Duncan Suzuki

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The Good Old Days

I read somewhere that you can’t change the past, but you can sure ruin the present by worrying about the future. That’s quite a mouthful, and I’m not altogether certain whether I agree with it or not.
I do look back on pleasant things of the past without desiring to change them. I think good times of the past become glorious times of the past, as time passes on.
Even the times that were not so good produce a soothing feeling of nostalgia with the passing of time.
People who lived during the time of the Great Depression like to talk about it, and people who fought in the “Big War” seem to delight in telling stories of the frozen battlefields of Europe, or the hot tropical island beachheads of the South Pacific.
Faces of old people always light up when they get into a conversation about the good old days; especially school days. Just about everyone had a grandfather who walked five miles to school and back home in knee-deep snow, pouring rain, sleet, hail, and windstorms.
The children sat on hard benches, wrote out their assignments on square pieces of slate, and read from McGuffey Readers.
Penmanship was the most important part of education, and no matter how well-prepared the lessons were, poor handwriting meant a bad grade.
During a winter school day, students took turns going down over a hill to a spring, bringing back buckets of drinking water. Sometimes they brought back wood for the pot-bellied stove that radiated enough heat to keep everyone comfortably warm, while drying out students clothing for the return walk home.
At lunch time, all of the students got out a brown paper bag and choked down damson preserve biscuits. Sometimes the spread was jam, jelly, and sometimes there was even a big cake of fried sausage. Dessert might be a greasy fried apple pie.
Everyone drank from the same gourd dipper that hung on the wall beside a large oaken or metal bucket.
The teacher was usually the only unmarried lady in the neighborhood, and wore her long plain dress that hung below her shoetops. Her hair was usually done up in a big bun on top of her head.
Students wondered how she could possibly know so much as to teach seven grades of children, all packed into one classroom.
Her stern countenance struck fear in the heart of the class bully, who outside of the classroom called the teacher an “old maid,” but in the classroom was very careful to refer to her as “Miss” so and so. Students wondered how this stern-faced person could ever be any other way than bossy.
In those days, bad boys threw spitballs, and bad girls could be found guilty of no more serious a crime than chewing gum in class, which was a no-no.
Students were taught reading, writing and arithmetic, and they were taught love of God, country and family. They learned that to tell the truth is a virtue, and to lie is a sin. They learned that George Washington was more than a picture on a dollar bill.
From these simple beginnings, those who came before us were able to build foundations of what America became as a nation.
Much of what we are happened in the home, but an awful lot was instilled into the fertile young minds in the old country schoolhouse, by dedicated teachers, for whom all Americans should by eternally grateful.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.