The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Olden Golden Rule Days - Part 6 of 6

By Virginia Webb Mitchell © 1986

Issue: February, 1986

We obtained our water from a spring. Each day a student was sent down the road and across the bridge to draw a pail of water for the school. We drank from a common aluminum dipper. We didn't think water tasted as good from a cup made of table paper and, besides, we couldn't afford to use up all that paper. I received more than one scolding for being extravagant with my tablet paper, with tablets costing two cents each! If one lost his pencil in the classroom, it became a real calamity with speculation running high as to whether the pencil had really been lost or had been appropriated by a fellow student.

While I mentioned earlier that we had more freedom, I will qualify that by saying that this was not necessarily the case if one wanted to be excused from the classroom. To minimize interruptions, in some schools the student was required to signal his intention by holding up his hand with one finger meaning a trip to the outhouse, two fingers meaning a drink of water, and three fingers meaning a trip to the cloak room.

Sometimes the older boys were kept out of school in the fall and in the early spring to help with the crops. Consequently, there frequently were older (teenage) boys in the upper grades. This posed a bit of 'a problem when my grandfather taught school because some of these boys asked to be excused too often to smoke cigarettes in the outhouse. One day Grandpa refused to give his permission to a student who, in Grandpa's opinion, had abused the privilege. Grandpa did, however, acquiesce to the student's three finger request... a mistake on Grandpa's part for it took two days for his boots to dry out.

At recess we engaged ourselves in raucous games of; "tag," "hide and seek," "softball," "red rover," and "London Bridge." If the teacher came out to join us in play, we became more docile, pretending to enjoy the more sedate game of "drop the handkerchief." The moment she retired to the classroom, we resumed our rowdier activities, and a simple game of tag, tempered by the right amount of insulting, could border on violence. If, during a game of tag, a boy student "tagged" a girl student with a clout strong enough to addle her senseless or send her reeling, she usually didn't flinch, but immediately interpreted this gesture to mean that he had a "crush" on her.

Softball seemed to cause more arguing and more fighting than any other game we played. Still, it was a favorite. I doubt that we knew about big league baseball teams; we made our own rules. The structure of our teams was based on age, with the oldest (and usually the biggest) having first running choice. Some students, of course, were born during the same year and that squabble was settled through deference to the month of the year in which the student was born. We tried to throw the ball as hard as we could and hit it likewise when we went up to bat. Woe unto him who hit the ball through the schoolhouse window! A game never seemed to reach completion through nine innings. If a broken window didn't end the game, a knock-down, drag-out scuffle usually did, as we retreated to the schoolroom, nursing our battle wounds in the form of broken overall gallowses, torn dresses, dusty clothes, skinned knees, bloody noses, and broken spectacles.

Spelling bees were taken seriously. The pupil was required to: (1) repeat the word the teacher had given him, (2) spell the word, and (3) repeat the word after having spelled it. If the student defaulted on any of these three requirements, he was immediately disqualified. The winner was the student who out spelled (spelled down) the other students.

Crooked Oak School and Snake Creek School still stand, their deteriorating states telling us that they won't be around much longer. I will hate to see them go, for a part of me will go with them. I will miss the twinge of nostalgia that the sight of them bring, a nostalgia that makes me feel young to reminisce about "the olden days when I was a little girl."