El Dorado, Kansas

Smelly Skelly

Skelly Oil Company owned the bigger of our two refineries which was located south of town. In the southwest part of El Dorado was an elementary school which was named for the company founder, William G. Skelly. El Dorado had five elementary schools for grades kindergarten through sixth. They were Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington, Grandview, and Skelly.

There was a boys interscholastic athletic program in place in which the five grade schools competed against each other in flag football, basketball, and a track meet. We didn't have anything like organized cheerleaders or fancy uniforms and I don't think anyone took those competitions too seriously. But there was the occasional trash talk. Naturally, given that our school was named for an oil refinery, ours was often referred to as Smelly Skelly.

I don't think I was emotionally scarred by this, but in a more current setting I would have to give serious thought to suing someone. I'm thinking traumatic crippling of my self-esteem could be claimed with a little creative embellishment.

We lived right across Towanda Avenue from Skelly. While the school building had several entrances, the doors next to the kindergarten end of the school were less than 100 yards from my family's front door. Looking back on how the school was arranged and the houses distributed in the neighborhood, it is realistic to say that nobody lived closer to school than we did. I attended all seven years - K through 6 - there at Skelly and I can remember all my teachers though some of them were more memorable than others.

This picture was taken from our front porch. That's grade-school me with my little sister, Janet, in front of a what I think was the only maple tree on Maplewood Drive. In the background, you can see Skelly Elementary and way back on the horizon, you can see some of the tanks from Skelly Refinery.

Skelly Elementary was rebuilt in 2011 and this is the new building under construction. In my memory (and in that older photo) the school and playground look HUUUUGE! In the photos of the new school, they look tiny, somehow, like the entire school property has shrunk.

Mrs. Kaiser taught kindergarten and I remember she was probably the one who sent a note home to my mom suggesting they get my eyes checked. To my parents, both wearers of glasses with two children previous to me who both wore glasses, this doubtless did not come as a shock. But I do believe I was the first four-eyed geek in Skelly Elementary with this event arriving in Kindergarten. By early 1963, at age 5, I was officially a nerd.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Barb. First grade is when we officially learn to read though in my case, I had been reading since somewhere between 3 and 4, thanks to my home-schooling. My sister, Kathy, liked to play school and pretend to teach me and my two cousins, Sandra and Karen Hickman. So we all knew how to read before kindergarten. Mom also subscribed to the monthly Dr. Seuss books and I would sit on her lap reading them.

Actually the most vivid memory of first grade is the Kennedy Assassination. I walked home from lunch. I didn't take my lunch to school or buy a hot lunch there because my house was barely farther from the classroom than the lunchroom was. I was at home with Mom when the TV news bulletins delivered the news. I went back to class and faced an extremely quiet afternoon. It seemed that nothing was said and we all sat there noses buried in readers for the entire day.

In second grade, I had Mrs. Pettus who was one of my favorites. She was really nice and I enjoyed her class a lot. Of course this was in the days when I was at the height of my romance with Johanna Brown so maybe my good feelings about her class are related to the giddy sensation of being in love. But I remember her as one of my favorites from Skelly.

Mrs. Scott was the third grade teacher and that year just doesn't stand out to me. I know it put us in a different part of the building - around the corner and down the hall from where the K through 2 classrooms were. It seemed like I was suddenly a lot farther from home, though I imagine it was more like fifty feet farther.

In fourth grade, I had Miss Clancy and she was just one of the most memorable and amazing elementary teachers ever. She used to read us stories from Greek and Roman mythology and she would play cool vocabulary games with us. She would recite a mysterious and unknown word - something like 'velocipede' - and then ask us a question: "What would you do with a velocipede if you had one?" And we would all offer up crazy ideas before we took out our dictionaries and looked up the word, only to laugh and giggle about how wrong some of our ideas had been. That was fun.

Miss Clancy was also very understanding of the trial we left-handers faced when it came to learning cursive writing. She was really nice. Every day, about a minute before the final bell rang to end the day, Miss Clancy would have the entire class gather by the door and together we would recite some lines from 'The Walrus and the Carpenter.'

"The time has come, the walrus said,
To talk of many things.
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax
And cabbages and kings,
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings."

And then the bell would ring and we would all run gleefully out of the room. I definitely liked Miss Clancy. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Phillips. Fifth grade was another not-so-memorable year. It wasn't that I didn't like Mrs. Phillips, but my older sister had talked a lot about how cool Mr. Hammer was. He was the other fifth grade teacher and I think I was disappointed that I didn't end up in his class.

In sixth grade, I had Mr. Ginder who was another of my favorite teachers. The sixth grade teachers, Mrs. Wagner and Mr. Ginder, swapped classes for part of the afternoon. She taught geography to both classes and he taught science. I loved the science classes. Mr. Ginder also let some of us work ahead in the math book which meant Theresa Burton, Craig Ussery, and I finished the math book a couple of months before the end of the school year and we started in on a 7th grade book.

Mr. Ginder let us listen to the World Series on radio that fall. I am sure he just wanted to be able to keep up with the games himself, but it was cool for me because the Cardinals were playing the Tigers and my dad was a Cardinals fan. I had just started to really pay attention to baseball and I remembered sitting on the couch with Dad, watching the Cards play.

Dad would joke about how we must be distantly related to pitcher, Bob Gibson, who as African-American. Dad thought Bob Gibson was the best, and meanest, pitcher in all of baseball. Personally, my hero on the Cards was Lou Brock. I loved speed on the bases and really admired him. The Cards weren't given much of a chance in that series and they did eventually lose, though they gave the Tigers a pretty good challenge.

I matriculated from 6th grade and ended my days in Smelly Skelly in the spring of 1969 which was a very momentous year. I spent my first week away from home without family at summer church camp, attending Camp Crawford. In July, I found myself lying in the living room one night with my chin propped on my hands watching grainy black and white video of a man walking on the moon. Incredible things were happening.

Among them, I would be moving on to El Dorado Junior High which was a world of wonder all to itself. Neighborhood kids older than I had filled me with expectation and dread. As the dog days of August ticked by on the calendar, I found myself kind of wishing I could keep going to Smelly Skelly. But tempus, as we all know, keeps right on fugiting.