Its a true story about a little red school house.
|The "Little Red School House" taken this past weekend.|
This red school house is over a hundred years old. It still sits in a valley near a winding, muddy river, snuggled between two large hills that were once covered with farm fields. The bell still hangs in the cupola, but students no longer play in the field waiting for the teacher to call them into class. While I've never been inside the school I knew someone who had, someone who had sat in the rows as a student and spent their childhood years learning what had to be learned growing up on a rural Vermont hillside.
My husband's grandmother grew up just a couple miles away from this school, up a steep hill. She was one of four children born to a dairy farming family that had resided on those hills for generations before her when northern Vermont was a vast and unruly territory.
Every school day Gram, as we affectionately called her, would walk down the hill to the school, which began about an hour after dawn so morning chores could be finished. Their mornings always began before the sun came up. "No such thing as sleeping in" she proclaimed to us.
There were always at least a dozen or so children at any given time inhabiting the school house when classes were in session... a dozen children, but only from three or four families. Mostly girls attended the school. Boys who were old enough to help around the farm did so, especially in the spring and fall. The only time older boys would attend class at all was in the dead of winter when there was nothing better to do. "Better to walk to school and socialize than spend the days frozen indoors." Gram advised.
Each morning one family would bring a portion of lunch. A pot of potatoes, some salted venison, or fresh apples in the fall, depending on what was in season and abundance. Every lunchtime, which she actually called dinner, was sort of a pot luck held by the students. Her and her sister would carry a big pot with a handle between them all the way from their farmhouse to the school in the morning while being ever so careful to not trip and stumble on the rocks and roots lining the path lest they lose their meal.
Heating the school was a whole different matter. Coal was not easy to come by for the mountain farmers. Everything was heated by wood. Sometimes farmers would spare a bit of cord wood for the schoolhouse. Other times the older boys were sent out with a hatchet to fetch some or they brought a few pieces with them from home.
The teacher was always a young woman not much older than the older girls, unmarried, who boarded with another nearby family. Every couple of years a new woman would take the former teacher's place, presumably because she was to be married and start a farmstead of her own. Despite the different women the routine was always the same. She came early in the morning, often before the sun completely rose over the ridge line, to stoke the fire and warm the room. "The school house always looked lived in and welcoming if you were the first student to arrive." according to Gram.
It wasn't uncommon to have knuckles wrapped for misbehaving or to be put in a corner while being made to recite material in a sort of embarrassing display. There was strict order in the school house, even observed by the older and mischievous boys, that began with a daily prayer and ended with a thank you to the young teacher. Despite all the strict order there was plenty of time for playing games and joking when dinner was served. "The best of all times was the fall when we could run through the field after our morning lessons and then eat apples with our dinner." in Gram's opinion.
At the end of the day each child packed up his or her books and began the trek back up the hill or along the river valley towards their farms. Whether it was in two feet of snow or fall leaves drifting in a warm Indian summer wind there was always a long walk ahead at the end of the day. Gram and her siblings had to walk uphill the entire way back to their farmhouse where evening chores awaited them before supper, reading, bedtime, and repeating it all again the next day.
"I'm glad that I was brought up like that." said Gram.