Hello, my name is John Thompson and I’m going to talk about my childhood years when I was in school. Well, starting way back when I was a kid, I lived close to the school that I went to, grade school. The grade school had a large playground with a large ball field and it also had people who ran a club house there at the ball field all during the summer when the school wasn’t going on. So, you could play ball: softball, they had a football field there, and you could play football. They had horseshoes and just about everything you’d have on a playground: basketball courts, see-saws, and slides, so I spent most of my time up on that play ground when I was a small kid.
I went to a grade school in Washington D.C. called Starger up until the sixth grade. Then I went to a junior high school which was called Gordon Junior High. It was a fairly large school in the northwestern part of Washington D.C. After I went two years to that, that’s when I moved to northern Virginia to the farm. Then I went to Mount Vernon High School there. Of course, that high school was a large school too. It’s probably a whole lot larger now than it was then. After I went to Mount Vernon, I went to Ceres High School. By then, I only had two more years to go. My junior and senior year was when I went to Ceres.
Grade school lunches, I can’t remember them being particularly good or particularly bad. When I went to junior high school, by then I was making money by doing a lot of different odd jobs. Delivering newspapers was my biggest job but I also helped deliver ice, I helped on laundry trucks, and I helped deliver groceries at the local grocery store. I’d go down there and go to school with my wagon and carry the little ladies groceries home in my wagon. So, I had a lot of extra money. When I went to junior high school, there was a deli owned by an old Jewish fellow right across from the junior high school. I drove to the deli and got real good lunches there. I got fresh lunch meats, hard rolls, along with soda pop. That’s where I ate my lunch in junior high school. When I got to Ceres my aunt that I lived with used to fix my lunches. I carried them to school. I used to eat country ham biscuits almost every day at lunch and I never got tired of it.
When I was in grade school I walked to school because it was less than a block away. To junior high school I also walked but, it was quite a way further. I’d say it was probably close to two miles taking the short cut through the woods but I walked to junior high school. When I went to Mount Vernon High School, it was over twenty miles on a bus to school. When I got to Ceres, it was about five miles to school on the bus. I can remember that I wasn’t particularly fond of school when I got to Ceres. When I got to Ceres I loved school. If I should happen to sleep late for some reason or miss the bus, it didn’t slow me down. I’d go ahead and walk the five miles to school.
Well, I can’t remember all of my teachers. I can remember the real bad teachers I had and I can remember the real good teachers. In grade school the very best teacher I had was my first grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. White. She was a real sweet lady and treated all of the kids like they were hers. I can remember my fourth grade teacher and she was, I thought, the meanest lady I’d ever met. I guess you remember the real good teachers that you had and the real mean ones When I got to high school at Ceres, I had a couple of real good teachers there. I liked all of them but some of them were better than others. My English teacher was Mrs. Waddle and she was a real nice lady who lived on a farm with her husband. Her husband was a member of the board of supervisors back then. She was an extremely good English teacher and probably taught me more about English than I ever learned from anyone else. Another real good teacher was the Agricultural teacher. His name was Eugene Orr. He passed away within the last year. Back then we used to have two hours a day or two periods for Ag class. We were allowed to do a whole lot more in Ag class. The way Ag classes are now, they’re a little less than an hour long so by the time you get your tools out and get ready to work, it’s almost time to start cleaning up again. But back then when you had a two hour class and also if you finished your work in other classes, teachers would let you out to go to the Ag shop if you were working on a project, and I always was. I had a lot of good teachers. The principal of the high school was a real nice teacher. His name was Mr. Thomas and all of the kids called him baldy because he was bald. He was an extremely nice person and he also taught chemistry when I was going to school. He used to let us write up a lot of our own experiments and perform different things in the lab, some of which was probably not too safe. Under todays’ standards I’m sure that they wouldn’t be allowed.
