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San Luis Obispo County
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Los Berros



             My daughter, Jane, made a suggestion and a request that I tell about my grammar school experiences.  Knowing that she would repeat the request, I decided to give in and write.

            My formal education began at the age of eight.  That was the age when we all started, older than when kids start now.   No kindergarten or anything, all of a sudden at the end of summer, you were enrolled in the first grade.

            We were living at Newsom Hot Springs, a hot mineral springs resort complete with cabins, tub baths and a small plunge.  This was located two and one-half miles east of Arroyo Grande.

            Going to school meant a walk of almost one mile to the county road.  There I met my cousins who lived at that point.  Then it was another one and one-half miles to school.

            The Arroyo Grande grammar school was located at that time where the Ford dealership is now.  The school consisted of two buildings.  The main building was a two story affair painted yellow.  From the upper story there was a metal slide to be used in case of fire.  This is where grades two through eight were housed.  The slide, I might add, was a no-no to play one, but it did get used now and then.

            The other building was one story.  This is where the first grade was corralled.  It was near the rest rooms, thus making it convenient for the little ones.   Yes, it did have flush toilets!

            My mother had remarried to Robert Newsom, who was like a real father to me.  I had heard the name Newsom so much that when the teacher asked my name I said it was Garnet Newsom. There is my first year’s report card in an album declaring this to be a fact.

            I was about halfway through the first grade when we moved to a small ranch in Los Berros and I was enrolled in a new school.  It had one advantage, only one mile to school.

            The Los Berros School was a one room building housing all eight grades and one teacher.  The first grade sat on the extreme left and as you progressed through the grades you moved from left to right and when you were in the eighth grade you were by the windows again and could look out.   There was also a small horse barn for horses as some of the pupils rode horses to school on account of the distance.  The restrooms were outhouses, one for boys and one for girls.   These were located at the back of the school yard about one hundred yards from the school.

            I will never forget my first day there.  Off I trotted with my lunch pail.  Lard used to come in a five pound pail complete with a bail.  This made the ideal and standard lunch pail.  Sometimes you almost needed a can opener to get the lid off.  I think this is where the term lunch pail originated.  To get back to school, there was no empty seat in the first grade row and to my embarrassment I had to sit with a girl.  Naturally the rest of the school snickered and grinned.  Finally I had to make that one hundred yard dash to the little boys room.  Alas, I had waited too long and wet my pants.  That was a day to remember.

            We had three teachers while I was in school there.  The first one, a Miss Fritz, was replaced by a Miss Shipsey, an older woman, rather plump with a florid complexion.  She lasted two years and left.  Guess she couldn’t stand the ranch boys and girls anymore.  Miss Shipsey was replaced by a Miss Gladys Walker.  At the start of her third year of teaching, she made an announcement to the school:  “I have been married, and my name is Mrs. Lester Sullivan.”  Little did I know that way in the future I would have a daughter named Jane who would marry one of her grandsons.

            Some of the games we played were marbles, tops, and with yo-yos.  I once lost a full bag of marbles playing “keeps”, where you kept all the marbles you knocked out of the ring.  Tops were played by drawing a ring on the ground and each player putting a top in.  The object of the game was to knock your opponent’s top out of the ring, winding the string and throwing as fast as you could.  We often took the round metal tip out of the top and put in a sharpened nail.  It didn’t do much for the centrifugal balance, but played havoc with the target tops.

            One of our favorite sports was to throw a ball over the school and try and lodge it in the belfry.  This meant someone had to go get it and that was the object of the game.  On this one occasion the boy who was up there started poking around a small, square opening leading to the roof.  An owl suddenly swooped out and completely white-washed him with own manure.  He looked like a ghost!  When he got back to the ground, he didn’t smell like attar of roses and was isolated from the classes for the rest of the day.

            Going home after a rainstorm was always a lot of fun.  The unwritten rule of the road was never pass a mud puddle without jumping in with both feet and see how much water you could splash out.  Needless to say we were always a little wet and muddy when we arrived home.

            Sometimes going home wasn’t so much fun.  The school bully lived across the road from us and he made life a little miserable.  On one occasion he was wearing his big brother’s ring, walked up to me and hit me in the mouth, cutting my lip.  I had had it.  I went berserk, picked up a rock, and as he started to run I threw it.  Bull’s eye!   Right in the back of his head, taking him off his feet.  He had a head built like a bank vault, so no serious damage resulted.  When he came blubbering back to me complaining about what I had done to his head, I said, “Look what you did to my mouth!”  From that time on, no more trouble.

            Arriving home there was always a treat, cookies, cake, etc. on the table, covered with a dish cloth.  I will always remember the tapioca pudding.  For some reason it was made differently then and now.  To describe tapioca pudding, it resembled white fish eggs suspended in gelatin.  The resilience of this was awesome.  A person could take a ball of this and bounce it as though it was made of rubber.  However, it tasted good.

            I had a best friend who lived on a ranch nearby.  We always had plenty to do, riding horses, going swimming in the creek and exploring a couple of old prospecting shafts on nearby Mt. Pacheco.

            While we were playing at school one day, I was tripped and fell.  There was a snap like a stick being broken.  I had a broken ankle and spent eight weeks on crutches.  A few days later the boy who had tripped me came to the house and said the teacher had told him he had to apologize.  He was embarrassed and hated it.  I felt the same and told him so.  I saw him at our high school reunion some fifty years later and he still remembered and felt the same.   So did I!

            One of the highlights of the year was our Christmas play and tree.   First, the teacher’s desk was removed from the small stage where it sat for the rest of the year.  She had a bird’s eye view of all of us, and we know it.  Next we got the stage curtains out and hung them.  We then started rehearsing our play.  Naturally all the parents came to this prodigious event.  Getting the tree was a biggy.  Two or three of us older boys were sent out in the country to find one.  Usually it took two or more trips to find one suitable.

            Finally after eight long years I had moved across the room where I could look out the windows again.  I was going to graduate!!!

            I probably should tell a little about our ranch life.  We were fairly primitive.  No running water.  Water had to be hauled from the well in buckets.  Baths were in a galvanized wash tub, usually on Saturday nights, oftener if I got to stinking.  The rest of our sanitary facilities consisted of an outhouse, complete with a Montgomery Ward catalog.  The black and white pages were not bad, but those slick, glossy ones were something else.

            We finally had electricity.  Wonderful, no more kerosene lamps.

            I remember two events quite clearly.  One was the earthquake that partially destroyed Santa Barbara.  I can still feel the ground heaving and swaying and things in the house falling.

            The other was when I was standing at the kitchen door watching an electrical storm.  A lightning bolt struck the transformer in front of the house.  When I recovered from the glare I looked out and saw this huge column of smoke.  The San Luis tank farm had been struck and was on fire.

            We got our first car.  Mother inherited her father’s car, a 1919 Dodge touring car.  Having driven horse and buggy all of her life, a neighbor delivered the car.   The neighbor gave her instructions and jacked up the rear wheels so she could practice shifting gears while the engine was running.   She got to where she drove it.  One day she came into the shed where it was stored a little too fast, pulled back on the steering wheel and yelled “Whoa” and went through the was in the back.  I got my first driver’s license when I was fourteen years old and did most of the driving.

            We moved back to Newsom Hot Springs after my first year in high school.   No electricity again.  But bath tubs!  You can’t have everything!









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