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Cramming into cars for car pools in the old days

By Tammy Keith

This article was originally published September 23, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. Updated September 21, 2012 at 9:12 a.m.

A friend of mine was talking about too many kids in her elementary-school-age daughter’s car pool and how she was worried there weren’t enough seat belts for everyone.

It triggered a lot of memories for my husband.

He went to kindergarten in the Little Red School House in Malvern, as did his two sisters and a brother.

My husband is 52 and has an amazing memory. (He can remember details of every grade, a page he was coloring, things the teacher said and the classroom setup. I have a vague recollection that I attended an elementary school.)

He said Mrs. Higgs, who taught kindergarten, and her mother, Mrs. Haltom, who taught first grade and “always wore a scarf around her head,” both drove black cars and would drive all over Malvern picking up kids.

Mrs. Haltom drove a two-door 1950 Chevrolet, my husband and his family recalled, and the kids packed into every possible space, no seat belts, standing, sitting, on the floorboard, front seat, wherever their little bodies could fit.

My husband rode with Mrs. Haltom, always in the back seat, he said. He and his brother never remember getting to ride in the front seat, which my husband felt was a slight until his older sister told him last weekend that was because the teacher put the kids in the car in the order she was going to let them out.

My brother-in-law remembers holding onto a strap hanging from the top of the door inside, and what a big deal it was to get to hold it.

On days when one of the teachers wasn’t there, the other teacher would have to cram more kids into her car to take home.

He said there were about five tables of eight kids in his classroom, and only a few were picked up by their parents or got home another way.

Having more kids packed into the car just made it more fun for them.

“There was no air conditioning, so the windows would be down, with all sorts of arms hanging out, along with the laughing and yelling that kids do,” my husband said. “I don’t remember ever being told to be quiet and sit down, but we probably were.”

Cars were built like tanks back in those days, and there were fewer on the road. Still, it’s crazy to think about all those kids bouncing around in the car like popcorn.

I can still picture my younger brother when he was a toddler, standing up next to Dad’s shoulder as Dad drove his truck, no matter how long the trip.

When we’d go somewhere in the car, my brother would play with little cars or toys (probably Star Wars figures) in the back window. We got rear-ended one day, and luckily he was leaning toward the front seat.

When my kids were growing up, we preached seat belts so much that they’d holler if I started backing down the driveway before they were buckled in.

My younger son was scarred for life, however, when I made him ride in a booster seat until he was about 7.

Boy, things have changed. For the better, in this instance.

Without all those crazy experiences, we wouldn’t be able to say, with a hint of superiority, “Well, back when I was a kid ….”

My husband has his cute diploma from the Little Red School House, and I framed it.

Even though he has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, his kindergarten diploma is the only one he has displayed in his university office.

He survived the ride, and that’s an accomplishment.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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