It started one morning while I was waking up slowly, groggily. Ruminations about my blog rumbled around in my brain, (i.e. no writing recently, even though the left sidebar claims there’s “writing, picture-making, ruminating” going on here). Ruminating, mostly. Murmurs of R— ruminating, writing, ruminating, writing— kept rippling along my stream of (semi-) consciousness, until this sloshed in:
“Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic,
taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick.”
Well, there’s nothing worse than having old ditties rolling around endlessly in your head while you’re not quite awake. I got up, annoyed I couldn’t remember where this rhyme came from. Coffee on, and
Wikipedia to the rescue! Of course — the song School Days.
Hmmm, it was from 1907, well before my time, yet this rhyme segment was still often quoted/sung in our ‘60s rural culture!
Wikipedia even gives a cylinder recording of the song, Edison Gold Moulded, 1907. Related articles about “the three Rs” reveal where that expression actually came from. But I won’t spoil it for you— check it out later.
The song cylinder churning like a time machine suddenly spun me back to the well-seasoned yellow-brick one-room schoolhouse I attended from grade four to grade seven, just before they closed all these country schools more than half a century ago.
My parents had bought a small farm, and took us city kids into a new world full of big sky, clover fields to run across, cedar woods, river flats, a shallow river to stick your feet in on a hot day, a huge garden to help plant, water, weed, harvest, and a little country school to attend after a two-mile walk.
The first day of school! Filing in behind new friends up several cement steps onto a bare porch and through the single front door, I found myself in a horizontal hallway with two doors to the classroom. In the middle of this hallway, a rope dangled down from a hole in the ceiling. Soon, I too got a turn to pull hard on that rope to ring the heavy bell mounted in the belfry, announcing the start of school, and later, the end of recess.
The olden-days classroom soon became familiar. Its wooden desks and fold-up seats were connected by sturdy, decorative wrought iron supports screwed into the dark hardwood floor, in eight rows, similar to these pictured:
Each row usually accommodated one grade, depending on the demographic of the local country kids in a given year. Over the years, you progressed from grade one in the far left row to grade eight on the far right, before you left to attend high school or work on a farm.
On warm sunny days, the three tall, round-arched windows on each side wall could be opened, and the sweet fragrance of fresh hay and clover wafted in. Birds chirped outside, bees buzzed, and sometimes an old tractor rumbled down the road— pleasant distractions from reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. The soft but urgent scratching of chalk on the large blackboards lining the front wall quickly brought you back to the task at hand.
There was a piano, a bookcase with well-worn books, and a large empty space at the back where a coal stove used to be, before modern oil heating was installed. Local parents were just finishing a small addition at the back of the school, accommodating coat hooks and two little rooms with modern plumbing! The old version of “plumbing” was removed from the ends of the front hallway, and that space aired out and turned into cupboards for school supplies.
What about the “tune of the hick’ry stick”? Thankfully, there were no hick’ry sticks anymore. However, the possibility of “getting the strap” squelched most temptations to misbehave or whisper in class. You got around the talking by silently, secretly, passing little scrawled notes to one another… Oh, if only we had been able to text back then!
After my grade seven, the school was closed, and the building sold as a residence. The local newspaper featured a picture of the bell on the ground, a few of us kids beside it. It had never looked that big!
Hmm, I see I’m practising the three Rs of the ‘60s (er, this time I mean age, not the decade!). People are on holidays, not thinking about school, but I’m just ruminating, reminiscing, and finally ‘riting…
Does this bring back memories for anyone else out there? Please share them in the comments!
Enjoy the Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_Days_(1907_song)