By: Esther Hastings Miller
When we moved to the old house in Clive, it was just before Christmas. I was in fifth grade and my brother in third at Clive School on 73rd Street. I’m not sure what my teachers’ names were, just that there was a woman in the morning and a man in the afternoon and he was principal of the school.
By sixth grade, the school was so crowded that classes were split into morning sessions and afternoon sessions. My sixth grade teacher, purportedly the “meanest” teacher in the school, was a Miss Jones, who was in a terrible accident soon after school started and we had a long-term sub until after Christmas when Miss Jones was finally able to return. She turned out not to be mean at all, just firm in setting expectations, like most teachers then.
I attended several different schools in and around Des Moines and may be confusing Clive with my previous school, but I’m pretty sure there was a two-story building being added to the back of the one-story portion of the school. The upstairs of that contained the seventh and eighth graders and we had four teachers. We may have still been on split sessions in seventh grade. I do remember the teachers were Mr. Peckinovsky for English, Mr. Stone for science, Mr. Wright for math, and Mrs. Nyberg for Iowa History. (Why can I remember all that and not the important things that happened last week?)
We rode the school bus but had to walk to Lundberg’s on the corner of University and Clive Road (86th). On really cold mornings, we were allowed to wait inside for the bus to come. We rode second bus, so we got to school just before it started, but had to wait thirty to forty-five minutes to get our bus to go home.
In sixth or seventh grade I got the coveted School Crossing Guard belt and stood at a corner just north of the school to help the younger students across the street. That was a really cold job in the winter!
When we got off the bus in the afternoon, we waited around in front of Mrs. Swanson’s house for the paper man to come and deliver the newspaper. There was no point in walking all the way home just to turn around and come back for the paper. While we waited, we practiced balancing on the railroad tracks and got so good at it, we could walk all the way home without falling off the rail once. That came in handy in the spring when the ground thawed and the road was impassible. Dad even had to park the car at the train station because the road was so mucky.
When the paper finally arrived, we would take her paper across the street to Mrs. Swanson, who gave us each a cookie for delivering her paper. We knew Mildred Swanson as Miss Swanson, the school secretary.
One winter day we were sitting quietly working in class. Talking was not allowed, nor working with a neighbor. Suddenly, somebody said out loud…startling us all… “Look at the snow!” It wasn’t just snowing, there was a blizzard out there!
Almost immediately there was an announcement, or the principal came around (I don’t remember which) and told us that everybody who could walk home should put their books away and get home as quickly as possible. Same for everybody on first bus…go now, the buses were waiting. By the time the buses came back for us second-busers, the blizzard was horrible. We lined up for our bus and got on almost silently. Even the youngest kids knew this was scary. The driver faced us when everybody was on and said he’d need us to stay very quiet on the ride home because “I’m driving by feel tonight.” We didn’t have to be told twice.
We finally got to our stop and five of us got off. The three Reames sisters, my brother and I. How on earth were we going to get across Clive Road where there was usually quite a bit of traffic…nothing like now, however. Finally, I said “Let’s all hold hands and nobody run. If we slip, we’ll all go down and get hit by a car.” So, I got on one end, the oldest Reames girl on the other, and the youngest in the middle, holding the hands of her sister and my brother. We waited and strained our eyes but couldn’t hear or see anything, so we carefully walked out into the street, resisted the urge to run, and got across safely.
The girls had only half as far to go as we did, as they lived in the house that had not yet become the noodle factory. Then my brother and I trudged along the road, hoping no cars came. We walked as close to the edge as possible but were afraid we’d fall into the ditch which was already filled with snow. One car did come by, very slowly, and we were able to follow its tracks for a little while until the wind and heavy snow obliterated them before we reached our driveway. Usually we climbed up our front yard hill but that day we followed the driveway because it was lined with trees that we could barely see. At least that kept us on the right track. A nice warm house sure felt good that night!
Note: This is the ninth of 11 stories written by Esther Hastings Miller. Follow along as she shares her precious memories of growing up in Clive, Iowa.
About Esther Miller:
My parents, younger brother David, and I moved to the old house at the end of what is now Swanson Blvd just before Christmas in 1957. The address was University Avenue and the house may have been the “Kurtz Hill” mentioned in Mildred Swanson’s story about sledding. That yard was outstanding for sledding!
I was in fifth grade at Clive School and David was in third. We lived in that house until June of 1960 when the property was sold and we had to move. We moved to the Johnston area where we went to school for a year. In September of that year, my father was severely injured at work and was never able to work again. We moved to Des Moines, since Mother didn’t drive and Dad couldn’t anymore. And then, in December of 1961 we moved to California. Mother had gone to school in a small town in Southern California in the 40s, so she had friends there and she knew the climate would be a lot easier on all of us.
Both David and I finished high school in California, then I attended two small colleges nearby and graduated, first in my family, in 1970. I worked as an occupational therapist with severely handicapped children, then took several years off to raise my own two children. I eventually returned to work until my husband took early retirement. We traveled around the country in an RV, a long-time dream of ours, until we found some place we wanted to move to.
We sold our home in California and settled into an old farmhouse in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where we lived for several more years. I returned to California a few years ago and now live way out in the country. Do you see a trend? I love living in the country and over the years I’ve built on the skills I first learned in that old house in Clive.