Holidays were celebrated much like they are today except when I was a kid growing up, for Christmas, I’d get some clothes and maybe a few toys. It was nothing like the children, or at least my kids, get today. I can remember one Christmas I had gotten a bicycle. It was the worst Christmas I ever had because living in a relatively small apartment, you didn’t have any place to hide a bicycle. It came in a big box and when it came, my parents put the box under their bed in the bedroom. Of course, I didn’t know what was in the box. One day when they weren’t around, I went in there and opened the box and saw that it was a brand new bicycle. I knew it was for me. Come Christmas morning, I knew exactly what I was going to get for Christmas. Everybody else was opening their presents and they were real surprised and here all I got was a bicycle which I knew I was going to get because I had already went and peeked. I never peeked at another Christmas present after that.
I guess I got into more trouble than most kids, especially during grade school and junior high. Not anything that was real, real serious, but again under todays’ standards it might be considered serious. I can remember back in junior high school we had a science teacher who was extremely old for a teacher and she’d gone bald over the years. She used to wear a wig. She used to scratch her hair with a pencil and her whole hair would move across the top of her scalp. We thought it was hilarious. She was a nice old lady but she was getting kind of old and senile. You could fool her real easy. One time we got one of the brown cylinder oatmeal cans and we spray painted it red. We took a piece of dynamite fuse and stuck it in the end of that thing. We set it on her desk. We lit that dynamite fuse then and all of us crawled under our desk. When she came in the door, she saw that big thing that looked like a stick of a big bomb that was going to go off. She, bless her heart, tried to get us all out of the room because she knew it was going to blow the room to bits. She did succeed in getting us all out of the room before the fuse burnt down. Of course, we were all way down at the far end of the hall waiting for the bomb to go off, which of course it never did. We got in quite a bit of trouble for that from the principal, but we also got a big laugh out of it.
That’s not all the trouble that I got into. Well, when I got to Ceres, there was me and a couple of other boys that were always getting into trouble and the teacher that I mentioned earlier, Mrs. Waddle, taught us English. We used to give her the hardest time. We would put rotten eggs in her desk and we would sometimes hide all of the other kids books and silly stuff like that. But, one time, she demanded the room to be extremely quite. Especially when we were given an assignment to read some literature and write down our thoughts about what we read. Well, one time we decided that we were going to put a little buzzer behind a picture that was in the back of the room. We ran some real fine copper wires down through the cracks in the wooden floors that was in the school room. We ran the wires all the way down to my desk and ran them up the back of the desk and up my shirt sleeve to a mercury switch that we had gotten. I don’t remember exactly where we had bought the mercury switch because we didn’t have Radio Shack back then. Anyway, we had a little old mercury switch that we activated. We probably tore up part of the thermostat and got the switch but I can’t remember the details about it. Whenever I’d raise my arm, it would activate the switch which would activate the buzzer behind the picture in the back of the room. The teacher thought that we had a bobby pin stuck under the desk, and was flipping the bobby pin to make that noise. It drove her crazy because she couldn’t figure out which one of us was flipping a bobby pin because she could see our hands above the desk. Of course, I would only raise my hand whenever she had her back turned so she never could figure it out. After driving her crazy with that for quite some time, we finally broke down and told her what we had done and where the noise was coming from. She thought about it for a minute and I guess she was going to punish us but then she thought well, no, that was kind of ingenious. She said if you continue to think like that and do ingenious things like that, she said I guess it’ll be alright. Anyway, she didn’t do anything to us for that.
