The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

School The Hard Way

By Nora V. Greer © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

Editor's Note: Nora V. Greer was 81 on January 26, 1992 and started to school in 1918. The two schools referred to in this story were located in Washington County, Virginia with the closest town being Chilhowie (in Smyth County). Murrayfield School was in the Murrayfield Community while the Barrack School was in a community known as Love's Mill.

Believe it or not, the first six years of my school life were spent in an accredited high school that had only three rooms. The rooms were large and well lighted. There was a partition between two of them, the upper half of which could be removed for plays and programs.

The middle room had a large curtained stage. Each of the three rooms had an outside entrance. One room was primary through third grade, another fourth through seventh. The third room was for the high school students (high school back then was eighth through eleventh). Later on another room was added by renting an empty store across the road. The school board always selected excellent teachers. Murrayfield High graduated many girls and boys that later became teachers, lawyers, doctors and business persons.

Heat was furnished by pot bellied stoves, kept really glowing. There was a coal house out back, and boys were glad to quit the classroom to carry in coal. I remember that old coal house well, for it was the target of many games of "anti-over."

Below the school house there was a clear, cold cemented spring, from which each morning a bucket of water was carried to the primary room and a dipper installed. I would not have touched that dipper with a ten foot pole! I had my own little tin folding cup.

Lunch was brought in paper bags, cardboard boxes or tin pails (I still recall a pail I had. It had red stripes.), and set on a shelf. Coats were hung under the shelf.

I made second and third grade in one year, but spent two years in sixth. I missed some time the first year of sixth with whooping cough. Then, too, I argued politics with my teacher!

At the end of sixth grade the bottom fell out of everything - our school lost its accredited standing. All above sixth grade were to be transported to Barrack High School, three miles distant. We could no longer walk to school. Walking had been half the fun! Even in the big snows we got back then I would just don my overshoes and leggings and wade merrily. When I first started I wore yarn stockings. The leggings atop that wool caused my legs to itch terribly - I was happy to replace them with galoshes.

Even the prospect of a school wagon was not too exciting. Said wagon was a far cry from the big yellow bus of today. It looked much like a prairie schooner with its bows and canvas top. However, instead of oxen there was a beautiful team of horses. It is a wonder we were not all killed or badly hurt. One of the drivers was a young boy full of ginger. He would say, "Watch me take this curve on two wheels." Whip the horses into a run, and almost do so. Later on a truck took the place of the wagon, later on a plank body with windows that opened and closed. But the bench seats remained the same.

We fought against leaving the Murrayfield base. It was the hub of our existence. There was no television in those days, and very few radios. Community get-togethers were held at the school house, pie suppers, box suppers, cake walks. Graduation was a big day, with always some well known speaker. There would be dinner on the grounds, and games in the afternoon.

We were prepared to hate and disparage the new school. But in time we grew to like it, and give it the same loyalty we had given the old. It was a brick building with six classrooms, a wide hall with a staircase and water fountain, an auditorium, cloak rooms and a large basement which housed the indoor toilets, wash basins, coal room and a large room that served as both kitchen and lab. Cooking and sewing were taught. One day a friend and I overheard the girls of a visiting ball team making fun of our library. We got the teachers to start a campaign to buy more books.

Barrack produced some extra good ball teams. One year the boys team won State Championship. There was also baseball, softball, tennis, all the sports. Also, there was almost daily physical exercises. I was not crazy about that - I was such an awkward runt!

In Springtime and Autumn we could eat lunch under the shade trees. I think a lunch room was instituted, but that was after my time there.

I did love all the oral and written contests, especially the debates. I would stand up there on the stage, as scared as a chased rabbit, and go through a recital. We had a strict articulation teacher! Such contests are now a thing of the past.

Often when I missed the bus, I would walk the three miles to school. I could take a short cut by crossing a swinging bridge. I had nightmares about that bridge! It was enclosed on both sides, but I didn't like the swaying motion, and the moment I set foot on it I was sure it was going to fall into the river. I also had to pass by a house where there were squawking, hissing sharp billed geese. To me those geese could just as well have been lions.

Through high school there was a monthly tuition. It was the beginning of the Great Depression, but somehow we all managed to come up with the amount.

Some people say they hated school. I didn't. In fact, after graduation I went back for a refresher course in algebra, my weak subject. I had the free hours for study. That was great since there were so many chores at home that there was little time left to put on lessons.