School days gone by

Published 1:07 pm Saturday, January 7, 2012

by James D. ‘Archie’ Howell

I’m in school. My father brought me in our truck the first day, and showed me where to go.

From then on, it’s an everyday thing to get dressed, get breakfast, get out and stand with my brother and sister, to wait for the school bus. We can see it coming down the hill about a quarter-mile away.

We’re the last house for the school bus run for Franklin schools and the bus turns around in our path. I don’t know how the bus knew to pick us up, or that ours was the place to turn around.

We’re the only bus stop from the Delaware crossroads. It’s always about 8 o’clock in the morning. We know our driver, Mr. Blythe; he attends our church.

There’s a war somewhere. Part of our school program is an assembly, at which a pitch is made to buy war bonds. We sing songs about it:

“Stamps, stamps, stamps, O buy today-ay.

They will help to win the war….”

We tramp our feet in time with the singing.

The tune is familiar. We’ve heard it many times before, sometimes with different words.

Little folders are available that will hold stamps; there are 10- and 25-cent versions. When the folders are full, and you have enough of them you can trade them in for war bonds.

Folders are also available at school that will hold dimes and quarters. When they are filled, and when you have several of them, you can trade them in for a war bond, also. Or you can start a savings account at the bank.

I don’t know how the stamps and coins and savings accounts help in the war; I just know it must be important, because every assembly has the singing, and people talk about it regularly. I try to do my share.

I already knew my ABCs. My sister and I sang that song many times, passing away the hours on the farm:

“Abcdefg, hijk…..”

I don’t know how to write them yet. We have a board in the classroom with all the letters printed on it. I’m learning to associate the printed letters with what I’ve been singing. It’s fun to learn how to read words.

“Dick. See Dick run. Run Dick run.”

Pictures in books are wonderful. We don’t have many books at home. My mother has her Bible and I’ve seen my father read newspapers.

Almost every night, he’s in his chair, reading his paper. Sometimes he spells the words out load and learns to pronounce them that way. My mother and father went to school only a few years and reading is something of a challenge for them.

What they lack in literacy, they make up for in memory especially if it’s something that I’ve not done right. I learn that laying low after one of those episodes does not mean it’s slipped their watchful eye or memory. I’m reminded of my shortcomings in good time.

I don’t like homework. I think if I don’t do it or ignore it, it will disappear and, somehow, not be required. I learn that neither is true; I get by with as little as I can. For the most part, homework is not a huge part of school. I think teachers acknowledge that in a farming community, many students have work that does not directly involve reading and writing. At least that’s what I think. Truth often eludes me.

School is a mix of learning skills and physical fun. Recess is an active playground school for learning how to socialize, and is the only place, besides church, where I have a large group of other kids to meet and learn about. There are city kids and farm kids. Those are the only two kinds of children that I know about. I will learn differently in the future.

Our school is a large brick building, set high above the ground. In the basement is a furnace and coal bins for heating in the winter. The school is one large square building, two stories high, four classrooms on each floor. An addition is single story, with additional classrooms. A lunchroom is a separate building. I can bring lunch from home or my parents can buy a week’s lunch tickets at a time or buy a single meal. I like that. It’s a break from our homecooked meals and milk is available every day.

Today’s schools are impressive, air-conditioned, multi-level, multi-cultural, sprawling, scientific marvels with distant worlds, countries and cultures available with a keystroke. And yet, the basement coal bins and oil swept wooden floors of that old schoolhouse is imbedded in my spirit. The playground laughter still fills my heart.

I am home.