Another thing that we did, Mrs. Waddle and her husband had brought a brand new Oldsmobile Starfire ‘51. It had a big old engine in it and us kids, we thought that it was the neatest car we’d ever seen. It was one of the fastest at the time. We were always bugging her to let us drive the car. She’d just kind of laugh it off and one day we asked her about driving her car again. She said well, it’s out there and if you can get it started then go ahead. She didn’t realize that she shouldn’t have said that because the switch was on the dash and it was fairly easy to take a bobby pin and hold it across the switch and start the car. All we had to do was to have one person hold the bobby pin up on the dash while another one drove the car. That’s what we did. We went out and started the car up. There was a road that went all the way around the school house at Ceres. They’ve since blocked off the back part of it and added some more onto the auditorium. At that time the road went all the way around the school house. At lunch time, we went out there and cross wired the car and we were flying around the school house and just throwing gravels everywhere. Some of the other kids were in the lunch room eating with Mrs. Waddle and she could hear all of that commotion out there and the gravels were flying up against the windows in the lunch room which was down in the basement of Ceres High School. She had made the comment to the other kids I wonder what idiot’s out there tearing up their car and spinning around the school house. Of course the kids who were in there realized that it was her car and they finally told her. She came out and stopped us. Initially, she was extremely mad about that, however, when she realized that it was ingenius for us to be able to cross wire a car, she got over it. She said alright boys, I told you that you could drive it if you got it started so I don’t really have any right to be mad at you because I gave you permission to do what you did. She said but don’t do it any more.
One thing we did, we didn’t really get in trouble with it but we probably could have. We built a bomb. What we did was we got an old kneeaction out of ‘39 chevrolet. A kneeaction is the steering box for a ‘39 chevrolet. It’s a great big piece of steel that had a whole bunch of gears in it. We took all of the gears out of this great big piece of steel. It left a great big hollow piece of steel that would hold about two gallons of powder. We then started making powder to make a bomb. We had read in our chemistry book at school on how they used to make black powder. The way they used to make black powder way back during the Civil War was they would take potassium nitrate, which they used to call salt peter, and charcoal, and sulfur. You’d mix those together. I don’t remember exact ratios, but that was the ingredients that we used to make black powder. We got those ingredients from the chemistry lab in the high school. Our principal taught chemistry there. He used to let us make up our own experiments. He did wonder what kept happening to his charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate because it took quite a bit of it to fill up that two gallon bomb with powder. Then we took, after we finally got enough of that stuff, we filled the whole bomb up, and drilled a whole in it to put a piece of dynamite fuse in it. We decided that we were going to take the bomb and set it off. From Ceres, we went on the dirt road that went over into the valley. We went all the way up over the top of the mountain. Back then, there were a few cabins in Poor Valley and the only time that they were occupied was during hunting season and sometimes a little bit during the summer. Most of the time, there wasn’t anybody that even lived in Poor Valley. The road was traveled very little. One of the boys that had helped make the bomb, his parents owned some property up there just on the other side of that mountain. It’s actually Brushy Mountain. That’s where we decided we were going to set the bomb off. We took the bomb and put it up in a tree so that it would be a whole lot louder than if we just sat it on the ground. We climbed up a fairly good sized tree and put the bomb up in the tree. We had a real long piece of dynamite to use because we were going to have to climb down out of the tree, go get the jeep we were in, and drive the jeep back across the top of the mountain because we knew that when the bomb went off, there would be pieces of steel flying everywhere. We didn’t want to be anywhere where the steel could get us. I’ve forgotten the exact number of boys that we had but we filled up the jeep. We were sitting on each other’s laps. We lit the dynamite fuse and we drove back across the top of Brushy Mountain. One of the kids that was with us was one of my cousins. This particular guy was deaf, he was a deaf mute. He couldn’t hear anything and he was born that way. When that bomb went off, it shook the ground. You could hear it for miles and it lit up the sky. My cousin who was the deaf mute, he knew when it went off because it vibrated the ground so bad that he could feel the whole jeep vibrating. People talked about that bomb going off and they didn’t have any idea. Of course, we didn’t tell anybody for a real long time what it was. They figured that it must’ve been the Russians that were bombing us that particular night. We went back across the mountain after the thing had gone off and it had blown up the tree that we had hung the bomb up in. It tore considerable branches off of it plus branches off of several other surrounding trees. It was quite an explosion that went on that night. People talked about it for a long time. It was a long time before we ever admitted that we were the ones that set off the bomb.