If you are like some of us that are a little older, then you remember your parents talking about the one room school house or at least about the difficulties they had in reaching the school. The long walks that it took to reach school or the weather they had to travel to get to the school. These journeys have reached legendary proportions in the retelling. But to tell the truth, these journeys were often through rough terrain and over many miles.
If you belonged to a large farming family where money was a main priority then school was probably much the same for all. School then, as it is today, was am opportunity. An opportunity for a better job or a better life. If you didn’t insist on education then parents often insisted. In this time parents were to be obeyed. If you were told to go to school then you had better be getting there. A day laying out of school was not a day for relaxation and leisure, it was a day to catch up on some chores that needed doing.
The process of getting your school clothes then was a little different too. Once again money was tight. The shoes that you got at the beginning of the school year were your only shoes of the year. If shoes were worn out before the end of the year then you must just do without shoes for the rest of the year. Getting school clothes for the year was much the same task. All items that could be remade, were remade. Children’s clothes were remade for younger children and adult clothes were remade for children. As little as possible was purchased new.
Teachers had often been your teacher for years. They knew you and what mischief you may have been up to. Clarence, my dad, liked to tell the tale of when he was in school and decided to get up to mischief. He came up with a new way to escape school, so the night before he would deliberately get sprayed by a skunk and then next morning go barreling in the front school door. Right up to the old pot bellied stove went Clarence to stand and warm. When the heat from the stove met up with the odor from the skunk, eyes watered, skin burned. So Clarence was sent right back out the door of school to return home. That bit of mischief seemed a success, but the next one Clarence tried didn’t work so well. He saw that the teacher always placed test papers in a briefcase and then the teacher sat on the briefcase. Once again Clarence came up with what seemed a brilliant idea. He took a pocket full of grape sized tomatoes to school and placed them in the teacher’s briefcase, expecting stained, illegible papers. Now Clarence knew that punishment was coming his way for this deed so the next morning he wore three pairs of pants to school, to absorb that whipping. But the wise and wily teacher observed all of this, instead of give a spanking he sent Clarence to run laps around the school. Instead of an aching bottom Clarence almost suffered from heat stroke. You had to watch those teachers as they were full of unusual punishments. Parents didn’t show up to school to protest how unfair you were to their children either.
One older lady shared with me her memories of the one room school day or at least as much as she could remember. Many more told basically the same story. Upon arriving at school, someone was sent to fetch a bucket of water, which contained a dipper. The water was set to the side of the room for drinking purposes and each child brought their own drinking cup. The day began with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. One bible verse must be memorized and recited each day. John 11:35 was the verse most student memorized. Jesus wept. You can’t beat two words when it comes to memorizing. The common subjects were stressed. Writing was a very important subject. Letters must be learned and formed correctly. Writing had as much attention as reading. Hygiene was also considered important. The teacher came every morning to the desks to check the cleanliness of hands and nails and you much possess a clean white handkerchief. Parents received a note home if cleanliness was not deemed acceptable.
Lunch was a wonderful time as you were free to go and eat on the banks of the nearby creek. After eating, playing in the creek was allowed. For this woman lunch usually consisted of potato or egg biscuits. If their mother had time she would make them all a fried apple pie. Some of the more wealthy children often wanted to exchange lunches with the farm children as they liked the biscuits. Sometimes the farm children would change because the other children had sandwiches on “light bread” and the farm children didn’t get to eat that, as it cost too much money.
Despite the troubles of getting to the one room school house, most I spoke with loved them. No one seemed to really like school as well when they were forced to move to a larger school. Perhaps it was the camaraderie of the same small group together like an extended family. Perhaps it was the adventures they had. Perhaps just the schools existed in mainly a kinder and gentler time. Whatever the reason, I can’t help but think that no matter the problems getting to school, I wish I could have been there.