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Jacksonville Grade School’s Pumpkinhead

September 18, 2013

While we are in the midst of this “Back-to-School” month, a variety of school memories ring through my head. On December 6-7, 2011, I wrote this poem about an unusual incident in September of 1957. At that time, each of our classrooms contained two grades of students. I only remember enjoying the experience of the two-grade classroom because I truly liked listening to what the other class was doing. Undoubtedly, in this way, I became interested in becoming a teacher; and I had the opportunity to better observed how to be a teacher.

In this draft of my poem, I have changed a couple of names to respect those who may also remember this incident.

Jacksonville Grade School’s Pumpkinhead

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

“We are the Golden Bears—no one any prouder …

Jacksonville Grade School! Rah! Rah! Rah!”

In September of 1957,

in that old brick, beloved schoolhouse,

built in the year my mother was born (1914),

four classrooms, 88 students, and four teachers

united to learn and understand.

The names of Guglimetti, Cappa, Lanzone, and Massa

were in the midst of Jovanovich, Prowse, Zenizek, and Lewis.

We, of the second grade, who knew our full names and how to spell them,

sat silently and listened to the first grade being taught.

“What’s your name?”

the new, tall teacher who was named Miss Joest, asked the first boy.

The first first-grader responded, “Pumpkinhead.”

“No-o-o,” she extended with a note of patience,

“What’s your given name?”.

“Pumpkinhead,” he repeated.

“Let it be, Miss Young and Pretty, New Teacher, let it be,”

I stared, sat, and thought,

“He doesn’t know his other name.

It is his first day of first grade.

He is sitting in the first desk of the first row.”

When we had no concept of kindergarten or pre-school,

it was his first day of school, with no first name.

Without a trace of a smile, with forgotten patience,

she persisted, “What is your real name?”.

“Pumpkinhead,” he was totally convinced and said again.

“Oh, no, dear teacher, just let it be.

Let him be Pumpkinhead today.

You can ask his parent tomorrow.

I know he is a Goodwin ,

but I do not know his first name.”

(I do not think any other student knew his given name.)

Despite his name, no matter who looked at him,

you could tell his head was shaped

somewhat like a pumpkin.

But, as I could see him from my desk in second grade,

he was a fairly nice-looking, little boy.

I felt so wise that day

because I knew that I knew more

than the pretty, new teacher from the city of Clinton.

Nevertheless, minding my manners, being perfectly polite and respectful of my elders,

I said nothing.

Wise, little Alice Jane Massa, with the new glasses in front of her big, brown eyes,

said nothing.

Pumpkinhead. Pumpkinhead.

Each autumn when school begins

or when I eat a piece of pumpkin pie,

I wonder,

“Does ‘Pumpkinhead’ still hurt?”.

Post-script: In May of 1961, Jacksonville Grade School closed its doors for the last time, rang its bell for the final time. My sister, Mary Elizabeth, was among the nine students of the last eighth-grade class to be graduated from Jacksonville Grade School. During that school year of 1960-1961, seventeen other students and I comprised the fifth grade. Besides being the teacher of the seven and eighth grades, Mr. William E. Payton was the final principal at our community’s treasured, two-story, brick schoolhouse where friendships and learning blossomed in September and in all seasons.

Happy School Year!

September 18, 2013, Wednesday


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  1. What a unique story. I love how you paint the picture swirling around in my head. Keep them coming, and God bless the Pumkin Heads!


    Deon Lyons Author of “Sully Street” And new release, “Ready, Set, Poetry” Both available in Paperback and Digital @

    Send me an email @ Personal Website Personal Blog Connect with me on Facebook::

    “The happiest of people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have.” Unknown Author


  2. Paula J. Lumb permalink

    Alice, you always draw me in and take me along your ride into precious memories. I love your approach and writing style in this piece. I wonder about Pumpkinhead, myself…so many kids picked on, teased and bullied. It’s not a new thing, it’s an old thing that just won’t go away. Thanks, Alice. Keep up the wonderful writing!

  3. My first grade teacher in that wonderful old school house inspired me to be a teacher, a profession which I enjoy to this day with my four and five year old prekindergarten students. In all of my years of teaching I have tried to be aware of how my words and comments affect my students. I truly hope I have been successful in showing respect and sensitivity. Your touching story makes my heart ache for the children who have been hurt by the words of others. Your insights at such a young age were extraordinary!
    Love, Mary

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