1950-1956 — Plainfield Avenue, Edison, New Jersey
"A cemetery is a history of people - a perpetual record of yesterday and sanctuary of peace and quiet today. A cemetery exists because every life is worth loving and remembering - always." (author unknown)
The other day I found myself at the Stelton Baptist Church Cemetery. I was there on a mission. I am a volunteer with www.findagrave.com. Periodically I will receive a request to locate and photograph a gravestone of a long lost ancestor of someone who lives far away. A lady named Donna asked me to find and photograph the gravestone of a person named John David Sutton (born April 20, 1674, died December 19, 1750) who is buried at the Stelton Baptist Cemetery. I scoured the cemetery twice without success. Apparently the stone has long since disintegrated or eroded enough to be unreadable. I wasn't optimistic when my search began due to the age of the grave. It would have been nice to find it.
Since I had my camera with me, my attention now turned to the building next door. Just the sight of it brought back long lost memories. It used to be a grammar school. It was built in 1923, and was called Stelton School. My father attended that school as a child along with a number of uncles, aunts and cousins. My brother, younger sister and I also went to that school in the early 1950's. My grandfather died as a result of a tragic accident that occurred a short distance down the road from the school. It must have been difficult for my father to attend school every day. He was 11 years old when he witnessed his father's accident.
I slowly circled the building. A new section was added on in 1950. A cornerstone verifies that. When my brother and I started Kindergarten in September, 1950, our classroom was in the rear of the Stelton Baptist Church. Oddly enough, our teacher's name was Mrs. Church. A short time later, our Kindergarten class was moved to the new building. When my brother and I turned 6 years old the latter part of October, we were transferred to a 1st grade class. So all this must have happened within about a month of starting school. The new section must have not been ready until October.
I can remember entering school through an entrance with a marble lintel engraved with "Girls". So at one time they must have had separate entrances for boys and girls. I used to lean against the brick wall to the right side of the "Girl's" entrance waiting for school to begin. Across the way was a solid brick wall of the new section, which we used to bounce rubber balls off of.
School capacity must have been still a problem into the 1950's. My 5th grade class was located in the rear of Stelton Baptist Church where my grammar school career began. My teacher was Mrs. Kerr. My wife would later student teach under her supervision. My 6th grade class was located in a large sunken room that was divided by huge folding wall with a door in it. I didn't realize it at the time, but that room used to be the original gymnasium before the new section was built. It was divided into two classrooms by that wall. Due to capacity problems, they must have had split sessions. I can remember my desk having a lid that covered a storage area for our books and supplies. This desk was shared by two students. One half was mine, and the other half was for a student from a later session. I remember this because I was not pleased with the housekeeping habits my my deskmate.
Our school nurse was Mrs. Millemann. I have a vivid memory of being called into the hallway by her. She wanted to looked in my mouth. Before I knew what happened, she knocked out a tooth. I was told to go to the boys room and wash my mouth out. When I returned, she looked in my mouth again. Another tooth was knocked out. Again I was sent to the boys room to wash out my mouth. By now I was afraid to open my mouth. But the rest of my teeth remained intact. Looking back I now realize that the teeth she knocked out must have been baby teeth that were ready to come out anyway.
Every couple of years Mrs. Millemann would also give us eye tests. In the middle of my 6th grade eye test, Mrs. Millemann suddenly shouted "Shit!". She knew then and there that I would need glasses. That's what upset her. She knew the names of all the kids, and really cared for them.
I can also remember a brick incinerator to the rear of the school that the janitors used to burn garbage. It was square with walls about 3 - 3 1/2 feet high. We liked to watch the garbage burn. There was a tree nearby. On my recent visit, I spotted a large tree in the rear of the parking lot. I'll bet that tree was there in 1950.
Back in those days, you had to live at least two miles from school to be able to take the school bus. Our house was about 1/2 mile away. So walking was supposed to be the way for us to get to school. However, we envied those kids on the school bus. So we got the brilliant idea of walking one and a half miles further AWAY from school to the nearest school bus stop. The school bus would then take us those two miles to Stelton School. The novelty of that idea soon wore off.
When it poured rain we still walked to school. We had yellow rubber slicker raincoats that we wore along with rubber boots. The raincoat had a rubber hood. Since we lived so close to school, we would come home every day for lunch. So every day we walked a total of two miles back and forth to school.
Stelton School was located just a few blocks from the railway tracks that run north to Newark and south to Trenton. There was a classmate of mine named Eddie Anderson. This might have been when I was in Kindergarten. He and a friend were playing on the tracks one day. Eddie happened to be standing by a rail switch which allows trains to change tracks. As a train approached, the switch closed, trapping his foot in it. Eddie's friend could do nothing for him. Eddie was killed instantly. Things like that happened back then. Sometimes life or death was a matter of luck. All the kids, including us, would play on the railway tracks from time to time. But that incident made us more careful.