Wilson Grammar School

In June, 1959, I was promoted from the sixth grade at Wilson Grammar School, Bourne Avenue, Rumford, to the seventh grade at Central Junior High School, South Broadway, East Providence. The sixth grade at Wilson Grammar had been a fine experience for me. The teacher and school principal, Miss Gertrude E. Ross, lived with her sister at 32 Arcade Avenue, Seekonk. Miss Ross was superintendent of the Sunday school and a Sunday school teacher at Newman Congregational Church. Our teacher was serious about having her students appreciate math and the arts, especially music. Both of these areas were right down my alley and I enjoyed and excelled in them. In music, Miss Ross had us learn a cowboy song and I can still sing several of its verses: “I’m going to leave old Texas now, They’ve no more use for the long horned cow. They’ve plowed and fenced my cattle range and the people there are all so strange.”

Every day Miss Ross parked her big black four door 1937 Oldsmobile on Brayton Street pointed north just off Bourne Avenue. Our music lessons included “The Surprise Symphony” by Haydn and music by Beethoven and Mozart. These lessons were accompanied by glimpses into the lives of these artists and complementary lessons on life using the composer’s life style to present the lesson. In the life of Haydn and Beethoven, it was the importance of proper care for our eyes and ears. Stephen Foster, with his wonderful music and hundreds of American folk songs such as: “Beautiful Dreamer”, “Camptown Races”, “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” and “Oh! Susanna” was a favorite of mine. This great American composer, who wrote so much beautiful music, died at the tender age of thirty-eight, apparently because he had been a heavy drinker.

Upon entering Wilson Grammar before school or after lunch or recess, we marched into the building accompanied by another great composer: The “March King”, John Philip Souza. I loved it. Especially the “Washington Post March” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”, my favorite song of them all. Who can listen to this fantastic American march music when played by pianists Vladamir Horowitz or Van Cliburn and not be moved?

The record player was handled by my life time friend, James ‘Sam’ Gifford. Sam wound up the big black Victrola with a brass and wood polished crank located on the right side of the record player. Then Sam placed the record in the proper spot, opened the doors on the front of the instrument and let the sound come out. How I envied him for having been given this tremendous responsibility!

Sam had a white harness around his chest and under his arm, designating the fact that he was a school monitor, having immense power over all other students! Further, at the end of the school year he received a crisp new five dollar bill from Miss Ross as a reward for all of the good work he had done during the school year. That was some difference from the ten cents a week Miss Cute had paid me for my back breaking labor on her behalf in the fourth grade at Union Primary School. I loved the work Sam was doing so much that I would have done it for nothing, even without the fancy white harness around his waist and shoulders!

At the end of the sixth grade school year, at our ‘Graduation Exercises’, in what was the huge (so it seemed to me) Wilson Grammar School Auditorium, Miss Ross had ‘Wilson Grammar School Scholarship Pins’ for certain students and I was the proud recipient of one. Others who were called up to the stage to receive the pin that day included Carl Anderson, Lowell Anness, Norma Dooley, James ‘Sam’ Gifford, Dorothy Farrell, Mildred Peterson, Mildred Barr and Doris Freeman. Miss Ross had perfect attendance pins for deserving students and I also received a ‘Wilson Grammar School Perfect Attendance Pin’.

I do not know what ever happened to my two pins. They were lost in my many moves since 1937. The pin I have was given to me by Philip Appleby who received it two years after me. I am giving this pin to the East Providence Historical Society for their display as a memento from my special friend, Philip F. Appleby.