A Page Out of the Book Cliffs: Page 54 – First Grader Days

I stayed in Moab with my grandparents, Len and Laura Stocks, for the six or eight weeks that comprised kindergarten in the summer of 1958. The schools were running double sessions at that time in Moab because there were too many children and not enough schools.

Thompson had a school, but it didn’t cater to five-year-old kids. I was in the afternoon session, so I got to sleep in late in the mornings. That was kind of neat because my folks allowed me to join my Uncle Lee Stocks for night trips to the drive-in movies two or three times each week.

Lee had even less to do than I at the time because he was hobbling around on crutches with a broken leg and had his jaw wired together, all due to tearing a wing off his Super Cub down the river from the Portal by flying into the fairly new power lines that still cross the river at that point. Lee and his buddy landed in the river and by a stroke of luck managed to survive the whole thing. Uncle Lee did some things we consider heroic that entailed saving his buddy and keeping him from drowning. I guess I’ll save all those details for a full-fledged story in a later column.

So, the two of us young men, only separated by 23 years of age, went to the late movies at both of the drive-ins where I got to see some real humdingers that surely improved my education. Stuff that still sends a chill up my spine when I think back about how it affected my mental state as a less-than-worldly five-year-old kid. Stuff like Boris Karloff or Vincent Price-type characters lowering beautiful and voluptuous young women into boiling vats of acid and pulling out perfect white skeletons a moment later. Just your average and normal young child’s introduction to the seedier side of murder and torture that Hollywood touted during the late ’50s.

The following year I joined the ranks of the first graders at the little school in Thompson. I call it the ranks, but they were not exactly overflowing. I have always prided myself on the fact that I was the smartest kid in my class during the first grade. I based that on the fact that I learned to read my Dick, Jane and Spot book a little quicker than the rest of the class.

Actually, there were just two of us in the first grade that year of 1959. Just me and a Mexican boy named Gilbert. I thought I was kind of cool because learning phonics was coming easier to me, though I didn’t give my buddy proper credit at the time for being bilingual. I now know that counted for a lot more in the long run than Dick and Jane seeing Spot run ever did.

Gilbert and I were the two youngest kids of the 15 first-through-eighth graders who filled the rest of the seats in one-half of our little school. Luckily the older kids kind of took care of us youngsters and there was no bullying going on.

On Friday afternoons dear Mrs. Mosier (who it seems had been imported from Minnesota for the year) would open the folding divider making one big room out of the two, then she’d fire up the phonograph and play the Virginia Reel so we could all practice square dancing. Gilbert and I were young and dumb enough not to be embarrassed to dance with all the girls in school, even the eighth graders.

Some of the older boys were much more shy. They had to be goaded and prodded to perform. I still remember that year with great affection. I never again loved a year of school like I did that one.

In 1960 it was once again just Gilbert and me in the second grade. We had a different teacher though. She was not quite so fun loving as our wonderful first grade teacher and I don’t remember her name, but I’ve never forgotten the grisly story about her husband that was told around town pretty often.

It seems he was a cat skinner and was working all alone in the high country building a road or a mine site or some such. They say he was lying in the snow working on his dozer when the blade fell pinning his arm to the frozen ground. The story goes that after figuring out that he could not dig himself free he used his pocketknife to amputate his own arm and was only saved by the freezing weather coagulating the blood loss as he made his way home.

Some of my schoolmates in those days are still around or at least remembered around this neck of the woods. They include the Lang girls, Robin, LeAnne, and Keven. Manuel Aguilera. The Pene boys, Ronald and Raymond; Joe and Jimmy Jefferies, and a couple kids from the Dull family. We had great fun playing on the slides and swings at recess.

In the winter we could hike a little way to a nearby hill and sled down. I remember playing Red Rover as a first grader against the older kids, some of whom were teenagers. That was not loads of fun if you were the kid who was six. We had ice skating parties after school, as well as holiday parties and plays. I think I mentioned in a previous story what a cute little Tinker Bell I was in the Christmas play, all dressed in red tights with bells on my toes.

My folks moved us to Moab just before the end of my second-grade year was over and enrolled me in HMK. That was a totally different world than I had known in our little Thompson school. I was overwhelmed and quite lost. It took a couple years to catch back up, though I’m not sure I ever really did.

We moved back to Thompson after five years in the county seat but by that time our little school had closed, and we all rode the middle-sized school bus back and forth to Moab daily.