Sepia Saturday – Recess on the Turning Bars

Sepia Sat May 18 2013Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

Turning on bars was the favorite recess activity for the girls in my class at Morrison Grade School in Great Bend, Kansas.

My family moved to Great Bend in the fall of 1961, after school had started. It was my second new town and new school in just a few months. I was assigned to Mrs. Nossaman’s third grade class. In my mind’s eye, my view of Mrs. Nossaman is from left of center, about half-way back from the front. I sat between Susan and Ruth.  Susan always looked a little unkempt and I thought her family must not have much money. Ruth was quiet and poised, but seemed fragile. She had had scarlet fever and couldn’t run around and play with us at recess. I thought that James, who lived down the street from me, was mean. I thought that John, who shared the same last name with me, was cute.

Kathy's 3rd grade class copy

Mrs. Nossaman’s 3rd Grade Class, Morrison Grade School, Great Bend KS 1961-62

I’m just left of center in the middle row – light colored hair pulled back and still styled in ringlets and wearing a white blouse with a little clock design printed on it.

House 2535 20th St.

Our house, 20th St., Great Bend, KS

To my left in the picture is the girl who had become my best friend, Katie. Our backyards abutted an alley and she lived a couple of houses down on the corner lot. Every morning I walked through my back yard; turned left down the alley; stuck my hand through the chain-link fence that surrounded her back yard so I could pet her pug, Sir Cedric Pogo III (aka Po); and then went to her front door to get Katie for our walk to school.

Mrs. Nossaman had the perfect cursive handwriting expected of an elementary school teacher. She enforced the rules of her classroom and set high expectations. I don’t remember why exactly, but something about our relationship got off on the wrong foot. She must have called attention to me as the new kid in some way – for not following a class rule or something. Now that I think about it, it may have been my confusion at how to spell or pronounce her name.

LittleHousebookCoverThe wonderful thing I remember about Mrs. Nossaman, though, is that she read to us every day without fail. She sat at her desk or stood at the front of the class and read to us, one chapter at a time, from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie.” I fell in love with Laura and Ma and Pa and the books about them. And I could forgive Mrs. Nossaman for being kind of mean because this was my favorite part of the school day.

As you can see from the picture above, all of the girls are wearing dresses or skirts except for the girl front and center – clearly a girl ahead of her time. Since the turning bars were the domain of the girls at recess, the issue of us hanging upside down in our dresses was a matter of great concern to our teachers and the subject of school yard chants by the boys. A rule for recess was established that any girl wearing a dress was not allowed on the turning bars unless she was also wearing shorts or slacks under her dress. Sometimes girls forgot to wear the extra layer of clothing and would try to sneak in a turn or two on the bars without being seen by a teacher – or tattled on by someone who would like to see them get into trouble… because it was no fun to stand idly by and watch your friends playing on the bars.

Just look at the long line of children on the bars in the prompt picture if you have any doubts.

Morrison Building Addition

The class portrait above was taken in front of the door that faces this playground. You can see monkey bars and one of those bars you swing across with your hands (what do you call those?) and an open playground that we used for P. E. I remember playing field hockey, softball, and Red Rover there. I also remember sitting and waiting for my turn and one of the girls asking, “What’s wrong with your legs?” because I had bright purple capillaries on my thighs even at that age.

The turning bars we played on are not visible in this picture. They were in a play area on the other side of the building. Our bars were taller than those in the prompt photo. We turned facing forward like the children in the picture. We turned with one knee hooked over the bar. We turned backwards from a sitting position and flipped over onto our feet. And sometimes we just hung upside down by our knees.

I completed 3rd through 5th grades at Morrison Grade School and had barely started 6th grade when we moved again.

I don’t have a picture of my 4th grade class. I can’t remember the name of my teacher. I can’t remember what she looked like. I can’t remember who was in class with me. I have only a few vague impressions of that year. I think I would have no memories at all if I had no photographs!

Thankfully, I have a picture of my 5th grade class to help me remember that year. And, although I do remember the names of the kids I wrote about, I changed them.

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was about 1st grade: 1st Grade Hairstory: Ringlets, a Peeled Onion, and a Clueless Boy.

There’s the bell! Run on over to the Sepia Saturday playground and see what everyone’s playing today.



48 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday – Recess on the Turning Bars

  1. What I want to know is which one in Mrs. Nossaman’s third grade class photo is John, who shared your last name and was “cute”?

  2. Those bars that you swing from and “walk across” bar by bar, hand over hand, are the ones I just wrote about on Kristin’s post. I climbed and sat on top and then was too afraid to get down. Maybe I didn’t know how to get down. I had a time! But I did manage to free myself before my friend could get my parents to come rescue me.

    I enjoyed your story and memories of being read to. My 6th grade teacher read to us, and I loved the book but can’t remember what it was. There was some precocious girl though, which is probably why I liked the book.

    • I wasn’t very brave and never got on top of those ladder things like you got stuck on – I just tried to cross them – and not very successfully. I don’t think you are ever too old to enjoy being read too. That’s one thing I loved about the Harry Potter books. Even though my kids were past the “read to” age, we passed many hours on car trips with me reading HP to them. I kind of wish somebody would read to me now!

  3. Mrs. Nossaman would be very proud of her little blogger…that is…if you spelt her name correctly 50 years later !

  4. Wonderful Memories. This weeks post have inspired me to write my own recollections for my children/grandchildren in future.

    • That’s great, Sharon! I think it is important to write down some of our own stories. And now, while I still remember them! I find that there are parts of stories that I know I remembered a few years ago, but just can’t resurrect now.

