Some Recollections of Bolton School (1939-1946)
by John V. Moore
The Second World War coincided with my years as a pupil at Bolton School.  The war began in September of 1939, a week before I entered first grade; the war in Europe ended in May of 1945, toward the end of my year in sixth grade; and the war in the Pacific ended in August of 1945, shortly before I entered seventh grade.  By the time I graduated from seventh grade, in June of 1946, the postwar disputes between the capitalist West and the communist East had already begun.
There were many reminders of the war in our daily life at school: collecting scrap metal to be melted down into tanks and guns, collecting old newspapers to somehow help the war effort, collecting used postage stamps to entertain hospitalized GI’s who might be interested in philately, and regular drives to sell war bonds (later known as victory bonds) to help finance the war.  Everyone was very gung-ho about these causes, and each new call for assistance brought an enthusiastic response.  All the children in my neighborhood walked the mile or so to school because wartime gas rationing severely limited the amount of fuel at our disposal and, besides, our mothers saw no point in chauffeuring healthy children who were blessed with strong legs.  Most of my schoolmates’ mothers had no access to automobiles in those days, in any event.
We even had air-raid drills.  Whenever a special bell rang, we would march into the hall and squat down with our backs against the wall, putting our heads between our knees and our arms over our heads.  Even as young as nine or ten, I didn’t understand the logic of this, as my maps indicated German bombers could not possibly reach Georgia without the help of aircraft carriers, and the Nazis had none.  And the Japanese navy was in the Pacific Ocean, much too far away.  But the Bell Bomber Plant (where half the B-29’s that destroyed enemy cities were built) was nearby, so I suppose we had to take every precaution.  One day at recess I asked our third-grade teacher why “ATLANTA” was printed in huge block letters on the roof of our school, with a large, bright-yellow arrow pointing directly toward the Atlanta airport.  She replied it was to help pilots find their way in those pre-radar days, and I thought to myself how grateful for that help German Luftwaffe pilots would be, if their bombers ever did make it as far as Bolton School.
Another consequence of the war was the requirement, in fourth grade, that we listen to a 15-minute radio newscast every day after lunch.  The commentator was Cedric Foster, broadcasting on the Colonial Mutual Network, and I vividly remember his mellifluous voice, even though more than 65 years have passed since then.  Our teacher that year was obsessed with the progress of the war, and we nine- and ten-year-olds were interested as well, especially since all of us had family members or friends who were away fighting at the front.
Toward the end of sixth grade, the entire student body was summoned to the auditorium to hear an important announcement that would “rock the world.”  We sat there impatiently for an hour or so, listening to the radio, but nothing unusual was broadcast.  I later learned the victorious American army had been expected to march into Berlin on that morning, but a last-minute agreement with the Russians ceded to their army the honor of capturing the German capital.  So we never got to hear that earthshaking announcement.
In those days there were no computers, cell phones, TV’s or videogames to give us attention deficit disorder, so we had to rely on our own resources for entertainment.  At home this meant resorting to conversation, a sure means of establishing a sense of unity and continuity in a family, especially in our household where four generations lived together.  And we all spent every evening in the living room, at least during the cold months, since that was the only heated room in the house.  A high point of each evening was listening to a radio program---Fibber McGee and Molly or Jack Benny or Henry Aldrich---but talking to each other was what kept us informed and smiling.
From time to time we had saved enough money to go to the movies.  The nearest movie theater was in Riverside, and on Saturdays my playmates and I would board the River Line streetcar in Bolton and ride there to see double features.  My mother refused to go to that theater again, however, because she claimed something small and furry had run across her feet during her only visit there.  So she preferred the theater at Buckhead.  But that required driving the family car, thus using up some of our precious monthly gas ration.
Simple entertainments were held at school, where we spent our rare nights out.  Every year there was a talent show, with the musical numbers accompanied by my mother at the piano.  Those evenings featured songs, recitations, and skits performed by us pupils, and I remember the auditorium being filled with proud parents and friends.  We also had carnivals, every year or two at Halloween, that featured games and contests and prizes.  
Music played an important role in our education at Bolton School.  It was unthinkable that we pupils would attend an assembly without marching to the accompaniment of a processional and a recessional, played on the tinny upright piano in the auditorium.  And the Fulton County Board of Education regularly sent a singing teacher to our school, to teach us patriotic songs, as well as folksongs of different lands.  I remember learning folksongs of Russia (our ally in the war) but none of Germany or Italy or Japan (our wartime enemies).  
Our school had a band during my early years there, with rehearsals in the school auditorium or, on weekends, in the Sunday School building at Collins Memorial Methodist Church.  I played clarinet, an effort that puckered my lips and tortured my ears (I was not very good at it).  I had never before seen those other band instruments and found them all fascinating, especially the trombone.  The trombone in our band was played by an older boy named Gordon Bone, as I recall, and I remember wondering, with my lively eight-year-old’s imagination, whether his surname had anything to do with him choosing that particular instrument.  Our annual band concerts were well attended by parents, more out of devotion to their children than any expectation of hearing music performed well.
A characteristic event of that time was a program of tableaux, put on by a troupe that traveled from school to school.  These were representations, arranged in front of elaborate backdrops, of famous oil paintings, with us pupils portraying all the characters.  Such a troupe came to our school, and I was selected to appear in a tableau of a painting that showed Benjamin Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm, an experiment meant to test whether lightning could be conducted down a kite line.  The stage curtain was arranged so as to present a large rectangle, like a picture frame, and each tableau appeared within that frame.  When the time came for my portrayal of Ben Franklin, I sat on a chair in my 18th-century coat and hat, under a dark and threatening sky, while a bright flash of light traveled down the line to my kite.  It was very exciting.
