Atlantic, NC -- Schools

"A Love Affair"

Barbara Smith Willis

I have never forgotten that day in 1926 when my friend Laura Robinson and I went alone to our first day of kindergarten. (This was really an experimental teacher-training program at the old Atlantic High School.) I fell in love with school immediately -- a love that has remained with me for almost sixty-five years. We didn't learn to read and write that year, but we were exposed to art, music, poetry, and story reading. How exciting it was!

Then came the first grade. I feel great affection for the ladies who lived in Atlantic who were my teachers from grades one through six -- Mrs. Vera Robinson Freeman, Mrs. Grattis Truitt Mason, and Mrs. Roma Morris Davis. Each teacher had two classes in each room as I progressed to the seventh grade.

I remember some special programs from those days. I played an xylophone in our first grade band. The white dress and red cape that I wore as my uniform were both made by my mother.
We had operettas every year. Since my mother could make paper flowers, I was either a rose or a daisy each time. I couldn't sing or dance very well, but I loved sitting by a fence in my paper costume.

The seventh grade was an interesting year with Miss Fannie Robinson as my teacher. She had traveled by ship to Europe and had traveled to many areas of the United States with her teacher friends. Because I loved geography and dreamed about seeing all of the countries of the world, I enjoyed her many stories about her travels.

Then came high school, which in those years, meant grades eight through eleven. My principal was Mr. J. Albert Batson, whom I respected and admired. He was strict but fair as he led us through our high school years.

I fell in love with school immediately -- a love that has remained with me for almost sixty-five years. We didn't learn to read and write that year, but we were exposed to art, music, poetry, and story reading. How exciting it was!

Some of our good high school teachers came from "off," as we Downeaster's would say. Mrs. Hester Davenport Mason, who came from Columbia, North Carolina and married in Atlantic, helped me to write poetry. Miss Idelle Jones, my eleventh grade English teacher, assured me that I, too, could become a teacher. Mrs. Elsie Parker Salter came to us when she was almost as young as we were and remained to become principal of the school for a number of years. Another Atlantic teacher whom I remember well was Mr. Jimmy Mason, our excellent science teacher.

Our high school classes were conducted in the basement of the school where our library and our science laboratory were located. We attended Chapel twice a week. The Golden Book of Favorite Songs was our songbook. Who could forget singing "A Spanish Cavalier" and "My Name Is Solomon Levi," with one-half the student body singing one song and the other half singing the other song at the same time! Most of us knew the words of the patriotic songs that we sang each week.

All of these good school experiences nurtured my ambition to become a teacher. My family also played an important part. My father and mother were interested in the best educational opportunities for all their children. Papa, John D. Smith, was a school board member for more than forty years. Mama, Frances Mason Smith, "boarded" teachers in our home. My oldest sister, Lucy Smith Pake, was a teacher in Johnston County and in Carteret County. My second sister, Meda Smith Mason, taught in the local schools for a number of years. These sisters were very good to me -- so good, in fact, that I remember thinking when I was quite small, "School teachers must made a great deal of money!"

In the fall of 1937, I enrolled in the freshman class at East Carolina Teachers College in Greenville, North Carolina. At the time, the cost for attending ECTC was less than three hundred dollars per year, but it was difficult sometimes to find that sum of money. I attended school winter and summer and graduated in 1940.

I feel that I received good training in that little school which had approximately twelve hundred students then -- one thousand girls and two hundred boys! We had some happy experiences. "Les Brown and His Band of Renown" played for dances at the Wright Building. I was thrilled to hear Carl Sandburg reading his poetry when he was a guest of the college. I can think of many other exciting experiences.

My teaching years were all in Carteret County among three schools -- Smyrna High School, Beaufort High School, and East Carteret. I enjoyed being a teacher for thirty-two years. I am grateful that my husband, Grayer Willis, my son, Keith, and my daughter-in-law, Annette, were always loving and cooperative as I graded papers, attended meetings, and pursued other degrees at ECU.

I firmly believe that teaching is a wonderful profession for those who love children and who love to learn. School was my first love, continuing to grow as I moved from a student to a teacher. Strangely, as I approached my "three-score and ten" years, I remember only the good things that have happened. I have many happy memories of my "children," many of which grew to be teachers themselves. I am proud that I was a teacher in Carteret County!

Reprinted from the MAILBOAT, Winter 1991, Vol. 1, No. 4

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