What I remember the most about Vance Elementary School in West Asheville , NC is the color red. I could remember lots of other things about my first school. It was at Vance that I said my first curse word. Also, I got into my first fight, saw my first professional yo yo performance and was caught breaking into the concession stand. I learned a lot at Vance. I learned that there are good teachers and not so good teachers. I learned that the world is inhabited by mean spirited people and very kind people. I learned that you don't always win, but if you try hard you manage to win every now and then.
Vance was a three story school shaped very much like an airplane. On each floor there were two "wings". The first and second graders were on the first floor, then came the third and fourth graders and the fifth and sixth graders took up residence on the third floor. The center of the school,or the fuselage, housed the offices, art and music rooms and the lunchroom. There were big,broad steps leading to the front doors and everything, the brick in the building , the steps and the doors were all colored a deep, dark red. Even the halls, finished concrete , were painted red. So its no wonder that all of my memories of Vance, the good ones and the bad ones are shaded in red.
There are so many stories I could tell about being at Vance. I saw my first "girlfight" there. I remember breaking my arm and then playing football with my cast on and breaking it a second time. Not too smart, really. I missed the sex ed lecture because I had my tonsils out. There were the pickup softball games played almost every morning on the ball field and I remember my mother serving cokes out of a red drink box filled with ice at the Halloween festival. We had a May Pole and in an unrelated incident my friend Charlie Teague decided he didn't like our first grade teacher so he climbed out the first floor window during the first week of school and ran home not to return until the fall of the next year. Staying behind a year must have been good for him because he ended up being president of his senior class 12 years later.
The story I would most like to share, though, is the one about the fifty cent piece in the heating vent. One afternoon when I was in the sixth grade and 11 years old, I left school a little later in the afternoon than I normally would have. I have no idea why I was delayed. The only thing I am sure of is that I didn't stay late to put in extra study time. Anyway, I left later than usual and on the way down the hall I happened to look down into one of the heating vents that was in the hall floor. The vents were about 2ft x 2ft square with corrugated steel frames that served as air ways. They were flush with the hall floor and were laced with metal strips spaced about an inch apart that allowed the air to flow. The aluminum duct made a 90 degree turn about three feet below the hall floor. And lying on that air duct was a fifty cent piece that someone else had dropped through the vent, just three feet from my reach. I pulled on the metal frame to try to gain access to the air duct but they were welded and impossible to budge. The space between the metal strips on the top of the vent was too small for my arms- but I really wanted that fifty cents. I thought just a second and then dashed as fast as I could down the hall and stairs and out the doors and headed for home.
Our house was about a ten minute jog from the school. I cut through the woods and then ran up the big Olney Road hill then took a left to our little bungalow on Maple Crescent. I burst inside, there was no one home, grabbed a broom and some chewing gum and then ran back outside and back to the school. My feet were flying and my heart was pounding. I remember being so fearful that someone else would see the fifty cents and it would be gone when I returned. But luck was with me. When I reached Vance School the door was still open and when I got to the third floor, the fifty cents was still lying, as if it had been waiting just for me, at the bottom of the air duct. I chewed the bubble gum, stuck it to the end of the broom stick, and gingerly retrieved my reward as the fifty cent piece was raised so carefully until it cleared the vented grate and was in my pocket. By the way, fifty cents was a lot of money in the 1950's when this adventure was taking place on the third floor of a virtually empty school building. One of the cool things about that event is that I never told anyone about what I had done. Somehow there was a strange satisfaction drawn out of keeping my creativity and hard work and good luck to myself. Someone else will have to figure out the psychology associated with my secrecy. It might have been,simply, that I might have worried that if I told I would have to return the money to its original owner and I believed that I had earned that money for myself.
Fast forward forty years to a night near our home in Georgia when Anna Lee and I were driving back from a dinner meeting and we had stopped to get gas. I went in the station to pay and overheard a conversation about the man who was supposed to have come by to empty the trash. Evidently, he had decided not to show up for his job that particular night. There was a $10.00 bill lying on the top of the cash register waiting for him when he completed his nightly duty. You can guess the rest of the story. I went back to the car, took off my sport coat, got a pair of gloves from the trunk of the car and proceeded to empty a 55 gallon can of trash into the dumpster about 20 yards away. I replaced the can and went back inside the station and took the ten dollars for myself. It had taken all of five minutes. I got exactly the same satisfaction from taking out that trash and putting that $10.00 in my pocket as I did when I was eleven years old and retrieved the 50 cent piece from the air duct on the third floor of old Vance School-go figure.
Posted by Toby Hill