All of them have a loneliness about them, a desolation, and a feeling for the people that once passed through their sturdy walls. Whether they’re in decay, or in some form of preservation, or still being used, the one-room schools that once dotted the landscape are a symbol of an age gone by, of education taught the “good old fashioned way,” of a time when life was less complicated, more innocent.
When I heard that Tammy and Kelly Rundle had produced an award-winning documentary, “Country School: One Room — One Nation,” I jumped at the opportunity for a viewing. As with most of the 50-plus people in attendance, memories of my own country-school experience came flooding back.
My one-room school experience was atypical. I didn’t walk three miles, barefoot, uphill both ways, nor was I beaten with a hickory stick, nor did I eat lard sandwiches. Us “town kids” were bused from Prairie City out to a country school for a year while a new school was being constructed.
This was the mid-’50s and I was in the first or second grade. Being a “town kid” at the time, I thought riding the school bus was pretty neat. I soon learned different.
I took the accommodations at the one-room school in stride. There were outdoor toilets — one for the girls and one for the boys at opposite corners at the rear of the lot, no running water, and two grades in the single room. A large crock served as our water cooler. I believe it was hand filled from an outdoor well.
Mrs. Legrand was our teacher, and this might have been her first year of teaching. She was young, pretty, and a great teacher. Lord Almighty, this could never happen nowadays, but Mrs. Legrand took another little boy and me home with her for an over-night stay under the auspices of working on some art project.
Truth be known, I think she was wanting to have children of her own, and what better way to convince her husband, than to bring two cute little tykes home?
She lived on a farm. I remember riding in the back seat of her Pontiac, and wanting to help her husband do chores instead of working on the art project. The other little boy was a farm kid, and had no interest in chores.
I must have gotten homesick or scared during the night. My mother was called, on the country party line, and I was transported home.
Other memories: beating the erasers was the reward for perfect spelling (the lucky recipient was let out of class to beat the erasers against the schoolhouse wall); playing Annie Annie Over (the schoolhouse was the building we threw the ball over); and Red Rover (“Red Rover, Red Rover, send [whoever] right over!” — then [whoever] would have to try and break the arm hold).
There was no bullying back then. It was the school-of-hard-knocks. You took it, and you dished it out.
As an adult, I’ve tried to find that little one-room school, but had no such luck. Maybe it’s been torn down, or turned into a corn crib. Maybe it was all a figment of my imagination. Writers have been known to have such, you know.
After the year at the country school, we were returned to town schooling. No more two grades per room. As with all one-room schools throughout history, they filled a need, got the job done, and were part of life in the Midwest.
But when I tell my kids that I was bused to a one-room school, I get that “sure dad” look.