Chester Martin: My 6th Grade Class Picture At Sunnyside School

Saturday, August 11, 2018

With many thanks to a faithful reader, I recently received a flood of old memories when he sent the picture you see here. He had found my name written with all the others on the back and wondered if that might be me. It was, and it required no further descriptions or explanations, as I suddenly became a 6th grader again for a few moments, and the year was 1946(!) WOW! I know most of you  will not even recognize that as a year, seeming more like Ancient History.

My reader was sifting through some of his wife's (deceased) aunt's belongings, and I am amazed that he noticed my name on the back - along with so many others - and forwarded it to me.

The deceased aunt was the genuinely cute and lively little girl on the extreme left of the front row. According to my reader she has sadly been gone for "several" years. She had married a member of the Alabama Highway Patrol, whose duty had been to shadow "Bear" Bryant for all his public appearances for a long time.

As the title of this story indicates, it was made at Sunnyside School - already an old and very ugly building in 1946. I remember how my heart sank when my dad first drove me there and I got my first glimpse of it! Charles Dickens could not have invented a more grim and foreboding "institution" for his character, Oliver Twist, to be sentenced to (in my opinion) and my neighborhood friend's mom had actually gone there a whole generation before me! Only people who could bring cheer to that dismal school were the two wonderful teachers I had for fifth and sixth grades - Ms. Krepps, and Ms. Collette - and, of course, the kids I met there. (My first four years of school were spent at Anna B. Lacey - a "County" school; Sunnyside belonged to the "City" school system, back when the two systems were divided).

Glancing through all the faces I was truly amazed how many names I remembered - just like yesterday! And I could even tell you who was absent that day! I could still tell you a bit about the early history of many of the kids shown there - the ones who were already gifted at Math, and the ones who raised their hands to answer all the questions. I see one boy who later owned a night club on Brainerd Road, a block away from the school, and another who became a dentist with an office in a tiny building on Brainerd Road. There is a girl in the picture - my very first heart-throb - who lived in a house immediately next door to my present home in the Belvoir area of Brainerd (which was then a vacant lot!) It was also the year that "White Christmas" became a permanent fixture of American Christmas music  - hopefully forever!

World War Two (WWII) had just ended in 1945, so you are looking at happy faces in that picture of kids full of expectancy. Our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen were still coming home - straggling in - from far-off battlefields - probably to live with mom and pop for a few years while going to school on the new "G.I. Bill", either to complete high school or college. They would soon be marrying, however, and the vacant lots all over town would soon be filling up with new houses. The sound of carpenters' hammers could be heard all over our neighborhood. A national "key-word" of that day was "population explosion" which did indeed happen, and went on for years, well into the 1950's. Big changes were taking place both in Chattanooga and across the country.

In 1946 there was not yet a single traffic light on Brainerd Road, and designated school "monitors" - sixth-grade boys who wore white waist-to-shoulder "police" belts (with a shiny silver badge attached) as ID - would stop traffic at the corner of Brainerd Road and Germantown to assist the walking students, using "stop" flags attached to long poles. The entire east side of Germantown Road north of Brainerd Road (where Walgreens and adjacent parking lot are now located) were covered with sedge grass which stayed tan color all year. The south side of Brainerd Road was residential, with a large former mansion-turned-apartment house on the southwestern side, and two large, white Victorian farm-houses which sat on a slope high above Brainerd Road on the southeastern side. These houses remained in place for years (both east and west of Germantown) before being town down and the slopes leveled for commercial use. (You can still clearly see the excavations). A drive-in Krystal restaurant was one of the first businesses to appear on the SE corner, while a marvelous new Brainerd Theater was built across Brainerd Road in the field of sedge-grass mentioned above. These corners have all had numerous changes through the years, and perhaps only ONE old-time structure remains in place nearby after so many years...Sunnyside School

It was so very good to see most of my old classmates again in that photo (one or two were "absent" on that day, if you remember) - and I have to admit there were several I did not recognize at all. There was one boy - then living in the nearby Vine Street Orphanage who later became CEO of Combustion Engineering in Chattanooga - an incredible success story!  And there were at least three Jewish kids - two girls and a boy. The boy was already interested in golfing at that early time in his life, and I later understood that he became quite successful in Florida, working in that field. All Chattanooga schools were still segregated at that time, of course, though I have the strong feeling that black children would have been welcomed at Sunnyside - and in Anna B. Lacey, either one. All my teachers, including Ms. Krepps and Ms. Collette, were tactful and could have handled any kind of situation. That great year 1946 was the first entire euphoric year following WWII; a year of great, but uncertain, expectancy and hope. We kids were nervous at the prospect of graduating from Elementary school into the vast unknown prospects of "Junior High". High school was too far ahead of us to even think about it.

I know I have painted a rather ugly picture of Sunnyside School - an opinion I have never been able to shake, but can also say in the same breath that it was built to last - for decades, if not for centuries! It was very well built - as was the much more attractive Anna B. Lacey (County) school in present-day East Ridge. Lacey has long been home to East Ridge Church of Christ, still retaining a new and modern "look" while Sunnyside still serves in some (to me) unknown school capacity, as witnessed by small colorful structures built around it which seem to indicate "children". Too bad that much prettier and more modern schools have been so flimsily built that their roofs sag under the first hard rain! I fear that the repair costs soon outweigh the initial costs of construction.

OK, I know this story has rambled about, but I can only blame the "power of one old photograph". Just please don't blame my reader-friend, as he also sent two or three other photos from his wife's late aunt's collection, and they have evoked an entirely different sort of memory, although from about that same year, 1946. If you are lucky enough to still have family members from back then, please ask them to tell you about it. They will take great delight in reminiscing about those good times in American history, and add their own twists to the story, I am sure.

Oh, yes - if anyone is still reading this, and is interested, I am the third kid (from the left) in the top row - a full 72 years ago!  MANY THANKS FOR READING!

(Chester Martin can be reached at )

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