Sunday, January 20, 2013

Meadowbrook Elementary May Fete

Meadowbrook Elementary May Fete 1958

Cj64-Meadowbrook Elementary opened in 1935, initially as the Meadowbrook School, housing grades 1- 9 (there was no “K” in those days at the public school level in Fort Worth). A new junior high facility opened across the street in the fall of 1954, and Meadowbrook Elementary, grades 1-6, came into being at the original location, with a new principal, Tom Young.

Meadowbrook Elementary was a beautifully designed building (built by FDR’s Works Progress Administration), a two-story dark red brick with white trim featuring wings on either end angled 30 degrees toward the street. The wings contained the auditorium and the lunch room, respectively. The building faced Meadowbrook Drive to the north. The front lawn was both spacious and beautiful. The south campus was large enough for 4 baseball diamonds, and the west campus contained a football field and track.

The new administration decided sometime in that year to hold a celebration at the end of the school year to serve several purposes – honor the departing sixth graders, make use of the expansive front lawn, engage the parents in school activities, and probably, keep the kids distracted from the year-end itch to start the summer. So, the May Fete was born.

The word “fete” comes from Middle English and means “an elaborate outdoor party or celebration”, and that’s exactly what it was. The overall plan was to elect a King and Queen from the 6th grade along with 8 court attendees, presumably from the list of near-winners. They would sit on the front steps of the school (where all class pictures were taken) and would be flanked by the rest of the 6th grade. The remaining grades 1-5 and parents, brothers, and sisters would be seated around the perimeter of the front lawn. Each grade, in turn, beginning with the 1st grade, would perform a group dance to a tune unique to the grade to honor the 6th graders. The last dance would be the 6th grade performing a dance to a Mozart minuet from Don Giovanni to honor the school and the other grades.

The dances to be performed by grades 1-5 were formal folk dances. The students were grouped in 4 couples of 8, and performed the dances in unison. We would practice at least once a week for weeks prior to the event until we could do it very well. In looking back, I think the teachers performed miracles to get us to all do the same thing at the same time, but we knew it was important, and we cooperated. The 6th grade minuet was a beautiful thing to do, and to behold. Each year, the tunes for grades 1-5 would vary, but the 6th grade always performed Mozart’s minuet. It became something we aspired to. To cap the evening, the 6th grade attended a formal party given at the Meadowbrook Golf Course club house. The girls were arrayed in maybe their first formal gowns, the boys in (just as the song says) a white sport coat and a pink carnation (with black pants).

It was a memorable spring, day, and evening. Even 50+ years later it brings a smile to those who were there.

Everyone pictured above went on to be EH Class of '64.  That's our own Roby Morris in the foreground.


Gus Highlander ('63) -  Since I didn't attend Meadowbrook during my elementary schooling, I had no contact with this event, nor do I recall any mention of it when I did join the class at MJH a couple of years later.  However, since one of my focuses in this blog is to illustrate and attempt to explain some of the more peculiar facets of the East Side social order in those days, this is an interesting topic.  I'm aware that some folks who attended other elementary schools in the area were and remain envious or jealous or simply irked about this particular event and the image it projected.  Be that as it may, the May Fete did serve to introduce an entire school of youngsters to Mozart and the culture of gentle company at a very formative stage of their young lives.  A credible offset to the strains of, "You Ain't Nuthin' But A Houn' Dog" that was blasting through radios everywhere during those years.

Susan Begley ('63) - The May Day celebration was always such a big deal.  When it was our turn to dance around the May Pole (in fancy dresses of pastel colors), I was paired with Bruce McDonald -- because he was the only boy even close to as tall as I was -- towering at my present 5'4".  My favorite dance was the Maypole (If only those teachers had known of its pagan roots!)  I loved watching the colored ribbons weave a pattern down the pole.  But that might have been fifth grade, if indeed we danced the Mozart in 6th grade in our formals.  I wonder who the royalty was my year, or if it was invented the following year – I don’t remember, but I’m betting on Gay and maybe Steve. (That was 1957 – can hardly count how man years ago it was!)

Carol Ellis ('64) - I really can't remember how Life found out about the May Fete or why on earth they wanted to do a story on us.  After they took all the pictures on the day of the event, we thought it was all over.  But they called back a little while later and wanted to do a "cover shoot".  That's when my Dad had to bribe me with $5 !!  So, they came back and we went up to Oakland Park and spent several hours taking pictures.  They were really great.  But alas, there was a civil war going on in Lebanon and our cover got bumped in favor of the rebel pictures!  Just our luck.

1956 King & Queen (EHHS 1962):

This is an informal photograph taken of the 1956 Meadowbrook Elementary May Fete court who would later become members of the EHHS Class of 1962.

In front, Kellie Pelham was the queen and Bill Short was the king that year.  Kellie continued on with her class, became a MJH cheerleader and later a 1962 EHHS graduate.  Bill moved to Dallas with his family a couple of years after this picture was taken.

Margaret became a MJH cheerleader, Judy and Felton were EH cheerleaders, Doug was a star EH football player, and Gary was a varsity EH basketball player.  Most of them were EH honors graduates at EHHS.

1957 King & Queen (EHHS 1963):
Tate sez this was the highlight of his early school life.

1959 King & Queen (EHHS 1965):

Gus Note:  Other pictures and recollections sought of other May Fete celebrations.

Susan (Hunsaker) Craig ('65) - Brings back great memories.  We danced the Virginia Reel in 5th and B-I-N-G-O in 4th.

One of the more interesting aspects of doing this blog utilizing the amazing information resources available through the Internet is the ability to find or just stumble across images like this Life Magazine shot.  Although these aren't any of our classmates, the color image is accurate to the time.   

Finding color images of anything before about 1970 is difficult.  Capable cameras were expensive and color printing was expensive so, most folks just took black and white using cheap Brownies or, later through the 1960s, took color slides with their improving cameras.  Slide processing was cheap compared to color prints.  But the problem with slides is that they don't make very good color prints and unless the photographer was using Kodachrome, most of their color (prints and slides) from that time, has faded.

May 2013 Update:  Found in a Ft. Worth history group this picture taken about 1951 (+/-) of the D. McRae Elementary School and their graduating 6th grade class.  The school, seen in the background, was demolished in the 1980s and was a Poly feeder located SE of Poly HS.  Strongly suggests that the Spring May Fete was observed at a number of elementary schools in those days.

May 2014 Update: 
Nancy Yates - We did it at Littles Elementary, too. Out at Tate Springs.

Susan Coates Omi Mars - I remember it at Tandy

Sharon Kay Gibbs - We did it at Handley Elem. School too.

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