Monday, April 15, 2013

"Nealeigh #1" © by Abraham Lincoln

Miss Beatrice Brown, my schoolteacher, taught all 8 grades (1 - 8) in my country school. It was a red brick schoolhouse built, before my living memory, on ground donated by the owners of the farm where Milbert and Bonnie Ressler lived. The schoolhouse was red brick with two rooms—the Big Room and the Little Room. When I went to school there only the Little Room was being used—we only had 23 students in all 8 grades.

At that time, in my village of Gordon, Ohio, the only "inside" toilets were in Dr. Van Pelt's house and in Joe and Freda Harleman's house. The rest of us were still using privies in all sorts of dilapidated conditions—some leaned-over and had stood, upright, considerably longer than their first owners had thought. Outside toilets had been pushed over on Halloween, as a kind of nasty trick, and their joints and joins had suffered considerable stress.

Our country school had a boy's and a girl's toilet. The only difference was the boy's toilet had a pee-trough and the girls didn't. The boys were always fascinated with the girl's toilet and would sneak peeks when school was in or when it was out of session. We always had regular rolled toilet paper at school—a luxury most of us didn't have at home—we still used pages from Sears and Roebuck catalogs.

Toilets aside, the school did have a 'deep well' hand pump with the long iron handle. It brought up the coldest water I ever drank from great depths—before I understood the workings of a piece of leather in the pump—I thought it a miracle. Many boys actually stuck their tongues out and touched that old iron handle to see if it would freeze fast before you could pull it off. Some boys were dared to do it for a nickel or a dime. I did it just to see if it worked and was almost surprised that it did and I slobbered enough spit that ran down my tongue just enough to unstick it.

The school set on an acre or two of ground and had the remnants of a softball diamond and an old sheet metal slide that we used to make slicker than an ice skating pond by setting on a waxed bread paper wrapper and sliding down a few times coating it thoroughly with wax from the bread paper wrappers. There was an old swing set with two swing seats and those pull-up rings nobody used. There was a teeter-totter that was always going up and down. That was our playground and play equipment all through my school days.

Miss Brown was strict about how we used the equipment. We were not permitted to stand up on the swing set and we were forbidden to try to loop the top bar the chains hooked on to. We were not allowed to swing high and then jump out because almost everyone doing that either broke something or bloodied their noses or landed on some little kid and almost squashed them. We were not allowed to jump off the teeter-totter when the other kid was still up in the air. I think they were good rules and while I was there some kids did jump out of the swing when it was high up and they got a bloody nose.

Miss Brown also had rules for playing ball. We were never permitted to use a "hard" ball. It was a big "soft" ball or nothing. And she refused to buy more than one bat and then only after the other one had been broken. By the way, the taxpayers did not have to pay any property taxes for this equipment. The children collected things like scrap metal and old newspapers and milkweed seedpods to sell to scrap dealers—the collected materials were used for the “War Effort.”

The proceeds from those sales were more than enough to buy the things we played on. I might mention that nobody rode a school bus to or from school—we all walked the 1/2 mile to school and the one-half mile back to town. I always thought it was a mile each way but then I also thought the Little Room at school was larger than the big gymnasium at Arcanum High School. And then one day I stopped and looked in the old school house and that Little Room was not much larger than my office is today—though it did have high ceilings. I wonder why I thought it was so big?

Miss Brown taught, reading, writing and arithmetic. With reading went spelling. Arithmetic was a social disease we all caught and hated. Bill Bechtol (who would become a superintendent of schools in Troy, Ohio and Waco, Texas) was our only source for solutions to problems in arithmetic. He loved arithmetic. I love writing and spelling and it was reflected in my grades—all A's.
I still like writing and spelling and my wife of 57 years, Pat, thinks I am a living dictionary. Miss Brown also taught some history but you had to be in the 5th grade to get it and there were some geography lessons for those higher grades. But we all sat there at our wooden desks with the hole for the bottle of ink and listened to her teach the kid or kids in the first grade, the second grade and the other grades until she got through with the big kids in the 8th grade. So we heard all the lessons for all the kids in all the grades, not once but all year long.

By the time we had "graduated" from our country school and were given the choice to go on to work or to go on to college, we knew it all already and Miss Brown had taught us it. Miss Brown also had the parental right to spank, or whip, kids who did bad things and got caught. For minor things she had a paddle something like a ping pong paddle with a longer handle and with a couple of round holes drilled in it.

She spanked boys and girls alike through their clothes. If you did something really nasty you had to pull your drawers down and suffer the pains of wood on flesh. There were times when she used the leather strop that was once used to sharpen razors on but you had to do something really bad to get whipped with that. It happened once when I was in school there and the boy who got whipped with it also had to pull his pants down. His fault has been looking at girls in their privy. He had also paid one girl a nickel for her to pull her pants down and show her butt so just looking in the girl’s toilet didn't seem as bad to me but then I wasn't Miss Brown and didn't know much.

Those were the days when the Japanese were killing people all over the world and had just bombed Pearl Harbor. And the Germans were marching into Poland. The world was at war and we had just got involved. Our little schoolhouse would never be the same.

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