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 24 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1990

Issue: February, 1990

"My First Day at School, Conclusion"

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.

That two and a half mile walk home was a long, hot trip. When we three got there everybody was out working. We went out to the springhouse, splashed cool water on our faces, got some cool melon from the cold spring water and sat down around a tub soaking our feet and discussed our first day in school. None of us were looking forward to supper time when we'd have to tell the rest of the family about our day and none of us were looking forward to going back to school the next day.

We wheedled and coaxed and pointed out how much work we'd do if we could stay home. It was all in vain. Papa and Mama said we needed the schooling. Ben and the other older children took us outside where Papa and Mama couldn't hear and gave us a lecture on how important it was for us to get schooled up so we couldn't be called ignorant hillbillys when we went back to the Delta to pick cotton. There was just no getting out of it. Our family's pride and honor depended on us going back to school. We learned a right smart in those few weeks. Lots of it wasn't from books either.

All our lives, until we started to school, us three had never gone anywhere or done anything without being with Papa or Mama or some of the older children. Learning to get along with other boys and girls was something we had to figure out as we went along.

Jonathan seemed eager to learn in a hurry for he got involved in about every ruckus that took place and he managed to get Andy involved also. So, in just a few days, they were quite popular with all the other boys. But when the other bigger girls whispered and giggled or flirted with the big boys or put on lipstick, it never really crossed my mind to join in for it was fun just to be a bystander and watch them. Dovie Davis would call me a fraidy cat and say that I was just afraid my Mama would whip me. That would make me mad for it was really true. Sometimes it did seem like they had a lot of fun and I did want to join in some of their forbidden capers.

One afternoon Dovie and some of the other big girls agreed to bring a razor and some tweezers to school the next day and at dinner time, they would gather in the girl's outhouse and tweeze their brows and shave their legs. The next morning they all giggled and twittered until Mr. Branson threatened to whip everyone if they didn't tell him what was going on. Everyone quieted down, but the moment dinner time came, all the girls gathered in the outhouse as planned. Altogether there were two pair of tweezers and a straight razor. Dovie and another girl said they knew how to tweeze and shape brows so they offered to begin the beautifying process. Nobody volunteered right off so Dovie said she guessed everyone was like Winnie - afraid of their Mamas. I said, "Dovie Davis, I ain't afraid of my mama and I ain't afraid to have my brows tweezed either." Then another girl said she wasn't afraid either. Tweezing sure smarted something fierce. Our eyes got all watery and red. Someone said they were going about it too fast, so they said we two should rest awhile. The next two girls soon began crying too, so someone said lots of women shaved their brows. That was tried and didn't hurt. Soon every one of the other girls had their brows shaved. Before the razor gave out, a couple of them had their legs shaved also. Then everybody put on some face powder and a dab of Tangee lipstick.

When the bell rang, every girl walked in quietly, sat down and started to study. Every boy in that room took a turn at laughing and smirking at the girls. Mr. Branson looked stern and real mad. He took the hickory switch down and cracked it across his desk. Silence took over that school room. Then he began talking quietly about how modern times were ruining the younger generation. He talked about how girls and boys acted like splendid ladies and gentlemen when he was growing up. He said young girls never should try to look like trollops and boys should never laugh and smirk at the girls.

The quietness and the heat in there was just stifling. From the corner of my eye, I could see Jonathan fidgeting about. He took a wad of string from his pocket and was messing around with it. He tied a slip knot and slipped it over his toe, Mr. Branson looked back at him sternly and Jonathan sat up straight with both feet flat on the floor and began to study. When Mr. Branson turned back to the blackboard Danny Davis reached under Jonathan's desk, got the other end of the string and tied it to the desk leg. Jonathan seemed to become completely absorbed in his book and didn't move for several minutes. Mr. Branson looked at his watch and said it was time for recess. Jonathan lunged toward the door, but he fell flat on his face in the floor. There was an uproar of laughter. Mr. Branson looked at Jonathan's toe and at the string tied to the desk and then at Danny Davis. Then he looked at all the giggling boys and girls. He told Jonathan and Danny to please take a seat. He went and got the hickory switch and went and stood by the door.

Everyone in that school got two sharp swats across the backside except Jonathan and Danny - they each got a real good thrashing.

The next day all was quiet and somber in school. Danny Davis was moved across the room from Jonathan and all the girls who had shaved their brows were quiet and pouting because they had got a whipping when they got home the night before. Even Dovie Davis's Mama whipped her. She told me that she hated her old fashioned Mama and that when she got to be sixteen she was going to run away with a rich drummer and live in a big city like the county seat.

Mr. Branson was a persistent teacher. Every day there was reciting, spelling matches and ciphering matches.

We got a letter from the Delta that the cotton on Mr. Langley's farm was going to be ready to pick in anther week so us three got to miss the last two weeks of school. That last Friday we were in school turned out to be an exciting day though it just began as another dusty, hot August day. The humidity and heat caused everyone to be cranky. Mrs. Branson was substituting for Mr. Branson. As the hot morning wore on, most of the boys didn't pay a bit of attention to what Mrs. Branson said. She got the hickory switch and threatened to "Thrash every sassy boy in that room." It seemed like dinner time would never come, but it finally did. Then things livened up considerably.

Little David Malcom went loping through the woods and over the hill and all the other bigger boys right behind him. They were headed toward the pasture where Little David's papa kept some cattle and a bull that was so dangerous everyone in the neighborhood was afraid to go near it for it had almost killed one man. Everyone in that school had been warned never to go near that pasture fence.

There was excitement as everyone watched the boys disappear. Everyone but Mrs. Branson knew they were going swimming in Little David's pond. Early that morning Little David told all the boys it would be safe for his papa was going to keep the bull in the barn so he could repair the fences.

As we all sat outside eating dinner we could hear shouts of laughter coming from over the hill. Mrs. Branson came out to where we all were. She had a worried look on her face, but she continued to eat as she looked off toward where the boys were.

Suddenly there was a mess of hollering and screaming coming from over the hill. Then a minute later a mess of half naked boys came running through the woods and everyone of them was hollering for Mrs. Branson. They were a dripping wet, sorry looking bunch. They all just had on overalls and some of them were on wrong side out and some were on backwards.

The bull had not been in the barn and when it heard all the boys swimming in the pond, he came charging at them bellowing and snorting. Everyone got his overalls and made it over the fence except Danny Davis. He just grabbed his shirt and took to a small tree. The mad bull began butting at the tree and pawing the ground. Danny's very life was at stake.

After she heard that, Mrs. Branson began ringing the school bell and crying. An old farmer came along riding a mule toward town and he stopped to see what the trouble was about. He told someone to go get Mr. Malcom. One of the boys said Little David had already gone for him.

Andy told all about the exciting rescue that night at the supper table. By the time Mrs. Branson, the old farmer and the biggest boys got down to the pasture fence, Little David and his papa were already there with their two German shepherd dogs and a bull whip. In no time the bull was herded back into the barn and Danny Davis was rescued. He was wearing his shirt which he had managed to get tied around himself in a diaper fashion. He was so weak and frightened that he had to be carried back to the school house. Nobody knew for sure if he collapsed from fright of the bull or from fright of Mrs. Branson and the other girls seeing him in a diaper.

For many years, until he went away to war, Danny Davis was called Diaper Danny by all his best friends.