2010-09-16 / Letters

Memories of Yesteryear School Days

To The Editor:

Sitting in my recliner, in my retirement home, I see children starting back to school. They are wearing good store-bought clothes with new backpacks. There is no lunch pail. They will eat in the cafeteria for a good, warm meal. I see them getting on school buses riding to and from school. I see many students driving cars to school also.

When I went to school in the 1920s, we wore homemade clothes and hand-medowns. Patches were sewn on patches. We would only get one pair of shoes in the fall, and they were to last a year and were laced shoes.

I remember how we walked barefoot carrying our shoes and stockings to and from school in order to make shoes last longer. We would put our shoes and stockings on when we got to school and take them off again when we walked home if it was warm.

These laced shoes cost $2. But back then, men worked daylight to dark for $1 a day if they could find work during the Depression or worked for 10 cents an hour if they could find work. The only work ladies could find was housecleaning, caring for those who were bedfast or helping new mothers at 50 cents a day. New mothers stayed in bed 14 days after a birth of a new baby.

I attended a one-room, one-floor schoolhouse in Iowa. All eight grades were in one room. A potbelly woodstove stood in the center of our schoolroom. The teacher rode to school on horseback. The teacher was also the janitor and did all the school cleaning, including two back houses. On days the stove would not draw, we would sit in our seats with coats and hood on until noon before the room got warm. There was no electricity, for dark days we had kerosene lamps and lanterns.

For water, schoolmates took turns carrying a pail of water from a neighbor. We only had one tin dipper in that pail of water. We all drank from that one dipper, then we would drop it back into the pail of water. On warm days, school windows and doors were left open with no screens, so birds would fly into our schoolroom, cats and dogs would walk in and sometimes snakes crawled in the door. The teacher would take a broom, use the handle to lift up the snake and throw it out in the yard.

We carried our lunch in a gallon syrup pail. We did not know we were poor because everyone was like us. The schoolmates all walked together to and from school. Sometimes there were disagreements, and I dented my syrup tin pail over a boy’s head more than once. My mother growled when the lid on the pail would not fit again. We made our own toys, with none of them store-bought.

There were no snowplows. Everyone had to scoop snow and shovel roads open. Sometimes our road drifted shut. Boys walked through the deep snow first. We little ones followed, trying to take long steps so we could step into their footsteps. They scooped enough snow off the road for the horse wagon or horse and sleigh to get through. In my lunch pail, I often had lard, salt and pepper on homemade bread.

Most of the boys were taken out of school in the fourth grade to work or help at home. Most girls were taken out in fifth grade to help or work. If your grandparents are around 90 years old, do not read or write well, love them, listen to their stories of their youth. I was one of the lucky ones. I got eight grades. That was considered a “big education” in the 1920s.

Beulah Cole Three Springs

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