The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 22 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1989

Issue: December, 1989

"My First Day at School, Part 1"

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's as seen through the eyes of one of their children; experience their hardships and heart warming togetherness as they struggle through and celebrate life in the Ozark Mountains.

In the spring of 1938 Papa and Mama both were feeling poorly, but they still worked from daybreak to dark. All spring all us children were in a feverish state, for everyday Ben and the older children kept telling us younger ones to help with all the work for we had to get the crop laid by early and get a winter's supply of food and wood in so we would be ready to go back to the Delta to pick cotton by the last weeks of August. And also that spring schooling had become very important to all of us. It got so almost every night, no matter how tired we were, Mama and Papa would have us practice adding and multiplying or practice reading and writing.

Jonathan was having trouble with his writing. That didn't seem to bother him at all, but it sure caused lots of concern and worry for all the rest of the family. Mama and Papa blamed themselves for they said that they had failed to make him practice writing for the last couple of years and he had almost forgotten how.

So there were family discussions about going to school and about all the teasing and insults the Delta folks had said about ignorant hillbillies. So finally one night Mama and Papa said we all had to go back to school. That caused a real uproar. All the older ones said they would not go for they could already figure their cotton weights better than the Delta children could and besides there was too much work to do getting ready to go back to the Delta and that several weeks of summer school would be just too much wasted time. They pleaded that we needed the money to buy our farm back worse than they needed schooling.

So it was finally agreed that because Jonathan and I had never gone any and Andy only part of two years, that we three younger ones would go to school that summer.

For several reasons I remember still my first day of school and very well too. I was fourteen years old and I had lots of new clothes. Mama sewed me two new dresses, a skirt and two blouses and some petticoats and bloomers. She ordered me a pair of 98¢ double-T-strap shoes from Sears and Roebuck. Jonathan and Andy got new overalls and Mama sewed them some snow white shirts made from starched bleached out flour sacks.

We got all dressed up and started the two and a half mile walk to school. Because the soles of my new shoes were slippery, I had to take them off to cross the foot log. Andy said I might as well go barefoot to the town road. That way, my shoes would stay new longer.

Jonathan was quiet and good almost to the point of meekness as we neared the school. He seemed to be listening to every word Andy said about being good and quiet when we got in school.

Before we could see the school house as we were walking down the bend in the road, we could hear a mess of children laughing and yelling as they played. Then we could see them. It was sort of frightening to see such a bunch of children without any of their Mamas or Papas there.

The girls were all holding hands in a circle playing drop the handkerchief; the boys were playing one eyed cat with a ball made from a rock covered over with some old socks.

Suddenly it was quiet as everyone just stood looking at us three as we walked up. Dovie and Danny Davis just gawked at us with their mouths wide open. I could see that Dovie had on a new mail order dress. I could see my dress was longer than the other girl's dresses were. I wanted to pull my dress up a little and tuck it under my belt, but I was afraid my long bloomer legs would show, so I just followed Andy and Jonathan towards the door. Danny Davis hollered to Jonathan and Andy to come out and help play one eyed cat.

Andy said, "Soon as we put our dinner buckets and pencils and tablets away, we'll be right out to play."

Danny yelled, "What did y'all bring fur dinner - a bucket full 'o sorghum 'lasses or a bucket full 'o creek water?"

Jonathan started to lite into Danny, but Andy made him go inside with us to put our things away.

While Andy put our dinner buckets on a shelf, I just stood there looking at the school room. Sure enough there was a shelf up front almost filled with books. There were two windows on each side and one up front. There was the teacher's desk in front of the blackboard and on one side of the blackboard was the American flag and on the other side was a hickory switch. There was the pot belly stove and the water bucket was on a shelf with a dipper hanging from a nail on the wall.

The room looked just as I expected it to look. Oh, I had heard a thousand times about every item in there and about the rules for keeping order there.

Reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory switch was the never changing curriculum of the Paul Revere one room hill school. That curriculum was presented in a manner that was thought provoking and stimulating even to the biggest and dullest of the hill students that came knocking at the door in search of some book learning. The two faculty members of Paul Revere were firm believers that to spare the rod spoiled the child; therefore they inspired a lot of very stimulated thinking by applying a hickory switch often to the backsides of the sassy or lesser inspired scholars.

Continued... The school teacher decides what grade level to put Winnie, Jonathan and Andy in.