But not as exciting as the tableau of “The Old Swimming Hole.”  This painting shows three boys, swimming nude in a creek in the woods.  Once the three boys had been selected from among our seventh-graders, the gentleman in charge pulled them aside and whispered something into their ears that left them blushing and giggling.  The tableau itself showed their nakedness only down as far as the lower abdomen, but we fellow pupils wondered whether the gentleman had warned them they would have to strip entirely for their roles.  The three boys weren’t talking, so speculation about that entertained us for several days afterward.  
In my fourth-grade class there was a boy named Beau, quite a bit older than the rest of us, who must have been held back a number of times.  He sat on a table at the side of the room, because his gangly frame would not fit into our fourth-grade desks.  He also shaved every morning before coming to school and even had a few hairs sprouting on his chest, quite unusual for a fourth-grader.  I suppose he was biding his time, as Georgia law required that a child attend school until age sixteen.  So he sat on his table all day, working his jaw muscles.
Beau may not have had much talent for schoolwork, but he knew a lot more about practical matters than the rest of us did.  One day during class a poisonous insect stung my arm, raising a row of angry blue whelps.  My arm swelled to twice its normal size and began to throb.  Summoned over by our teacher, Beau took one look and led me into the boys’ bathroom, where he removed my shirt, spat out a large wad of chewing tobacco, and slapped it onto the stings.  “This will draw out the poison, take away the pain and make the swelling go down,” he assured me.  And it did.  Soon he took me back to class, as good as new.  I was not only grateful to him but also amazed to learn he had not been chewing gum all year, but tobacco.
One day in geography class our fifth-grade teacher, Miss Brunson, informed us that we would build a relief map of South America on the table at the back of the room.  And she sent me, along with classmates Leon and Otis, to get a wagonload of clay from Whetstone Branch in Seagraves’ pasture.  “It’ll take a lot of clay to build the Andes,” she pointed out.  We pulled that wagon down the steep hill on Adams Drive and parked it beside the creek.  Then we lay on our backs in the damp grass and smoked rabbit-tobacco that one of my companions took from his pocket and rolled into cigarettes, using strips of newspaper.  While we were coughing and gagging and laughing, Leon accidentally rolled over onto a fresh cow pie.  After he washed himself off as best he could with branch water, we filled the wagon with clay and pulled the Andes back up the hill to school.  Miss Brunson gave us a dressing down when we reappeared in class, late, damp and smelly.
In sixth grade we presented a musical that we grandly referred to as an “operetta.”  It was called In the Land of Dreams Come True, and I served as rehearsal pianist.  I learned the score so well that I still remember some of it today, after so many years.  Getting a role in the show was a coveted prize, and I was pleased to be chosen to play the giant.  I was less pleased to learn that my character never appeared on stage, but uttered his threats in a deep and ominous voice from behind the scenes.  By sixth grade I had grown taller than the other boys, and at age twelve my voice had already begun to deepen, so I suppose I was the most likely candidate for the role.
At the beginning of seventh grade, the elementary school in a nearby community burned to the ground.  Thus the entire seventh grade from Mount Vernon School transferred to Bolton School, and my class doubled in size overnight.  It seemed odd, suddenly having all those strangers in our midst.  By that time our Bolton group had been together for six years, and we had gotten to know each other very well.  I have a photo (enclosed) of our graduating class, made in front of the main entrance to the school in June of 1946, and while I remember the names of almost all my Bolton classmates, I recall the names of hardly any of those from Mount Vernon.
I was selected to deliver an “inspirational speech” at our graduation ceremony.  Having no idea how to write a speech, I became panicky.  But after going to my father for advice, I was finally able to come up with something, and I remember the title: “Life is Like a Football Game.”  How ironic, considering that I knew so little about either life or football at age thirteen.  A good memory for details can be embarrassing.
None of us had many material possessions in that relatively simple era, but we had something much more important: a secure sense of community and purpose and camaraderie and belonging.  And the classes and extracurricular events at Bolton School made a significant contribution to those feelings.  It’s a different and more complex world today, a world that has made incredible scientific and social advances.  But we shouldn’t forget that many things of value have been lost in the process.      
A photo of the graduating class (seventh grade) of Bolton School, made in June of 1946.  Names of pupils as follows:
1st row: Miss Elton, Annie Mae Reese, ?, Frances Aiken, Charlotte Brown, Edith Hulsey, ?, Catherine Bryant, ?, Mrs. Borden
2nd row: ?, ?, ?, ?, Ralph Phillips, Richard _____, Tommy Jones, Juanita Bruce, Alma King, ?, ?, Yvonne _____, ?, ?
3rd row: Miss Skinner, Berry McCurley, Gene Harrison, ?, James Black, ?, ?, Billy Cofield
4th row: James Reese, Charles (Bunky) Lindsay, Hazel Mullinax, ?, ?, Sally Rabun
5th row: ?, Reynolds Black, ?, ?, ?
6th row: ?, Jack Moore (me), ?, Garvin _____
The above identifications are correct to the best of my recollection, but I can’t be certain.  Most of the pupils whose names I can’t remember transferred to Bolton School from Mount Vernon School in seventh grade.
I believe that Mrs. Borden was the 7th-grade teacher at Bolton, Miss Elton was the principal at Bolton, and Miss Skinner was the 7th-grade teacher of the students who came from Mount Vernon School.