This article was first published January 22, 1987. It draws quite a comparison between the schools of yesterday and the modern ones of today. I have no idea what the budget was for these old country schools, but that would be a story in itself. I should add, after re-reading this story myself, that I now know where I get my hoarding old stuff gene from. You’ll be referred to a Model T Ford frame being combined with an old surrey wagon; when I came along many years later, this car body was under a shed in Grandpa and Grandma’s backyard. I used to play car in it with my cousins Leonard and Eldridge. They were raised by Grandma after their mother, the only daughter in the family, died at age 21 of childbed fever. It’s probably still there under that same shed today.
In the early 1930’s, before the advent of modern transportation and consolidated schools, we attended and were fairly taught in a one-room, one-schoolteacher school. We lived three miles away, which was really too far for a comfortable walk, so Papa provided a mule and two-seated surrey for us to drive and ride to school. We had a fenced lot where the mule mhiled away the day while we were supposed to be soaking up education. When the old two-seated surrey became too delapidated for repairs, Papa obtained an old Model T Ford frame and had the local blacksmith make a three-seated wagon that could be pulled by old Ada, our school mule.
Several families lived between our house and the school so when the children along the way were in our good favor, we would let them ride. If they didn’t cotton to our whims, they had to walk. I’m not sure to this day if Papa ever knew that we, his children, concocted the riding rules from time to time.
Old Ada was prone to getting bellyaches, so we would put a halter on her head, then tie a rope to the halter, toss the rope over a tree limb, pull her head up and drench her with a quart bottle of water and Japanese oil. I still have no idea what Japanese oil was, but it seemed to cure Old Ada’s bellyaches. One night Old Ada broke out of the lot at home and went to her lot at the school house where she lay down and died. Everyone was saddened at her passing, but amazed at her dedication.
The school house was not in the best repair. There were missing window panels, a busted out door panel, and a hole or two in the floor. The school house was of frame construction and sat on blocks that made the floor about three feet from the ground. There was no fence around the school for a long time and hogs would go under the school to sleep or just pass the time until recess or lunch when they would gather around to eat the cold biscuits or cornbread that was tossed away.
One day one of the boys was wearing a pair of old tennis shoes about three sizes too big and we were sprawled out under the oak trees eating our lunches. As usual the hogs were gathered around picking up anything that was tossed away. There was one old sow that must have been near sighted because she mistook Shorty’s tennis shoe for a piece of bread, caught it in her mouth and was dragging the startled, yelling boy throughout the woods. Someone grabbed up a stick and beat her until she turned the boy loose. Shorty was very fortunate to be wearing tennis shoes that day, he could have been like most of us–barefoot.
On another occasion, one of my brothers and I took some corn to school in our pockets and got one of the lines out of the wagon to use as a lasso. We packed the rope through a hole in the floor, making a noose as it reached the ground. Remember there were almost always hogs under the school. We put the corn through the hole so it would go in the noose. Soon one of the hogs started eating the corn, and we pulled the rope to get it around her middle, then we tied the other end to a desk leg. That old hog started trying to get out of that noose and broke the hole in the floor almost big enough for the desk to go through.
Needless to say, classes were recessed temporarily and my brother and I didn’t think it funny at all when the teacher got finished with us. No, we didn’t run home and tell Mama and Papa the teacher had tore up our behinds. We knew better, for the whipping the teacher gave us was love pats compared to what Papa would have given us.
About 1940 our school was consolidated with another, and modern transportation had arrived to rural north Florida. We got to ride the school bus from then on. An era had passed, but I know quite a few who read this will remember the good old days, and some will remember being there when these good old experiences took place.
Postscript: I remember this old school house and heard this tale many times as I was growing up. What it doesn’t tell you is that the school these kids were “consolidated to” was the school I attended myself grades one through ten. It served a portion of Columbia County, and my father and his eight brothers went to and graduated from Mason School. The same kindergarten/first grade teacher who taught them, Miss Mrytice, taught me as well. She used to either pull hair, or slap your wrist with a ruler to encourage not only correct answers but good behavior.
The enrollment fell off severely over the years, and after I had finished tenth grade the school board made the decision to consolidate it with the high school in Lake City, Columbia High. Had I been able to graduate there, assuming little else changed, my graduating class would have numbered seven or eight. The summer Mason was officially closed, my father left the farm and went into the business of selling gas and tires at a Sunoco Oil Station in Gainesville, where I spent the last two years of high school fighting culture shock in Gainesville High School. I can’t remember the number in my graduating class, but it was three digits (200?) instead of one!