Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ellouise at Elizabeth

This is the story that was in the Charlotte Observer telling about Ellouise's visit to Elizabeth School last week.
Ellouise will have a better, and more detailed, report for our soon as she and Jim get a little rest from their very busy trip to Charlotte.
Stay tuned!  -Ed

Telling tales out of school

A woman who attended Elizabeth Traditional in 1942 tells students about their history.

By Greg Lacour
Special Correspondent
Posted: Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011

Ellouise Schoettler, a professional storyteller, stopped at her old first-grade classroom at Elizabeth Traditional Elementary. Sarah Nelson, in background, teaches there.

First stop: the old first-grade classroom. Ellouise Schoettler walked in just before 2 p.m.

Teacher Sarah Nelson was in there, alone. Schoettler began regaling her with stories. This is what she does.

Schoettler started school in the same classroom in September 1942, though the school was then called the Elizabeth School. Her father, who'd enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, walked her to school, then left home that day to go to war. She remembers the teacher, Elizabeth Cook, a beautiful blonde who looked like a princess, her hair shining ...

Eventually, Schoettler broke from her reverie and soft-shoed into the Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School auditorium, where about 180 students - all of the second- and third-grade classes - had gathered to hear Schoettler, a 74-year-old professional storyteller, talk to them about the school she remembers.

Which, in some ways, hasn't changed at all.

"This auditorium," she told the students, "looks exactly the way it did when I started first grade in 1942." The kids gasped.

Schoettler grew up a few blocks away, on East Seventh Street in Elizabeth, but left Charlotte after graduating from Central High in 1954. That was the last time she lived in the Queen City, although she frequently returned to visit; her career kept her in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, where she worked at various times as a visual artist, pro-Equal Rights Amendment activist and art college president before devoting herself to storytelling about 20 years ago. She speaks regularly at schools and to civic groups and organizes storytelling events twice per month in the D.C. area.

Her appearance at her old school was a happy coincidence, in a way. Schoettler's 75th birthday is coming up in July, and she wanted to tell stories about her youth to groups in her hometown.

A few weeks ago, she cold-called Elizabeth Traditional Principal Susan Spencer-Smith and told her she'd like to speak to the students. Spencer-Smith thought it'd be a nice way to get students thinking about the school's long history in advance of its 100-year anniversary next year.

"A lot of students don't realize the building they're in is 100 years old," Spencer-Smith said. "I thought it'd be interesting for them to realize how things were different in times past."

It's especially important to Spencer-Smith considering how close the school came to closing; Elizabeth Traditional was on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' closure list in the fall before parental uproar saved it.

During her talk, Schoettler told the students about her first day of school, about how Miss Cook told the class, "Boys and girls, if you're feeling nervous, don't feel nervous, because it's my first day, too."

She rushed home for lunch that first day to see if she could catch her father before he left to fight in World War II. "My little legs were going up and down like steam pistons," she said. But her father was gone. (He eventually returned safely.)

Schoettler amazed the kids with her stories about saving tinfoil for the war effort and other unimaginable hardships, such as the absence of television - the students gasped again - and clothes that had to be washed with an old bathtub wringer washer.

The kids had never heard of such a thing. Schoettler didn't bother trying to explain it in too much detail. It'd get in the way of her storytelling, after all. She told the students to just Google it.
Greg Lacour is a freelance writer.