School days: Memories from the 1930s

To the Editor:

I am an old lady and I remember my school days. Nostalgia? They certainly were simpler days.

It was 1933. We had just moved to New Scotland. I was 5 years old. I started school there in the little white schoolhouse down the road. (It is now the much-expanded New Scotland Town Hall.)

The big schoolhouse bell rang each morning to call us to classes. The teacher, then Miss Jane McLoughlin, met us at the door. My mother was holding my hand tightly as she introduced me.

I was very shy and scared, not wanting to let go so we followed Miss McLoughlin down the aisle to the front of the one room, past the coal stove to where there were little desks for the small children.

Just in front of that, back to the coal stove, was the recitation bench.j In front of that was a low platform with the teacher's desk in front of a big blackboard. There were 28 or 29 students, first through eighth grade! So many new faces — kids from the small village and surrounding farms.

There was so much to learn — but first I had to master the rules of the classroom. Raise your hand, one finger up, if you wanted permission to get a drink of water. As I remember first we had a small sink and cupped our hands.

We all celebrated when a real fountain was installed!

We raised two fingers for permission to go to the bathroom, out the door to the hall flanked by two little rooms — Boys and Girls. It was very cold in the winter.

The class that was being taught went up to the recitation bench grouped by grades: first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth. We were divided into those classes since there were only four or five kids even in those groups.

We started learning our letters and numbers, printing clearly. Then we read about Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot. And we learned writing — cursive, lots of penmanship practice, and arithmetic, adding and subtracting shown on that big blackboard.

And spelling — I never got that. We had spelling bees, all classes. Two of the older kids were designated “captains” and they each chose their teams. I was always last no matter what grade I was in.  I guess Teacher asked words appropriate to age but that didn’t help me. I was always one of the first out.

In third and fourth grade, we started history and geography (another word that I couldn’t spell). One of the older kids taught me an old rhyme that I could learn: Georgie Edgar;s Old Grandmother Rode a Pig Home Yesterday. Easy. I could not memorize that.

Physical exercise? We had recess, a half-hour outside. In bad weather, we did standup calisthenics with open windows. Outside, we played games, mostly all together.

We played baseball with an old bat and small ball or we played Ali Ali Over with a big ball. Two sides were chosen, one on each side of the school. A bigger kid would throw the ball over the school; someone on the other side would catch it and both teams rushed for the opposite side of the school.

The ball carrier tried to touch members of the other team with the ball. Those touched were out.

It usual ended by Teacher ringing her hand bell to call us all back to class. The team with most surviving players won.

In winter, we played field hockey with bent sticks and a tin can or we slid down the short hill from the garage next door on flattened oil cans the owner gave us.

Most of my classmates brought their own lunches — sandwiches in a bag. We walked to school; maybe a mile or more. Most days, I walked home for lunch hour, up the hill a quarter-mile past the church.

One year, our teacher brought in an electric hot plate and then she made Campbell’s soup for those who stayed at school for 5 cents. I always stayed for lunch on Friday because that was when Franco-American spaghetti was served. I loved that.

One friend had a mother who was a Gaylord Hansen (health guru in the 1930’s) fan and she came with whole-wheat bread filled with something healthy like shredded carrots. She always tried to trade it off for a peanut-butter-and-jelly or egg-salad sandwich. To this day, I still don’t like whole-wheat bread.

Since we sat close together when a class was up front being taught, we were prone to whisper or pass notes. Miss McLaughlin usually caught us and we were kept for detention after school. (No bus to miss.)

Then we were given a job: clean the blackboard, clap the big erasers together to get the chalk dust out (outside), or sweep the floor, or maybe fill the coal scuttle from the bin outside. A bigger boy was assigned each day to keep the stove fire burning.

Miss McLoughlin even taught art! I remember one year cutting out and painting plywood bird shapes to mount on a stick for a garden decoration, probably for a Mother’s Day present.

Of course, we made Halloween and Valentine cards to be put in a decorated box for a friend or classmate (think Charlie Brown) to be passed out on that holiday. Sad was the kids who got only one or two cards! We bought penny cards for those days too. At Christmas, we made a fancy card for our parents.

And at Christmas each year, we had a tree, fresh cut, given by one of the local farmers and we made decorations for that, too. Colored paper chains were a must.

We drew a name for a classmate’s gift and, of course, we all brought a present for the teacher.

We ended school each June with a picnic. If we were lucky, one of the local farmers would truck us up the mountain to White Sulphur Springs where there wa a picnic ground and swimming pool at an old resort hotel, recently demolished.

Parents made the food and several would drive cars, up also carrying the smaller children. We went clutching our bathing suits and towels jubilantly bouncing in the truck bed, laughing and singing very loudly a rousing “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun. The gang’s all here.” We always included the century-old song:

School Days, school days

Dear old Golden Rule days.

Reading and writing an ’rthimetic

Taught to the rule of a hickory stick.

You were my bashful barefoot beau,

I was your queen in calico.

You wrote on my slate,

“I love you so”

When we were a couple of kids.

Then, in 1037, my family moved to Altamont and I started seventh grade here.

I was then Carolyn Sanford. I remember the last names of my classmates: Gage, Furman, Youmans, Brandon, Mott, and Vincent. Miss McLoughlan later married on the Gaige boys.

Carol DuBrin



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