2nd-graders cause school panic in the 1940s

Published 9:00 am Monday, June 29, 2015

I am pleased people talk to me about my columns and tell me what they like to read. A favorite apparently are remembrances of days gone by. A lot of readers seem to especially identify with my childhood memories.

We lived in the country at Sheridan, but we went to school in Franklinton. I was in the second grade when an amusing incident brought about my meeting with the late Dr. W.R. McGehee, a well-known Franklinton doctor with many patients all around the parish

We had been out of school a few days for a holiday (or something) and while we were out, I broke out with impetigo, a childhood rash that was then commonly known as Indian fire. It had just about cleared up when school started again, but the “drying up” was still visible on my face, arms and legs.

My teacher nearly had a stroke when I entered her room with the remnants of something that looked like measles. She was quite alarmed.

However, she didn’t know my mother, who would never have sent me to school with anything contagious. This was the 1940s. There were no telephones in the country where we lived, so they had no way of contacting her for assurance.

The teacher wanted to be safe, so she planned to send me to the health unit to have the rash checked before I exposed the other children. Interestingly enough, I was already in the room and they were already exposed — if indeed I had anything catching.

I told her my mother had always told us that if we ever had to see a doctor, we were to go to the hospital in Bogalusa, because my daddy worked for Gaylord and that’s where we were covered with insurance. The teacher assured me that this was not the same as going to the doctor. It was going to the health unit, and they didn’t charge for visits.

Finding out I had no idea what a health unit was, much less where it was located, she asked the other children if any of them knew where to find the health unit. Several little hands flew into the air, and she chose a girl who was sure she could walk with me to the health unit. It apparently was close to the school.

Confidently we walked off the school grounds and she took me straight to Dr. McGehee’s clinic, which was just up the street from the school (now Citizen’s Bank). There was no problem as far as she was concerned. It was where she always went when she was sick. It had to be the health unit. I didn’t know the difference.

We sat in the waiting room for some time as patients came and went, and finally after they had seen all the patients, the nurse came out and asked why we were there.

We were pretty conspicuous — two little girls in a medical waiting room without an adult. We explained that the teacher had sent us to have my “breaking out” examined to make sure it was not contagious.

She ushered us into the presence of Dr. McGehee. I only have the vaguest memory of what his office looked like, but he checked me over and pronounced me “un-contagious.”

I remember that he was kind and gave us candy. He also called the school to report his findings, and that’s when we discovered that all heck had broken loose!

The teacher had called the health unit to make sure we made it over there…and guess what? We hadn’t! The search was on. We had been gone for ages as we patiently waited in the clinic. After all, we thought the teacher had called the “health unit” and they should know about us.

The school was in an uproar. We were the center of attention when we calmly and innocently returned to the school yard. They had been in a panic, looking everywhere for us until Dr. McGehee called.

These days, nobody would even think about letting two little second graders walk off the school grounds to go to the health unit, no matter how close, but those were calmer and safer days. After the events of that day, I’ll bet they never let it happen again!

I don’t remember being fussed at about the incident; after all, I had no idea where we were going. Dr. McGehee’s office looked as much like a health unit as anything I had ever seen.

When I got home that afternoon, I told my mother about our little adventure, and she said she guessed we’d get a doctor bill.

We never did.

Little forgotten memories cling to our brain, just waiting for the perfect time to come out.