Christmas memories of a one-room school

Nearly 20 years ago, I struck up a correspondence with a lady named Ruby Hearn from San Antonio, Texas.

Ruby was the daughter of Selby and Laura Grandfield Hunter, and was born and raised in Fayette County. She lived away for most of her adult life, and always spoke of her old home with affection. She often told me she would like to return to Vandalia to live some day.

One time, during a telephone conversation, she began to reminiscence about her early life in the Brownstown area, and I told her she should write it down. She did, and although Ruby is now deceased, her childhood experiences live on in the following story.

The lines by Whittier, still sits the schoolhouse by the road,’ take me back 70 years, when I was a student in a one-room country school. My school was located on the muddiest road in Illinois.

The school had an entry hall, which doubled for a space to hang coats and other regalia. There were no coat hangers, and nails were provided to hang coats on. Many coats were torn as youngsters rushed out, grabbing their coats as they ran.

The other wall had a couple of shelves used to hold dinner pails. Lunch was generally cold eggs and biscuits. Underneath the shelf, overshoes reposed.

We had one teacher and seven grades, which alternated yearly. Attendance averaged 10 to 12 students.

Discipline was no problem. Parents allowed the teacher to spank if the kids were unruly. We children were then informed by our parents that a spanking at school meant another one at home. Knowing how hard our dads could spank, we walked the line. In the years I attended that school, only one child got a whipping.

Air conditioning and central heat were unknown in 1923. In the summer, windows were raised. The windows were minus screens, so bugs could enter any time. In the winter, heat was provided by an old Waterbury heater, located in the back of the room.

You could sit on it and not get burned. We didnt mind, as we were adequately dressed in long johns, asofoetida around our necks to ward off infection the odor was horrible. Between that horrible smell and no baths all winter, I dont see how the teacher survived.

A school day was from nine to four, with two 15-minute recesses and an hour for lunch. In the summer, we entertained ourselves with hide-and-seek, Andy over, and, above all, BASEBALL! A sawed-off broomstick was our bat, a rubber ball was our baseball and gunny sacks marked the bases. We played some wild games.

During the winter months, we snowballed each other, built forts and had a snow battle. If someone had a sled, we took turns riding down the hill. A creek was nearby, and when it was iced over, we skated on it. We didnt have skates, we just skated in our shoes with leather soles.

Teachers were hired by a committee of three, called directors. The teachers salary was generally $100 per month.

The hub of the community centered around the school. Entertainment throughout the school year was provided by parents who organized themselves in groups. Each month, one group would entertain; the next month, another group.

Christmas was an exciting time for we children. We would dress in our best and recite poetry or perform in small skits. The biggest and most exciting event of the evening was Santa Claus. We had drawn names, and each child got a small gift, plus an apple, orange, chocolate drop and some Christmas candy, all in a small brown bag and all stuck together.

Schools were only two miles apart, but it seemed a long way to us. Mornings, one mile west and three-quarters of a mile south evenings, three-fourths miles north and one mile east.

Time has dimmed many memories, but I can still see that old decrepit schoolhouse, hear the happy laughter of children at play. I am happy to admit I was a part of it.

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