HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The old Whitesburg School in Huntsville is coming down. If the demolition isn’t finished as I write this, it will be soon. Even for me, who attended Whitesburg decades ago, it’s a bit sad.
The school opened in 1959 and I started attending as a 3rd grader in 1960. My family had moved to Huntsville from Panama City, Florida, when my father took a job with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. We lived three blocks from the school and I got there by walking or riding my bike.
I have to admit most of my elementary school years are a blur of teachers, books, recess and holiday celebrations. My big memory of elementary school was breaking my arm just before Thanksgiving when I was in the 4th grade. Even with pain, having the principal, Mrs. Black, come and sit with me was nice.
At Whitesburg when I was there, the elementary and middle schools (junior high for me) were separated by the lunchroom. Important, because the lunchroom lady, Mrs. Shamblee, also happened to be my next door neighbor. They regularly served a dessert in the lunch room called “apple crisp,” and she gave the recipe to my mother. To tell you the truth, I’d like some right now.
I don’t remember moving to the junior high part of the school as being that big a deal. The best part was you had different teachers for different subjects and of course girls became a larger part of your life. My first serious 7th grade crush was on a girl named Nancy Ricky. She would later move to Texas and I suppose my first heartbreak was suffered at Whitesburg. I survived of course, and moved on to other young loves and heartbreak too.
I want to mention one teacher in particular at Whitesburg Junior High. Her name was Ann Eiland, and she became a long-standing friend. Her son, Tom, was a classmate through high school. Mrs. Eiland was one of those teachers who awakened the love of learning in me and I like to think she’d be proud that I’m still a curious lifetime learner.
One thing I’m very proud of from my Whitesburg years is the fact that I went from being a skinny weakling to being a still skinny guy who did okay on the track team. I couldn’t do a single push-up when I started at the school. But by the time I left to go to Huntsville High, I had earned the graduating class award for best P.E. student. It wasn’t because I was great, but rather because I had started so poorly and made progress.
The indelible memory from my years at Whitesburg was the assassination of President Kennedy. I was in the library and I remember the student who told me and exactly what he said. It had particular meaning to me since Kennedy was the first Catholic President and my teacher during the election was Catholic. We didn’t miss a moment.
I haven’t been to Whitesburg school in years and the last time I was there I remember thinking the halls were so much narrower than I remembered and the classrooms so much smaller. Still, both were plenty big enough at the time and yeah it’s a little sad to know that my Whitesburg… is gone.