School days, school days, dear old golden rule days,
Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick. . .
A lot of us remember those school days. The lament so often heard is “Things are so different now.” The younger generation has no idea how different.
The malls are crowded now with youngsters picking out their designer jeans and hundred dollar athletic shoes, plus dozens of other items they simply cannot do without. At the risk of sounding like an old fogy (which I am) I am recalling the preparations we made for school when I was a kid.
Designer jeans? Ha! All the grade school boys wore identical dungarees that were made for service and not fashion. At least, nobody felt out of place as everyone was dressed alike, especially during mud season when the boys were literally caked with the sticky stuff.
My brothers got two or three pairs of new jeans and a couple of shirts apiece, usually plaid gingham. Heavy work boots completed the wardrobe, and they were proud as peacocks in their new clothes.
Mom made dresses for us girls, mostly from flowered feed sacks. She was an excellent seamstress, and we wore our dresses with pride. Our shoes were serviceable loafers or saddle oxfords, and we got new white socks. Shoes had to last all winter, and sometimes cardboard had to be inserted when a sole gave way.
Our school supplies consisted of rough lined tablets and three or four pencils for each child. We had never heard of a backpack, although sometimes (after we got up in the upper grades) we received a three-ring notebook binder. That was luxury.
No cafeteria lunches for us either. Most of the students carried a lunch in a brown paper poke (bag) although we lived within walking distance of the schoolhouse. Bagged lunches usually consisted of the eternal peanut butter sandwich. There were many variations to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, such as peanut butter and pickles, peanut butter and bananas, or peanut butter and apple butter.
We were fortunate, I suppose, in walking home to a hot dinner (lunch), but it didn’t always seem so at the time. The icy wind would blow hard during the winter, and plodding through deep snow was not always pleasant. It was worth it though, when we opened the door to the homey smell of potato soup, or brown (pinto) beans and hot cornbread.
I have often wondered how in the world Mom managed to have us a hot lunch ready with all the chores she had to do, but she always did. In later years she was able to indulge her love of reading to her heart’s desire. She often told me that she felt guilty by reading so much, and I assured her over and over that she had earned it.
Our school day began with the principal ringing a hand bell until it echoed across the hills. We then lined up outside the steps leading to the two-room schoolhouse to recite the flag pledge. With our hands over our hearts and eyes directed on the flag, we droned the words in unison. It was quite impressive to a little first grader.
Marching into the classroom, we sat at school desks lined toward the teacher’s desk. In memory I can smell the dry odor of the chalk dust and the crude oil from the freshly oiled floors. Sometimes the smoke from the burning barrel wafted through an opened window, a unique but not unpleasant scent of pencil stubs, paper and crayon bits.
Our drinking water came from a pitcher pump located in the schoolyard, and we made cups from used notebook paper to catch the water. Some of the children had collapsible metal drinking cups, but at least we didn’t have to drink from a common dipper.
Rest room facilities were two outdoor toilets, located on each side of the schoolhouse. We raised one finger for number one, and two fingers for number two. I still wonder why we had to specify the specific body function. I am afraid that many of us (me included) would simply get bored sitting in a hot schoolroom and merely needed a little diversion. It couldn’t have been too urgent a mission if a kid could turn hand springs all the way down the hill.
Perhaps this sounds grim, but it was anything but that. We had fun. The neighborhood kids went eight years to a two-room school, and we bonded together like family. We spatted some, made up, had best friends and played together. In the warm months, recess and noon hour found us playing Longtown (a ball game somewhat like softball), jumping rope, playing marble games, and romping all over the playground.
In the winter, noon hour was often extended when the slope to the school was just right for sledding. We played “Fox and Geese,” had snowball fights, and flew with the wind down the hill. I wouldn’t trade my grade school days in that two room schoolhouse for any modern educational system.
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