When we think of the times of our lives, I think they can be classified as good times, bad times, and not very good ones. To me good times of the past become glorious times as time passes. Even times that were not so good produce a soothing feeling with the passing of time.
People who lived through the time of the “Great Depression” find in thinking back that things were not all bad. People who fought in past wars seem to delight in relating stories of frozen battlefields of Europe, or the hot tropical island beachheads of the South Pacific. Faces of old people light up when they get into a conversation about the “good old days,” particularly school days.
Just about everyone in my generation had a father or grandfather who walked five miles to school and back in knee deep snow, driving rain, sleet, hail, and windstorms. And after returning home they had to get in the firewood, feed the chickens and hogs, and milk the family cow.
In school these old folks had to sit on backless benches, and write out assignments on little square pieces of slate, and read from McGuffey’s Readers. Penmanship was a very important part of early education, and no matter how well prepared the lesson was, poor handwriting brought a low grade.
On bad winter days students took turns taking a bucket over the hill and bringing drinking water for the class, or carrying in armloads of wood to feed the old pot-bellied stove that radiated enough heat to keep everyone comfortably warm, while drying out their clothes for the walk back home.
The teacher was many times, the only unmarried lady in the neighborhood. She wore a long dress hanging to her ankles, and her hair rolled up in a bun, and pinned to the top of her brain-filled head. Students wondered how she could possibly know so much as to be able to teach seven grades of children, all packed into one classroom. Many times her stern countenance struck fear in everyone including the overgrown class bully. Outside, pupils referred to her as “old Miss so and so.” In the classroom, they all were careful to call her Miss followed by her family name. They wondered how this stern-faced person could ever be any other way than the bossy one they spent so many hours with.
In those days, boys threw spitballs at everyone including the teacher, and the inkwells at the corner of each desk were often used by mean boys as a place to dip hair of the girl in the next desk Bad girls could be found guilty of no more serious crime that chewing gum, or passing notes to boys they considered to be sweethearts.
Children were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and they were taught love of God and country and family, and respect for elders, and for each other. They learned that to tell the truth is a virtue, and to lie, a sin; and that George Washington was more than a picture on a dollar bill.
The teacher would start each day by ringing a small hand bell, then leading the class in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, followed by a devotional service. School days were not bad in the old days, and judging by the students I come in contact with, they are good today.
-Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.