By: Verna (Cook) Weatherly
Each morning our mother packed three lunches. She made sandwiches with Spam, Vienna sausages and tuna fish, and into our thermos she poured hot chocolate, milk or juice. With cupcakes or her good vanilla cake for desert, she fastened down our bulging lunch buckets and kissed us goodbye and we were off to school.
The Bates - Austin country school was located about a mile east of Bates along the railroad tracks. The school sat in the left corner of a large meadow. The meadow connected the school, Austin House, Knuteville and Bates. In the corner of this meadow, towering over the school, were Ponderosa Pine, and out in the large part of he meadow grazed faceless Herefords.
I loved our country school. To walk a mile along the railroad track was at times tedious but often inspiring. While learning your multiplication tables it helped to have the railroad ties to set a rhythm. Polly Heaton helped me with my homework on the way to school, and more than once, gave me the answers to math. She was the best reader in our grade.
Our school had a bell tower with a large bell, which Mr. Cardwell, our principle, rang every morning by pulling a long rope tied to the bell. The sound of he bell rang clear and true over our country school, which sat along the meeting place of the pine forest and meadow.
The original one room, wood framed school at Austin was placed on skids and moved over the hill about a half mile to this site on the meadow. Two additional rooms were added to make the schoolhouse an L shape. Later a boxcar was brought in and placed in front of the fist and second grade room. Windows and doors were added, along with a porch, steps, etc., and the third and fourth grade children went to school in this boxcar.
A walkway was added, which joined the walk of the large building, and the two outhouses. The walkway also led to the large outdoor well, with iron pump, our only source of water, with a long wooden drain, that pilled out onto the roots of the tall Ponderosa Pine. You always had to pump a good deal before you got water from deep in the well. It was a noisy, rattly operation, but eventually the water burst onto the scene, and you grabbed it quickly in the cup of your hands, careful not to get your clothes and feet wet.
Each of our four school rooms held two grades with first and second grades in the one end of the schoolhouse facing the outdoor water pump, seventh and eight grade, where Mr. Cardwell taught, was in the middle room. Fifth and sixth grades were in the other end of the building, and my favorite school room. As I said earlier, the third and fourth grades were in the boxcar.
Each of the rooms had large blackboards along two walls, except the box car, which had only one. There were usually two or three rows of desks bolted to the wooden floors. The wood desks had ornamental ironwork on both sides. Each desk consisted of a stationary seat back and a desk top and a wooden seat hat folded. Most desks had holes for ink wells. Each school room had a potbellied stove setting in the corner, with a long stovepipe from the back of the stove to the roof. Mr. Cardwell built the fires in each stove every morning and cared for these fires all day long. Our rooms were always warm in the winter.
One day a student in our fifth and sixth grade room fond a tick on his head. Mrs. Markle lit a match, blew it out, stuck the hot match on the back of the tick. The tick released its victim and Mrs. Markle threw it on top of the hot potbellied stove.
I had Mrs. Markle as a teacher in third and fourth grade in the boxcar and fifth and sixth in the main building. Mrs. Markle taught me four consecutive years. Jancie, her daughter was my classmate and good friend. Mrs. Markle was born to teach and her gift for story telling could not be surpassed. She loved to read to her students, and if you were lucky enough to be in her class, it was an every day experience. As she would stand in front of the class and read, she would laugh and cry both, in joyful places. She carried a cotton hanky in her pocket, and would take it out when she read, and hold it in one hand and the book in the other.
She was about medium height with short wavy dark hair, and a very kind face. She wore regular school teacher dresses, and maintained a steady guidance over us all. She seemed to know we could learn, and I never remember on one occasion, where she acted mean spirited. She read us so many stories and books, but I think I mostly loved the poems she read. She gave us a special window, to see the world.
There was little problem with discipline in our school, even though we were not allowed to wander around the room and had to raise our hand to ask questions or to be excused.
In the first grade we were asked early on to read aloud while we sat in a tiny chair in front of the room. Later we were asked to memorize poems, participate in spelling bees, learn our multiplication tables by heart, study geography maps, diagram sentences, one of my favorite subjects, along with the usual subjects taught in American country schools knows as the 3 R's: Reading, Riting and Ritmatic.
We had many craft projects. I distinctly remember while in the third grade, making a beautiful little basket with colored raffia. Winding the grasses together, forming a smooth coil by wrapping it carefully on the outside with a flat piece of natural colored raffia, then using a needle with a long piece of colored raffia, we stitched the coils into a basked shape.
Our parents were not too strict about homework assignments, but our mother helped us a lot on the projects. One of Denny's class projects was to create a small village made from cardboard boxes. Denny constructed a lovely little red model house with individually made shingles for the roof. His entire class made separate model houses. I can remember his teacher had an open house, and the family member were allowed to see their hand made village. Their school room floor was covered with unique little houses, carefully laid out. It was wonderful.
When I was in fifth grade, Mrs. Markle had the class produce a play about the pioneers along the Oregon Trail. We made three covered wagons by using our brother's wagons and adding a hood made of white sheet to resemble the authentic covered wagons. All the students dressed in pioneer clothing. My mother made me a red, polished cotton, long dress with narrow ruffles on the bodice and skirt, with matching red sun bonnet, edge with identical red ruffles. The bonnet tied under the chin. I was very proud of my costume.
When I was about ten and in the fourth grade, my parents gave me a book at Christmas. It was a small book about a circus. I went to school all excited about Mrs Markle reading this new book to the entire room. Another student had brought a new book to school also, but I wanted mine read first. She finally told me if I felt that strongly about my book being read first, I could get a petition and have the students sign it. This I did, and my loyal friends signed my petition. My book was read first. It was not a very good book. Thank goodness it was short and over quickly.
Then the student with the other book came forward. The teacher started to read the book, and within a few days, we were hanging on the edge of our desks, waiting to see what would happen next. It was the first time we had overheard anyone read to us this new book about a dog. The name of the book was: Lassie Come Home.
Each school room had an attached narrow cloak room. In the winter, individual coat hooks lined this room at about head high. Above the hooks ran a long shelf which held our hats and gloves. Our galoshes were placed on the floor below our coats. It was always a mad rush any time of the year, from the moment we were excused, and the entire class spilled over into this long narrow cloak room. The teacher tried to maintain discipline, but even in winter, we wanted every moment of recess to count. To grab our coasts and then balance ourselves on one foot while trying to pull-on our overshoes and make it to the doors was an act of bravery.
Our playground surrounded our school. The patient, heavy, low riding merry-go-round was in front of the first and second grade room. In my first years, it was the playground equipment I played on most frequently. We eventually graduated to the teeter-totter close by. The swings, rings and bar were in the front of the boxcar school room. The rest of the playground was an open field for baseball, and in the winter, the game of Fox and Geese.
The spring brought with it a new challenge. It was difficult to stay in the school room when each day you saw the meadow grass change from gold to green and wild flowers appearing along the trail close to the railroad tracks. While sitting in our school rooms, and if the door was open, we could hear the birds singing their "spring songs."
Every Monday at our country school we marched into the seventh and eighth grade room and were led by Mr. Cardwell with our hands over hour hearts, saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag. This only added to our pride for our school and country. We sang songs, and on occasion, students would present skits and plays for the entire student body.
Mr. Cardwell, our beloved principle, was the backbone of our school. He was a very honorable man who instilled excellence into his students. He never faltered in all his efforts to maintain a firm but patient hand. He taught penmanship of the type you practiced by using various exercises in allotted spaces such as swirls and up an down strokes. This gave us a smooth even writing technique. We loved Mr. Cardwell and we knew he sincerely cared for us.