  5. When I think back the only bars at our school were on the barrier to stop us rinning onto the main road. We used to sit on top of it collecting car numbers.
    Our head teacher used to read to use every day as well; occasionally we gave this task to one of the class. I have never forgotten the book.

    • I’m glad we have these memories. And glad for teachers who left us with a love of reading or of a particular subject.

  6. Now I’m wondering if anything became of John with the same last name? Funny I still remember all the names of my first favorite boys! You are so lucky to have these photos, our schools didn’t really do this, except for Kindergarten! It’s sad about cursive being taught today, since many places have elected not to teach it any more around here!

    • No — it was “like” from a distance. I am glad to have these photographs! I don’t have any for K-2, 4 must have been misplaced, none for 6th. My kids, who are in their 20s, were taught cursive but not required to use it past 4th grade. They never use it and have trouble reading anything written in cursive. It makes me sad too.

  7. This was really fun to read. I remember swinging on my own gymset in the back yard, doing “skin the cat” (a backwards flip through my arms, and hanging by my knees and touching the ground. I was so proud of myself! But then I had no competition. At school we didn’t have bars — we always played dodgeball or kickball, and I was terrible at those.

    I really like your picture of all the kids playing side by side on the turning bars, and each one doing her own thing.

    I also loved the “Little House” series, and I think I read them all. I felt as if I was there at the frontier, in an orderly and adventurous family.

    • “Skin the cat!” I had forgotten that term. I read all of the “Little House” books and read them to my kids. I have also used the first book with some adult English language learners – and they usually enjoy it. Thanks for your comments, Mariann!

  8. Wonderful memories. At my school the girls would tuck their skirts into their knickers on the bars, but they usually worked loose revealing more than they should. A teacher who reads to her class is a blessing; unfortunately the curriculum often squeezes this out.

    • Unfortunately you are right about the curriculum today – or maybe it is the time spent preparing for tests and the testing itself – that takes away so much from a teacher’s ability to enhance and expand on the curriculum. When I was writing this, I found a picture in a newspaper of Mrs. Nossaman and some of her students with a museum they had made. It looked like “Little House on the Prairie” meets history lesson – and I’m sure it was. Thanks for your comments!

  9. Ah… memories of classmates. Little House on the Prairie seems very famous I heard it several times in school in my part of the world. Maybe I should read it one of these days.

    • Most American children my age – or at least the girls, read the “Little House” series. It begins with “Little House in the Big Woods”. “Little House on the Prairie” is next. They are full of details of the lives of a migratory pioneer family in the 1870s-1880s and are based on the memories of the author, who is also the main character. I think the first book moves a little slowly, but the flavor of the times comes through clearly. I loved reading the the whole series. There was a TV series in the 1970s.

  10. I was able to pick you out of the group before reading the text. I remember very little from grade school. We moved 3 times between 1- 3 grade, so I do remember how difficult it was to be the “new” kid.

    • I haven’t changed. Ha! I think moving around a lot really messes with memory. You don’t see the same places and faces year after year or have many people to share old stories with who know what you are talking about. I attended 6 schools K-6, but one of them was a brand new school that opened in the middle of the year so there we were all new.

  11. What tender memories, Kathy! I liked the bars, but swings and slides were my favorites, probably because I wasn’t very coordinated. Your heartfelt recollections brought a smile to my day.

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Linda. It kind of surprises me that I spent a lot of time on those bars because I’m not much for heights and spinning around. But I mastered enough to have fun even though some of the other girls were much braver than I was.

  12. A wonderful photo with fantastic smiles. I did 1st grade through 3rd as an army brat in Junction City, Kansas – 1961 to 63, so this photo looks very familiar. I can’t remember names of teachers or schoolmates much at all, but I can remember the crew cuts, the girl’s dresses, and the monkee bars. Sadly today the risk of liability has made school yards lower the bars, shorten the swings, and cover the playground with rubber mulch. Kids don’t get to stretch their limits in the same ways anymore.

    • My step-father grew up on a farm outside of Junction City – but since he’s quite a bit older than you, I doubt that you crossed paths during your short time there. You are right about the playgrounds. Most of the kids in the picture look happy.

  13. Ah, that bell!!
    The Sisters of St Ann were adamant about this:
    you had to come to a stand still on the first ring,
    and come in in a single file on the second ring.
    No sound, no shoving, no nothing,
    or else, detention…

    Fun post!!
    Did John ever find out you had a crush?!?

    • The sound of the bell can trigger a lot of memories. For me it always signaled freedom – the end of the school day, time for lunch, or time for recess. Of course it rang when you had to return too – but going is the thing It reminds me of. I don’t think John ever knew I had a crush on him. 🙂

  14. It really is a wonderful picture – particularly the size and quality of it. Once clicked and enlarged you can walk around the group looking at those faces and imagining what like has in store for them.

  15. Your description reminds me a lot of the elementary school attended. I also had a teacher who valued perfect cursive handwriting. I recently found some of my old report cards and was appalled to see that I’d gotten several C-s in penmanship. 🙂

  16. I was at Morrison the same year. I was in Mrs. Thompson’s class. I don’t have the photo from Fourth grade either. I do have Fifth (Mrs. Schlegal) and Sixth (Mr. Ramsey). I have posted them both on the FB E.E. Morrison grade school site. I would be happy to send them to you if you think you might be in them. I don’t remember you but I do remember many others in that photo. I went to Morrison all but Second grade when I went to stay with my grandparents in another town. I have a print of the photo you showed and have identified most of the people but no John. Somebody said that is Mark Smith. Could be wrong. I loved the turning bars but I remember falling off of them flat on my back and had all the wind knocked out of me. I was so shy I was afraid to tell the teachers. I remember Cathy C. She was always so sweet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *