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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

THE WRONG WAY TO DO THINGS

As I look back on my life, I realize that since childhood I have been taught the wrong way to do things. When I brush my teeth, I think about elementary school, when we had lessons on dental hygiene every year. They told us never to brush sideways. We were to place the brush at the gum line and brush away, to remove the food particles and what not. At some point in the intervening years, this “wisdom” changed. Now you are supposed to brush sideways and use floss to remove the food particles and what not. To be on the safe side, I now do both, brushing up and down first, then sideways. If “wisdom” reverses itself again, my bases are covered.

They also told us to brush after every meal, without fail. I guess we were supposed to take a tooth brush to school, but no one ever did. Nor did they give us the time or opportunity to brush after lunch. Now I hear that brushing immediately after a meal is the wrong thing to do. Now, food softens the tooth enamel and makes it susceptible to damage. You should wait at least twenty minutes before brushing. Or go to bed with dirty teeth if you snack within twenty minutes of bedtime.

In fourth grade, our elementary school campaigned for better nutrition at breakfast. They ran a contest, giving points for each “healthy” thing students ate: eggs, bacon, juice, and toast. In those days, most mothers did not work outside the home and had the time and energy to cook breakfast. Of course, the economically advantaged families could afford bacon, eggs, and juice, so their children won the contest. My mother was a good cook but we had a large family. Although we lived on a farm, we did not have chickens at the time and had to buy eggs, not to mention bacon and juice. Our breakfast was usually bran flakes and milk. Today, as far as I know, juice is still acceptable, but bacon is verboten and eggs are sometimes the wrong thing to eat, depending on how the “experts” feel about cholesterol this week. What is the recommended breakfast today? Bran flakes and milk.

Do you remember when you should never go swimming for at least an hour after eating? After spending half a day driving to the beach and arriving at lunch time, you had to wait an hour before getting your feet wet. Why? Because you would get cramps and drown. Now I understand this prohibition has been lifted. Eating has nothing to do with life threatening cramps. Eat, and enjoy your swim.

When I became a mother, we were told never to put a baby on his back. He would spit up and choke to death. Since I wanted to be a good mother, I always laid my babies on their bellies. By the time I became a grandmother, “wisdom” had changed. Putting a baby on his belly is now the wrong thing to do. He will suffocate. Now you must put them on their backs. I guess they no longer spit up and choke. As a middle ground, you can lay them on their sides. Right. They’ll stay that way and not roll over onto their backs or bellies to certain death.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for having experts to advise us. After all, they are supposed to be up to date on knowledge and research. But sometimes I wish they would make up their minds. In the meantime, I think I will rely on common sense.

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          Let me take you back in time to a place that no longer exists.

On a warm day in early September, my mother walked me up the road to the corner of my grandparents’ hay field, where their property abutted my great-grandfather’s farm. There my cousin Mike, some two years older than I, met us. Mom returned to the house and the younger children, and Mike walked me the half mile up East Maine Road to Barnum Hill School. This one room schoolhouse had seen the education of my father and his brother and my grandfather and his brothers. Now I was the third generation, and Mike and I were the last of the family to attend.

Over time, memories become incomplete or altered but this is what I remember. I had not been introduced to the teacher or my classmates before this day. Having led a sheltered life, I felt intimidated by all those new people. There seemed to be such a crowd, but I estimate the whole school consisted of fewer than twenty children.

Small for my age, I sat in a front seat, the second row from the north windows. These were the old fashioned desks you see in pictures, the kind that were bolted to the floor. My “desk” was actually part of two units. Underneath the writing surface was a shelf-like compartment for books , and in front was a seat where another student could sit if an additional desk were added to the row. Those front seats generally remained folded up and not used, except on occasion to hold books or papers. My seat was attached to the front part of the desk behind me.  To my left were three more rows. As you looked in that direction and towards the rear wall, the desks got larger, for the older children.

I was five and a half and this was my first school experience. The city schools offered Kindergarten to familiarize young children to the disciplines of formal education, but Barnum Hill started at first grade. As a concession, the first and second graders attended only until lunch time. Mrs. Cobley, our teacher, was able to give the older children more individualized instruction in the afternoons when her attention was less divided.

My mother had taught me to read and write my name, but in those days you did not learn to read until you were in first grade. Mrs. Cobley gave us a list of rules and wrote them on the blackboard. To avoid constant disruptions, we were to make silent requests by holding up a certain number of fingers. Mrs. Cobley could then grant permission for a student to sharpen his pencil, go the bathroom, etc. with a nod. The list seemed long and complicated. Since I could not read the rules, when I had to use the bathroom, I was in a quandary. I took a chance and held up one finger. Thank goodness, it was the correct signal and I was allowed to go.

We had electricity at Barnum Hill but no running water. Behind the school were two outhouses. The girls’ had three holes in the seat and the boys’ had two. That was in the days before potty parity, but it was an acknowledgement that girls usually needed more time to do their business than did boys. I don’t remember whether we had any way to wash our hands, but we did have a water cooler and paper cups in the classroom, and an oil furnace stood in the back of the room.

The school technically had more than one room. You entered through a small chamber where coats were hung in cold weather. Opening from this were two closet size spaces where an older student occasionally worked with a small handful of us younger children on reading.

That half day seemed very long to me. It was broken up by recess when we could eat snacks we brought and spend a few minutes playing outdoors. The school yard was a long triangle, boarded on one side by the road and the other two sides by farmland. The right size for a baseball diamond, the older children had time for a short inning during recess. Along the fences, chokecherry trees and other wild things had grown up into a hedge.

A first grade girl named Esther sat next to me in the first row. A few of the other children I remember were Marcene Ritch and her older sister Karen. They lived not far from me, on Lindberg Street. Granddad had sold a row of building lots and named the road after the great hero, Charles Lindbergh  Another first grader was Larry who had a brother in the second grade, but I do not recall his name. They lived up Reynolds Road, at the top of the hill. Then there was Johnny McNish who lived next door to the school. The first and second grades were largest classes, then class size dwindled down to only two students in the sixth grade, a boy and a girl. They looked so big and mature to me.

I do not remember any child being driven to school. In those days the country road had little traffic and parents had less to worry about. Also, children then had more autonomy than they are given now. After the long morning, we were excused to go home. Those of us who lived down hill from the school walked together until our ways parted. The Ritch girls walked with me as far as Lindberg Street, and I was almost home, ready for lunch and a well earned nap

Today, few of the familiar places remain. My grandparents’ farm is now a school bus facility. Granddad’s house burned down a number of years ago. The old folks have passed on and my cousins live far away. I Google “Barnum Hill School (historical)” and find a website that shows its location, now overgrown with trees. Maybe it’s time to revive some memories.

http://www.placekeeper.com/New_York/Barnum_Hill_School-2492967.html

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When I was a small child, one room school houses were still in existence in some rural areas. One by one they were being closed as citizens succumbed to the progressive wisdom that children would be better educated in the large consolidated schools. I was fortunate enough to attend a little schoolhouse in the first grade. This was the same school where my father and grandfather had been educated in their days, but that’s another story. Unfortunately, by the end of that year, our school district had voted to close the school and bus the students to the education factories in town.

In our area, the county did not provide school buses. Each school district would contract with a bus company. Ours was a one-man operation owned by a fellow named John Sokol. Here was a character if ever there was one. He seemed to enjoy his job and most of his kids, and the students, for the most part, liked him.

On my first day of second grade, I stood dutifully at the foot of our sidewalk as the bus jiggled down the road toward my house. But I was small for my age, and along the road was a hedge of barberry bushes. I was already nervous about the new school and it did not help that, instead of stopping for me, the bus just kept on going! I heard the children on the bus yelling, and the bus screeched to a stop and backed up. Mr. Sokol said something about my being smaller than a bush and from that day on, he called me “Bush.”

I don’t remember any discipline problems on the bus. Even though Mr. Sokol could be as rowdy as the roughest boy, the kids behaved for him. I remember him laughing more than any thing else, but he was certainly no angel. Usually, if a child was not at the bus stop but could be seen running down the driveway, or if a parent came out and said Johnny was putting on his coat, he would wait for him. Mr. Sokol had some favorites among the children but there was one family he clearly did not like and I never knew why. The oldest boy was no longer in school but Chester must have been in high school at the time. Mr. Sokol would make unkind remarks about Chester, in and out of the boy’s hearing, and the older children would jeer Chester. The boy appeared to be clean, did not smell bad, and to my knowledge he was from a respectable family, but there may have been some past quarrel I was unaware of. If Mr. Sokol could leave Chester behind, he would. One morning the older brother came out and asked Mr. Sokol to wait for a few minutes. He did, but the second Chester came out the front door, Mr. Sokol drove away, laughing.

We made up a song about Mr. Sokol, to the tune of “The Old Gray Mare”:

                    Old John Sokol jumped in the Delaware,
                    Pulled off his underwear,
                    Smashed all the silverware.
                    Old John Sokol jumped in the Delaware
                    Many long years ago.

When we sang that song, he would laugh and laugh. Once he resorted to a serious voice and said there was some truth to it. He used to have a campsite on the Delaware River with an old school bus for a cabin, and he said he had jumped in the Delaware many times.

At the end of the school year, it was traditional for the bus companies to host a “bus picnic” for the students and their families at a local park. The usual fare was hot dogs and ice cream. I remember seeing a supply of Dixie cups packed in a cardboard box covered by a heavy gray army blanket. I wondered why they would cover the ice cream with a blanket on a warm day. The explanation that the blanket would keep it cold just didn’t make sense to my seven year old mind. Blankets keep you warm, right?

All good things come to an end. I’m not sure whether his treatment of Chester had anything to do with it, or what the reason was, but after a few years our school district stopped contracting with Mr. Sokol and went with the larger company that served much of the area. The buses were newer and probably better maintained, and our new driver was nice enough, but it just wasn’t the same. He was a quiet man who lacked Mr. Sokol’s sense of humor.

Eventually my family moved away. The last news I had of Mr. Sokol was a newspaper clipping my grandmother sent me. It showed an old school bus, our old bus, rusting in a field. In the caption under the picture some upstanding citizen was bemoaning the fact that the county was full of such “eyesores” and they should be removed.

I thought it was sad, not that the old bus was rusting in a field, but that someone would call it an eyesore. I thought about how beauty can be more than a well manicured roadside, and how memory, laughter, and tradition, while sometimes untidy, have an important place in our hearts.

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