February 26, 2021

First grader cousins
Delbert, Sally and Elbert with Joy


The Cate twins Delbert and Elbert were born to Clifford and Abbie Cate the July before I was born in January. Harriet said her sister-in-law Abbie gave her advice on birth control when she and Arley married, warning her that she was too old to have another baby.  Then Abbie was herself surprised with twin sons—after Leroy, Ralph, Hoyt and Dorothy were practically grown! Harriett was pregnant with me when she went to spend a couple of days with the Cates to help with the new babies that summer, but said she hadn’t told anyone yet.

When the boys turned six, they went to North City School and were in Mrs. Violet Riggs’ class.  With a January birthday, I was supposed to wait another year.  Already reading and ready to learn, I couldn’t wait. Harriett knew Violet Riggs well and asked her advice.  “If you can get Sally into some type of kindergarten program,” she said, “I think I can secretly add her to my class roll in January without any problem.”

Of course, there were no kindergartens in Athens, but another friend, Miss Willie Callen, taught a remedial class for local children who couldn’t learn in public school.  They may have had learning disabilities that weren’t recognized then or other special needs.  She agreed to take me as a “special case” and I happily went to the downtown upstairs office space where her class gathered. Then after Christmas break, I joined the first grade at North City School.

It was hard to come into the class after they’d all learned the rules.  I was especially nervous about going to the girls’ restroom, which was at the bottom of some stairs from the hallway.  The first time I needed to go, I persuaded Delbert to walk me to the bottom of the stairs, which he bravely did and then scampered back upstairs.

Violet Riggs and her North City First Graders

This photo of our first grade class was made in front of the school office.  Elbert and Delbert are in the center of the front row.  I am on the back row at Mrs. Riggs’ left shoulder.  I recognize little friends Adelia Ann, Edanna, Freddie Ross, Jimmy, Bobby, Gleda, George, Carolyn and others.  It looks like Elbert and Delbert may actually be barefoot!  Classroom rules were much different in those days.  It was a good but short school year—and I was grateful for an understanding teacher and my cousins Delbert and Elbert.

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