Sunday, July 21, 2013

Nits and Lice and Cooties



My father was a barber, so I learned about head lice very early. Here’s how it happened.

While my family sat at the supper table eating, we always talked about what happened during the day. One evening while eating, Dad related that while he was cutting a man’s hair that day, he discovered lice on his scalp. Dad, holding his fork in his hand, pointed to the back of his head to show exactly where.

Mom interrupted, “Oh, Walter! Not at the table while we’re eating!



For the benefit of his young sons, Dad continued to describe how tiny the lice were and how they laid eggs, called nits, on hairs close to the scalp.



Following his training at barber college (and state law), Dad had to immediately stop cutting the hair of anyone with lice and ask the customer to leave the shop. He had to disinfect in formaldehyde his electric shears, cutting shears (scissors), comb, and anything else that had been touched.



He took the customer’s hair cloth, carefully folded it inward, and put it in a sack in his closet. While he did this, the next customer waited patiently on the bench and wondered if the disinfecting really worked. Nits and lice, as everyone knows, can be easily spread.



My own head suddenly seemed itchy, and I scratched it.

About that same time, Cole County Nurse Hetty Joach (pronounced Jo-ack) made her annual visit to Broadway School, where I was an eight-year-old in Miss Ruth Longan’s third grade. We pupils went singly into the cloakroom and sat on a stool while Nurse Joach looked at our teeth, throat, and a lot of other things and, of course, took a comb to examine our scalps for head lice.



I don’t remember if she found any in our class that year, but if she did, it was revealed privately to the pupil, the teacher, and parents. Nurse Joach told us all about head lice and reminded us to wash our hair often, which some kids didn’t do in those days. But my Mom and Dad made sure my head got washed more than I wanted.

We kids found out that cooties was another word for lice. It was common to tease someone, especially girls, by saying, “You’ve got cooties!” Teachers and parents frowned on this, because they knew it could be hurtful. People believed that contracting head lice was a sign of dirty, shameful housekeeping, and families were embarrassed when it happened.


Then one evening Mom’s bridge club met at our house.



I was allowed to stay up for a while and watch the “girls” play several hands. At one point, I heard one of them exclaim, “Oh, all I had in my hand was nits and lice!”--meaning that she held low cards, but I didn’t know that. I puzzled why anyone would be holding lice and their eggs in their hands.

I wanted to look, because I had never seen a louse, dead or alive, but I didn’t. Soon after, I went to bed and started imagining my head itching.


Then, the next Christmas, my Aunt Esther and Uncle Emil Kaiser came to visit. She told us about a group she belonged to in Kansas City called the Cooties of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Uncle Eme had served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, and the Cooties were veterans who brought fun and entertainment to sick and wounded veterans in hospitals. Women formed Cootie auxiliaries and had just as much fun as their veteran husbands did. My Aunt Esther was always singing, laughing, and cracking jokes, so I knew she could make vets in hospitals happy. The group was called “Military Order of the Cootie” because it poked fun at the lice that tormented troops living in trenches during the war.

When I learned all this, I started thinking of "cooties" as neat people who had lots of fun!

--------------------------------------------

And in the early 1940s, this is how an eight-year-old found out about nits and lice and cooties!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Broadway School’s Last Day!

Broadway School, located on the northeast corner of Dunklin and Broadway streets, opened in 1904.




In the next half century, some 1,600 children in the Old Munichburg neighborhood of Jefferson City’s Southside attended the elementary school. They read Dick and Jane books in the first grade reading circle and had spelling bees in the second grade. In the third grade, they learned to write in longhand (now called cursive) by the Palmer penmanship method, using a scratchy ink pen dipped in an ink bottle. In the fourth grade, they memorized multiplication tables and then added long division and fractions in the fifth grade. By the sixth and final grade, they were sprouting bean seeds in glass jars on the window sills and drawing pictures of the sprouting process in their tablets.




After World War II, Jefferson City schools grew overcrowded. In addition to classrooms being cramped with thirty or more pupils, Broadway’s playground was much too small and bordered on two busy streets. When the school was built in 1904, Dunklin and Broadway streets carried horses and buggies, but by 1950 the same streets carried a couple thousand cars daily. Traffic posed a serious danger for pupils who ran into the streets to avoid being tagged during a game of “it” or to chase softballs.

 

 


In 1952 Jefferson City citizens voted by an astounding 86 percent to approve school bonds, which included the replacement of the Southside’s two historic schools, Broadway and Central, with two new schools. Broadway would be replaced by the new South School, four blocks father south on Broadway. South School was finished in February 1955 and ready to be occupied.

The last day of school at Broadway was Wednesday, February 9, 1955. It was an unusually balmy day for February, and during recess, pupils played in their shirtsleeves.





Boys made one last assault on the cinder pile next to the coal chute and played on the school’s back steps.








Mrs. Bonnie Haigh posed with some of her fifth grade pupils.




And for the final time, the janitor let the boys ring the handbell to signal the end of recess before they filed through the front doors.





During that night an unexpected cold front moved in, dropping temperatures below freezing! It had snowed! Moving day would have to be done in the snow! Boys and girls arrived at school dressed in coats and caps with earflaps and wearing sturdy shoes and galoshes, because they knew they had to hike in snow the four blocks south to their new school.




Grade by grade, starting with the youngest first graders, the pupils filed out of the school carrying their books and tablets, pencils and erasers, pens and ink bottles, as well as scissors, rulers, paste, and other school supplies in brown paper bags. (There were no plastic bags or nylon backpacks then!) Boys put their marbles in one pants pocket and their pocketknives (for whittling and playing mumblety-peg during recess) in the other. Each class of thirty or so pupils was led by its teacher, assisted by a few mothers.



Some classes sang as they marched through the snow. The schoolboy patrol halted Dunklin Street traffic for the procession of about two hundred persons to cross over. While they marched, the wind and snow started again and became, according to the newspaper account, “a near blizzard.”






The last to leave the old school were Miss Frances Elizabeth Smith, the current principal, and Miss Lily Andrae, who had been Broadway’s first principal in 1904 and had continued in that position until 1926. Miss Andrae had the honor of locking the front door and shutting down the school. To celebrate the new beginning, Miss Andrae presented to South School a set of the complete works of Charles Dickens.






Broadway School became a white elephant. What do you do with a fifty-year-old elementary school? That question was answered when the Carpenters Union 945 bought the building and lot a few months later, in August 1955, for $32,000.



The Carpenters converted it into an office building, but they retained some of the original furnishings. The original wooden stairways and banisters are still intact and polished, and the century-old wooden benches used for seating in the lunchroom remain in that same room, which is now a meeting room. The Old Munichburg Association occupies the former fourth grade room.




Thanks to my mother, Mrs. Edna Schroeder, for taking the photos of the last day and moving day of Broadway School. Her youngest son, my brother Tom, was in the fifth grade at the time. My mother, two of her sisters, and her three sons were among the approximately 1,600 who attended Broadway School.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.