I still have a terrible memory of the year they replaced the small pot-bellied coal stove with an oil burner in our country school. The memory is “burned” into my brain cells. One day, in third grade, I suffered an embarrassing injury. Before the day was through, my cheeks were red; I mean all my cheeks.
Our farm was three miles from the country school I attended until sixth grade. The school house was a dignified, small white wooden building with several windows on the south side, paired with a sagging and rickety gray board barn, where a couple of the older boys stabled their horses after riding them to school, and around which we played “Ante Over,” or Kick Can Run at recess.
Usually about six grades of eight to twelve students crowded into the one school room, learning about and from each other. Small students watched how older students acted; older students sometimes tutored younger; all students learned how to play together.
If you wanted a softball team, you had to choose every age and size. The older boys helped the first and second graders by putting their strong “grown-up” arms around them to help the smaller hands hold the bat, lending strength and accuracy to the swing. What a thrill to feel the crack of ball to bat and take off running to first base—a real member of the team. A priceless modeling of behavior.
But smaller students had to watch out when a gopher was spotted running across the grassy schoolyard, and stay out of the way of the bigger boys with the bats as they ran after the little guy. Annual Gopher Day in town rewarded savvy hunters five cents a tail. Every kid had a coffee can of treasured tails, salted and dried, awaiting redemption.
Years later, driving past that empty building still brought memories. Memories of being cracked on the head with a colored Easter egg by the older boys, drinking out of a pond in the ditch on a hot spring day when I forgot to bring the can of drinking water for the day, learning later that the only kids who got sick from the water were two first graders.
But, back to the “terrible memory.” When they ripped up the old stove, it had stuck and taken the smooth surface off the floor boards in the spot where it sat. No one fixed the floor.
One memorable day for me, we had a tug-of-war game going with a rope down the middle of the room. On one of the few days I would wear a dress to school. Anyway, I fell/sat down right as our losing line was pulled across the rough and splintered floor.
With everyone watching, great strength was needed to still the welling of tears in my eyes. Also, to sit down for the rest of the day.
The teacher boarded at our house; my dad brought us to school and didn’t return till school was out. Telephones were in homes, not school houses.
Took quite a while after school for my Mom to remove all the splinters with tweezers and paint me with good old-fashioned red mercurochrome, an antiseptic and a precious commodity current generations can’t buy in the US anymore. It had real mercury in it, and actually worked to prevent infection and reduce soreness.
But the stain lasts a long time, making all my cheeks red!