I have a vivid memory of being in fourth grade and telling myself that one day I wanted to see the redwoods and giant Sequoias of California. I remembered learning that California had the tallest, the oldest and the trees with the most mass. I had been born in California (read me) but moved out when I was only 3 years old so didn’t remember much about living there. California seemed unobtainable to me, a far away place I really didn’t think I’d ever see. It became very important to me to see those trees. If I did nothing else of consequence, I wanted to see those trees – this was a life goal I made in the fourth grade.
Something else important happened in the fourth grade. Back in the day when parents didn’t have to worry so much about child abductions, elementary school walkers were allowed to walk home for lunch if they wanted. Up to third grade, (read me), we had two choices for lunch – we could bring our lunch to school or we could buy a “lunch ticket” that could be used to buy a hot lunch from the cafeteria.
Fourth grade gave us the right to a new privilege, the right to leave the school grounds for lunch, either to walk home or to go anywhere, really. When lunchtime arrived, if we wanted to leave, we simply had to write our names on a section of the classroom chalkboard made available for this purpose and to write down where we were going.
On a few special days when I would have at least 25 cents, I and one or two friends would check ourselves out and walk two blocks away to a little hole-in-the-wall called The Main Castle Diner (hopefully I am remembering the name correctly). The Main St Castle was our own hometown version of White Castle on the west side of Hamilton. It served up delicious ‘belly bombers’, small griddle-fried hamburgers served up with grilled onions, a pickle and mustard. I remember my parents would on occasion buy them a dozen for a dollar. For lunch we could get 3 for a quarter.
The small diner had 6-7 round counter seats and only 4-6 small tables. It also had a jukebox. For a nickel we could play a song and for a quarter we could listen to 6 songs. Luckily it had some Beatles tunes – we loved The Beatles. We’d walk in and grab the table closest to the jukebox, slip in a quarter or a few nickels and place our orders. The cook usually had some burgers already started and if he didn’t, well they were thin and didn’t take long to cook.
I don’t remember exactly how long we had for lunch before we had to get back to class, but I’m guessing 35 minutes. Likely as soon as we were released, we ran over to the restaurant. This would give us 30 minutes of Beatles and burgers. The memory I have is of being with Timmy Apwisch (read me) and a kid named Steve Hoskins. I cannot recall if Hoskins was his birth name or his adopted name – he was the only kid I grew up with who I knew to have been adopted by a ‘remarried dad’. He was a happy, friendly, jovial kid. We would all anxiously await the delicious burgers while playing around with the jukebox and then when the burgers were done, we’d check out the round clock up on the wall and carefully time our imminent departure while munching on our greasy delicacies. At the end of 4th grade my parents moved away out of the Fillmore Elementary district. This was to be my only year of being able to go out for lunch. I made it out maybe only 5-6 times, but it made a nice long-lasting memory for me.
Many years passed. In 2004 I had an opportunity to accept a job transfer to California. Since living here we have done much exploring of this beautiful state. In 2006 we journeyed north to the Avenue of the Giants. We hiked amongst the giant redwoods of coastal California. They are awesome plants. But seeing the redwoods were only part of the goal. A couple of years ago I finally got the opportunity to see the Sequoias firsthand. It was 73 degrees down at the park entrance and by the time we reached the Sherman, the temperature was below freezing.
When we finally reached the General Sherman I felt I was having ‘a moment’. The Sherman has a mass over two and a half million pounds and is over 2500 years old. I had achieved a dream, something I had wanted to do since I was a fourth grader! I stood in front of the tree and thought back to being a young boy and I tried to recall as much as I could from the fourth grade memory. We took pictures. I felt I had achieved something. The Redwoods and the Sequoias had waited for me; I had arrived.
My fourth grade teacher Mrs. Thackera had pictures of the redwoods and Sequoias pinned to the upper left side into the thin cork component of the chalkboard. Over in the bottom right hand corner, she had made a square outline with a piece of chalk – this is where we signed out. I sat in the third or fourth seat from the front in the farthest right side row of desks, the row closest to the classroom door. Today I am walking to the chalkboard and I’m writing my name in the square –
Rob Wyatt – Out to eat 10 cent burgers at the Main St Castle while listening to The Beatles, then headed all the way to the giant Sequoias of California. Keep my seat warm for me.
- Romance & Royalty in the Fourth Grade (growinguponprytania.wordpress.com)