Debra L. Karplus, MS, OTR/L
Growing up on the North Side of Chicago, specifically West Rogers Park, was perhaps like coming of age in any other large metropolis. We attended Green School located on Devon Avenue, a newly-built school, erected to accommodate the influx of neighborhood baby boomers. The school was neither green-colored nor environmentally conscious, as “green” has come to imply. I later discovered that William Green, a person of importance in Chicago history, was the namesake for our beloved elementary school.
School buses and school lunch were not part of the Green School culture. We dressed for the weather, walked to school, hurried home for a quick lunch, and then returned to school. A slow eater, I was sent with a banana to eat on the way back to school. I never admitted to mom that I hated bananas. Thank goodness for the little white schnauzer dog Pepper who ran around the fenced-in yard on Hood and Sacrememto Streets. I’d slide my uneaten banana through the chain-link fence. I must’ve assumed that Pepper ate them. I was heartbroken when I learned that Pepper had died. I somehow felt responsible, plagued by years of guilt.
School picture day was special day, at least for our parents. This was their once-a-year opportunity dress us up like little dolls and make us look snazzy and stylish for posterity. Our parents were wise that way, because several of my former classmates from those idyllic days, still have those photographs. Those group photos have a classic, distinct look that dates them, four rows of bland looking similarly dressed, boys standing in the back rows, many wearing bow ties, girls in the front rows wearing adorable outfits, ankle socks, and buckle shoes.
Pupils, as we were called, were encouraged to be absent for illness, but on picture day, we would have to have been nearing death to miss school. Growing up in a germ phobic home, I wasn’t in contact before I started Green School. Kindergarten must have given my virgin immune system an earthquake jolt, because I’m the only of my classmates missing from 1957 photo.. Our teacher that year was Mrs. Alfree. She seemed incredibly ancient to me, but perhaps she was only fifty.
For the first grade photo, I was there, short little Debbie having an extremely bad hair day from the Tonette home permanent gone awry. I was one of forty-two students crammed into that eight-by-ten inch glossy photo, with my best friend Susie standing directly behind me. How did Mrs. Cuny manage a group that size? Today’s first grades have about half as many students in a class, plus the help of a teacher’s aide and some parent volunteers.
There I am seated in the front row of Miss Kaplan’s second grade class, room 202, the year we “graduated” to classrooms on the second floor. Most of the girls wore their hair in the stylish new pixie cut. You can easily spot me in this photo; I’m wearing leggings, thick long stockings that the girls wore to endure Chicago’s chilly winters. Mine were quite wrinkled at the ankles, a quality that I still embrace as an adult, when I wear panty hose.
If today’s technology existed in 1960, the year Mrs. Marcus was my beloved teacher, I would have done my magic to alter to my third grade photo. My red plaid skirt with matching top with a cute scarecrow embroidery is adorable. The only problem is that about three inches of frilly petticoat are visible. I remember the demise of that skirt; though never a tomboy, once after school I climbed a fence while wearing it. The skirt got caught on the fence; it split so that it couldn’t be salvaged. I hid it in the back of my closet. Mom never said a word about it, but she must have discovered the damaged skirt because one day, it disappeared without fanfare.
Green School housed grades though third grade. For fourth grade we walked to nearly Clinton School, named for Dewitt Clinton, which in contrast to Green School, was at least a million years old and was a duplicate of numerous other old buildings in the Chicago Schools district. The thirty-four of us in Mrs. Suber’s class looked far more animated than we had in days of yore. Perhaps it was just puberty kicking in. Did I really think that giant colored hair bow atop my bangs looked chic?
You won’t find me in the fifth grade photo with the class of Mrs. Weissman, not unless you look all the way up into look in the middle row. That was the year of my huge growth spurt, though honestly, I haven’t grown an inch since then. We were a happy looking crowd, maybe because we were just a hop from junior high school.