Purple ironweed and sunny goldenrod are beginning to brighten our late summer days, and there is more than a hint of autumn in the delightful cool nights and refreshing mornings. Apple trees are dropping their round globes of goodness to the ground, while grapes are turning from green to purple. It is a fruitful time of year, this season of beginning harvest.
Late crops are maturing, as farm wives rush frantically to can, freeze and preserve the bounty of summertime. The growing chorus of the katydids informs us that frost is not too far away. Summer was too short, as the seasons seem to rush by faster and faster.
A sure portent of summer ending are the lumbering, yellow school buses that traverse our hills and ridges, taking our children away for their day of schooling. This year, a new crop of great-grandchildren will begin their process of education when school begins. I will miss the little ones who populate our world, making playhouses all over the yard and coming to the door for “‘gredients.”
Still, there will be some structure to our days, as we settle down to a regular routine governed by the coming and going of the school bus. Minnie will be lonesome, as will Wade, Katie’s baby brother. Our yard will be empty of little girls, trotting back and forth with their jugs of water and cottage cheese cartons of chopped squash and cucumbers (the overripe ones.) They have had a full summer of “pretend.”
Starting to school for the first time is their first real taste of independence. There are some things that a person never forgets. I am six years old again, and excited at the prospect of school. Mom has braided my hair tightly, and I feel all dressed up in my starched and ironed dress. New school shoes feel unfamiliar on feet that have been barefoot all summer.
I walk proudly down the dirt road, carrying new school supplies. No one in the two-room school has ever seen a book bag, let alone own one. There are no fancy folders or pencil cases. Most of us have a rough pencil tablet, a couple of pencils, a box of crayons, and perhaps a jar of paste that smells like sassafras.
Shivers of apprehension and excitement run up and down my spine as I start up the hill to the schoolhouse. The older children and running and laughing, but it is all strange to me. There is a pitcher pump in the schoolyard, and a burning barrel close by. There is no other smoke that smells quite like school trash burning. It was unique to the old one and two room schools, composed of discarded papers, stubs of pencils and bits of crayon.
There is an outdoor toilet for the boys above the schoolhouse, while down the bank on the other side is the one for girls. The school itself is a white structure with a set of steep steps leading to a small porch. A row of windows is on each side of the building, and a dirt playground devoid of a blade of grass attests to the hundreds of running feet that have played there.
There is no hot lunch program, and while we live close enough to walk home for lunch, most of the children carry their peanut butter sandwiches in a brown paper poke. My father attended this same school (although at that time I think it was a log structure) with a cooked sweet potato in his bib overall pocket for lunch. He was also barefoot.
As I started my very first day there, it was the beginning of eight years of education in that little two-room school.
The principal steps out on the porch and loudly rings a hand bell, a sound that I learn to associate with “books are taking up.” Two lines are formed; one is for the “big room” and the other for the “little room.” Of course I am headed for the little room, where I fell in love immediately with my teacher, Miss Imogene Carper.
She was barely 18 years old, and we all vied for the honor of taking the blackboard erasers outside and beat the chalk dust out of them upon a rock. She taught us our ABC’s, nursery rhymes, and finally how to read. Books became my joy and my passion.
I wish our grandchildren’s school days could be as innocent as they were when I was a child. Our greatest concern was whether we could work out a math problem on the board in front of the whole class. Drugs were aspirin that you took for a toothache, and the only weapon we knew was a sling shot. I am afraid our children will never know those days again.
There was a request for the lyrics to a song, “Mother’s Bible”, and we have received four different songs. They are all good, but this one seems to be closest to the one Mary Riley wanted.
There’s a book that Mother left me
That grows sweeter every day,
I have often read the pages
Since my mother passed away.
When but just a baby boy
I would sit upon her knee
Mother looked just like an angel
When she read this book to me.
Mother’s Bible, oh, how dear
With the covers worn and old
Mother’s Bible, much more sweeter
Worth much more to me than gold.
And she told me, yes she told me
Just before she went to sleep
If I read it and believed it,
Jesus then my soul would keep.
Now my mother’s gone to heaven
And sometimes I feel so sad,
Then I go get Mother’s Bible
That she left for me and Dad.
Through the years there may be changes
But one change there’ll never be
It’s that old and faded Bible
That my mother left for me.
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