Our Family Stories: JFK – I’ll Go First

I thought collecting family memories of President Kennedy would be fitting on this 50th anniversary of his death. I will begin with my own memories and post recollections of other family members in the coming days.

Kathy's 3rd grade class copyAs a young girl attending E. E. Morrison Grade School in Great Bend, Kansas in the early 1960s, most of my recollections of the Kennedy administration have to do with the push for physical fitness and space exploration. My “emotional memory” of the time is that our young president brought a sense of vigor and energy to the country, and a striving to reach for the stars – or at least the moon.

physical_fitness_kennedy-2Even before taking office, JFK made the President’s Council on Youth Fitness one of his priorities. Although authorized by President Eisenhower, it was Kennedy who asked us school children to increase our strength and speed and endurance. I remember not liking this very much as I was not athletic and suddenly, it seemed, we were asked to do a number of physical fitness tests. And we did lots of running (the first time I remember getting a “stitch” in my side), jumping jacks, sit ups and other exercises and we had to climb those darn ropes hanging from the ceiling. I never could do that! Yet – I did feel a sense of participation in making our country stronger by being stronger. I was running because the President wanted me to run. It was my civic duty.

chickenfatWhen I was looking for information about this, I rediscovered the Chicken Fat song. The name didn’t sound familiar at first, but when I listened to the song, I remembered it. Once you’ve heard it, how could you forget it? The JFK lIbrary website says this about the Chicken Fat song:

The oddest contribution to the effort may have been the “Chicken Fat” song. Meredith Willson, creator of The Music Man, wrote the song. It was sung by Robert Preston, the star of the musical. “Chicken Fat” was produced in a three-minute, radio-friendly version and a six-minute version to accompany schoolchildren during workout routines. The song didn’t get much airplay, but the chorus of “go, you chicken fat, go!” was ingrained in the memories of tens of thousands of children doing sit-ups in school gyms around the country.

I’m not sure if my teachers played this or why I know it, but I assume I learned it at school. I asked my Facebook friends if anyone remembered the Chicken Fat song and got these responses:
* Remember it well from my days @ Bowie Elementary in Corsicana. (Texas)
* I remember “Go, you chicken fat, go!” That’s about my only recollection. (Kansas)
* I remember this from my elementary school days in Daly City, Californa. I think we all really liked to exercise to it! Go, you chicken fat, go!
* I used this song endlessly when I was teaching kindergarten 1965-68. “Go you chicken fat, go! I had my own record, and played it in the classroom. (Iowa)
* I remember exercising to it on a daily basis at school and “go chicken fat, go”! (Texas)
* Can still sing along every word of Chicken Fat. My mom bought me the 45 because I loved it at school so. Music Man was one of my favorite movies so I loved that Robert Preston sang it. There was a shorter version that didn’t involve getting down on the floor. It was on the flip side of the 45. The shorter version was what we usually did at school. This was at Highland Park Elementary here in Austin in 1963-64. (Texas)

Space exploration also played a big part in our national consciousness during the early 1960s. I’m not sure, but our teachers may have brought their own portable black and white televisions from home and we watched every launch and re-entry in our dimly-lit classrooms. It was the first time I think we were ever allowed to watch television at school and this imparted a great sense of the significance of space travel and exploration.

It is often said that everyone remembers where they were or what they were doing when an event of great historical significance or tragedy occurs. My own memories of the day President Kennedy was assassinated are vague. I had just turned 10 about a month before. I have learned from school mates that we were sent home from school due to a furnace malfunction. So, unlike most school children around the nation, we did not hear the news at school.

House 2535 20th St.I remember being in my bedroom in our little house in Great Bend, Kansas with my best friend – those windows on the left side of the house were my room. My friend Cathy and I think I turned on the radio for us to listen to music and instead we learned that the president had been shot. We must have gone to tell my mother and then watched the live coverage on television in the living room.

We watched the television more than usual for the next few days – the replay of the shooting, the long lines of people waiting to pay their respects, the funeral procession, the President’s children …. just as every one remembers from those days. It was a sad time and the first in a series of assassinations that chipped away at the innocence and optimism of a generation.

Did you exercise to the Chicken Fat song? Were you inspired by the space program? Where were you when you heard the news about President Kennedy?

Memories shared by other family members coming soon!

2013.11W.11I wrote this before I decided to link up with the Sepia Saturday prompt for this week, but it fits the bill.

JFK is remembered by the Webber branch of my family here.

My memories of the space shuttle Challenger disaster are here.

And please pay your respects by visiting the historical accounts of other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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.