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Kentucky by Heart: Fall’s return to school brings back fond memories of Grants Lick Elementary days

A view of Grant’s Lick Elementary (Photo from Campbell County Historical Society)

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune Columnist

Every year, the beginning of school gets me thinking about some of my most memorable days as a student at Grant’s Lick Elementary School. I entered in the first grade in 1959 and spent all eight years there going through the grade levels. You’ll notice no mention of kindergarten or of middle school, since they weren’t available at the time, so it meant spending eight years with mostly the same people in our place of learning in rural southern Campbell County.

There was a certain language of the community that hosted our school. When asked where we went to school, the students would say “Grantslick,” emphasizing the “sliiiick” part. My Grandma Flairty, when talking about getting groceries in town, said she was “getting into the machine and going down to the Lick.” When you mentioned “The Mayor,” people knew it was a certain heavy-set man who did a lot of standing around and talking at a local business. If there really was a mayor, I didn’t know about one.

Steve in his Grant’s Lick Elementary days (Photo provided)

My favorite bird was the mascot at GLE. We were the Cardinals, and I was fine with that, though since I wasn’t talented enough to be on our school basketball team, I didn’t receive the thrill of being cheered on by our pretty cheerleaders.

That said, you might say I earned my social keep at Grants Lick by being a pretty good student, though, to this day, I’ll never see how Mrs. Dorothy, my iconic first-grade teacher, gave me a B+ in art while I received an A in most every other subject. The fact that I got my B+ from Mrs. Dorothy was especially tough, since I, like most others, adored the woman of skill and grace. At six years old, the message was that I wasn’t going to be a career visual artist. (Notably, as an elementary teacher for decades, the students sometimes giggled at my illustrative drawings, meant as serious parts of my lessons.)

Mrs. Fillhardt, the fourth-grade teacher, gave sage advice one day when she caught me behaving less than ideally. She mentioned the friend company I was keeping affected how I was acting, and for me to keep that in mind for future reference. Those words stuck, and in turn, I gave that talk to many in my own classroom over the years.

There was the afternoon I upchucked on the school basement floor, not making it to the restroom in time. The lesson learned that day was that Mrs. Lampe’s wonderful school chili, two bowls worth, wasn’t worth the humiliation of my school friends seeing me in such a vulnerable way. Though I know the word “gross” wasn’t yet circulating in that era, I know that was what the other GLE students were thinking.

Steve’s third grade class. He is picture fourth from the left in the top row. (Photo provided)

I mentioned being good with academics, but my participation in the school spelling bee one year was particularly frustrating. In either fourth or fifth grade, I represented my class against a field that included the upper graders through the eighth level. Being a proficient speller, I knew my biggest enemy would be nervousness—and it turned out that way. I was given the word “that;” I spelled it, with a full case of jitters… t-a-h-t. Yes, I missed a baby word and I recall sitting down and watching the rest of the spelling bee, knowing how to spell even the hardest words that the seventh and eighth graders were presented. What this dejected kid could have done with a double-loss elimination format would have been special. (OK, I may be embellishing a little, but we’ll never know for sure…)

Peace-loving little Stevie got in a fight one morning in homeroom just about the time Mrs. Evans, a teacher I really liked, walked through the door. I recall it was some kind of honor thing for my opponent and me, but she didn’t see it as an honorable thing at all. She simply told us to get to Mr. McCarter’s (the principal) office. The good man asked us if we had anything to say for ourselves and both of us mumbled something quite obviously non-convincing. We each got a big swat from the “board of education.” But unless my parents read this article from heaven, they never found out (or, at least, I didn’t say anything).

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

The sixth-grade year with Mr. Gilliam also provided some moments to remember. I tended, behind my quiet, calm manner, to be a little mischievous. During an indoor recess that year, while many of us sat in our seats doing puzzles or the like, I tied a string attaching someone’s blue jeans belt loop to their desk chair. When the student stood up, his belt loop broke and he told Mr. G. Can’t recall whether there was a witness to the crime or my sensitive conscience spurred me to confess, but Mr. Gilliam spanked me with a yardstick. Guess you could say he “took the measure of a young man,” or at least, I “got ‘behind’ at school.”

But Mr. Gilliam’s kind act for me that year still gives me good feelings. We talked sports occasionally, and he knew a basketball star from Corbin, his native town, by the name of Frank Selvy. Selvy played at Furman University and once scored 100 points in a game and later played in the NBA. Selvy was now coaching at Furman and Mr. G arranged to get me a signed and personalized picture of Selvy. Any bad feelings about my paddling from Mr. G dissipated with that nice gesture. I was always a sucker for things like autographs from famous people.

Here is an abbreviated list of other events from my school time at “Grantslick”:

• Fell in love with a girl named Billie Jo in the first grade when she gave me a toy gun and holster set after drawing my name for a classroom Christmas gift-giving activity (likely something not allowable today). By the way, my love went unrequited.

• Mr. McCarter walked into our classroom in 1963 and told us President Kennedy was shot. I had an eerie flashback of that when an assistant principal walked into the fourth-grade class I taught on September 11, 2001 and whispered that New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC., had been attacked by foreign terrorists.

• Riding on Mr. Reinhardt’s and Clayton Hess’s buses was always a thrill a minute. Liked ‘em both, but their personalities were different. Mr. R’s was stern and Clayton’s laid back. The former drove past my get-off-the-bus site the first day I rode (not his fault) and the latter had a heavy foot.

• My seventh-grade teacher, Helen Gosney, along with my father, did more to cultivate a love of Kentucky than any other two people in my formative years.

• One of our students at the school, well under 16 years-old, drove his family’s farm pickup truck to school. Honest… I have witnesses.

Looking back, I’m proud to have been raised around the good people of Grantslick, emphasis on “sliiick,” and being around my school classmates and our school staff members. I keep up with some of them today and hope to touch base with more of them in the future.

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