Nancy Hubbard recites the poem “Once There Was a Watermelon” as if she had just memorized it yesterday. But the words come to her from many, many years ago – a remnant of her Hodgenville schooling in the 1920s.
Hubbard is 96 years old now but the memory of her childhood is crystal clear. Looking at a photograph of her class (from when they were in approximately the sixth grade), Hubbard is able to give nearly all of the children’s names strictly from memory.
But it’s not just names that she can remember from that long ago – she can tell stories about many of the students frozen in time in this circa-1925 image.
Hubbard tells the story about “dancing a million miles” with one of the boys in the photo and another about a boy being so “stuck” on her that he bought her a necklace for her birthday. She mentioned that two of the boys in the picture were orphans and four of the photo’s students made up two sets of twins. Then there is the story of Hubbard and the beginning of her friendship with Agnes Elliott.
“I still remember my first day of school,” Hubbard said. “My big brother had walked me there in the morning but he wasn’t there at the end of the day. I remember I was just standing at the front of the building crying and a girl came up to me and said, ‘I know where you live, I’ll take you.’”
Although she got off to a rough start, Hubbard ended up loving her time at the elementary school, which she believes was in the College Heights area of LaRue County. She said she loved going to school every day because of the books and kids there, although sometimes Hubbard and her siblings ran late because they wanted to sleep in.
At school, if lessons were complete for the day, the teacher, Exie Jones, would let students read aloud to the class. This was something Hubbard got to do frequently, since she “read with expression.”
Her experiences during school, as well as her love for reading, were instrumental in motivating Hubbard to help start New Haven’s branch library. And in a twist of fate, Hubbard’s own son even wrote a book about her: Fenton Johnson penned “Crossing the River,” a novel based on Hubbard’s life.
It is a life that has stretched over nine decades, but one that is perhaps most remarkable for its owner’s ability to remember. Although the recitation of an old poem may seem insignificant to many, that recitation is a symbol of Hubbard’s extraordinary memory, as well as her love for the time she spent at school in LaRue County. Eighty-plus years later, that time period is still at the forefront of Hubbard’s cherished childhood memories.