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Sage District Farm: Chapter 9

Chapter 9 – The School

SAGE DISTRICT NO. 6.  The neat, white, one room school sat on the crest of the hill between Sawmill Road and Upton Road. In addition to the classroom there was a boy’s cloak room with a toilet and a girl’s cloak room and toilet.

There was no running water, but a wash stand with a basin and a pail of water provided the means to wash your hands. The toilets were the conventional farm type except they had a cement pit for cleaning out the waste material instead of moving the building. The clean out job was hired out to a local farmer or student willing to earn a dollar or two.

Strategically located was a wood burning heater. If the teacher was female, arrangements were made during cold weather to have one of the older boys come to school a little early to start the fire and get the school warmed up. Some years we had a man for a teacher and he would perform this task. The well and pump were located by the front steps on a concrete pad. I had a rather traumatic experience with that concrete pad at a later date.

Off to one side of the yard was the recess area consisting of a swing set with four swings and a trapeze bar. The yard was large and maintained for the usual games of tag, foot races and other physical activities.

Multiple windows provided adequate light as there was no electricity and I don’t recall seeing any lamps there during the seven years I attended the school. I do not remember there ever being an evening social event.

The desks were neatly arranged in rows, with the black cast iron frames and seats secured to the floor with screws. The tops of the desks did not lift up but had a shelf beneath for storage of books and papers. The top surfaces were invariably ink stained and marked up with more than a few initials carved into the wood.

The teacher’s desk was of modest size and was of course the focus of all attention. There was in addition, a work table for projects and a world globe on an iron stand for geography lessons. A rack of pull down maps gave an enlarged view of various countries and continents.

The library consisted of a few well worn primers, some classic chapter books, a large dictionary and various arithmetic and math books. Other books that were needed could be obtained from Sandy Creek central school by the teacher. Ball point pens did not exist so each desk was furnished with an ink well. We were considered modern so we didn’t use turkey quills, but steel nibs on the scratchy pens. Penmanship was very important and many hours were spent doing the “Palmer Method” practice. Somehow I fell through the cracks on that deal.

The official school day started with a “good morning students” from the teacher. The reply was a resounding “good morning Mr. or Mrs. Blank” in unison.

“We will start as usual with the younger classes and their reading lessons.”

Each student would stand and read from the assigned pages or report on an event sometimes the teacher would ask for a definition of a word or a personal reaction to a bit of dialogue. The rest of the pupils were expected to behave in a much disciplined manner and concentrate on their own lessons.

Of course there were whispers and giggles as the enthusiasms of young people exceeded the rules. A sharp rap on the desk with a long wooden pointer and a stern look at the offender usually restored order allowing the classes to continue

I was given a newspaper clipping from the Oswego Palladium Times dated, Wednesday, June 30, 1937.  It reads as follows:

Mrs. Tressie Stevens who has completed a successful year teaching in the Sage District, Town of Sandy Creek, gives a partial report on the work done by her pupils as follows. Roderick Brown. Second grade had a standing of 97 per cent for the year; Dugal Brown, third grade, also had an average of 97 per cent for the year; Richard Brown, seventh and eighth grades had a standing for the year of 95 per cent John Brown, eighth grade, yearly standing was 95 per cent. Richard and John Brown each passed regents examination subjects that entitled them to preliminary certificates and will begin school at Pulaski academy next September. Leo Butterworth will be the next teacher in the Sage District. Mrs. Stevens will teach in the Powerhouse District.

Mrs. Stevens was definitely one of my favorite teachers. I also remember a very nice lady named Alice Shoecraft and a Ms. Hotaling. Mr. Leo Butterworth was the only male teacher we had and he was there when we moved back to Pulaski.

There were two periods of time that I recall when the Brown family was the only attendees at the school. Other than the Quackenbush family, the only other family that sent a student was from down on Hilton Road. I don’t recall seeing much of Lyle Hilton and I think he left school when he became 16.

The Quackenbush family moved onto a property over the hill towards Pulaski. They did not run a dairy or do much farming, preferring to raise mink for a livelihood. Bernard and Ruby were older and did not attend our school. Wesley or Bill as he was called, his sisters Leola and Cecelia along with little brother Henry were the ones that I knew. I believe some members of the family reside in the Pulaski/Altmar area.

As kids will do, we often walked over the hill to join the Quackenbush kids in a rousting game of “Kick the Can.”  There was a small swampy area that in the winter made a nice home base for the “can” as it was frozen level and quite slippery.

On this one particular day we were having a real good time. Running, shouting, falling down, just being kids.  For some reason or other I chose to run in front of the can just as someone gave it a powerful kick. The distance, velocity and timing were just right for the edge of the can to strike me just under my left eye on the cheek bone. I went down like a sack of potatoes. Total collapse, blood running down my face. Tears and snot nose as usual. I do not do brave, real well! The shocked silence was soon replaced with calls to the house for help from an adult. Mr. Quackenbush immediately came out to see what all the ruckus was.

Taking complete charge he sent Cecelia into the house for the tincture of iodine. Bill was sent to the chicken coop for a clean white feather and some clean cobwebs. By now I had stopped my bawling and was acting more like a tough (I can take it) boy.

Cecilia brought out the Iodine and a small quantity was dribbled into the open wound.

“That hurt?” he inquired. “Oh, YES” I hollered.

“That’s good, the old Indian says, If it doesn’t smart, it ain’t doin’ any good. Bill gimme that feather.”  He carefully stripped the webbing from the wide side and laid it upon the wound. Cecelia had also thought to bring a piece of clean cloth which was folded to make a pad. This was placed over the feather with the instructions to hold it in place. Because my blood clots very quickly it was not necessary to use the cobwebs to slow the bleeding.

One time when we were dehorning the young milking cows we had a bleeder and the fix was to grab a wad of cobwebs and cover the shortened horn with them. I think that was the standard practice at that time.

The purpose of the feather was to draw the edges of the wound together to lessen scarring. Mumbling my thanks to the gentleman I allowed as I thought I would go home and take it easy. He agreed that would be a wise thing to do. The game was pretty much over with by then so we all said “So long” and Dugal, Sally and I started for home.

Mom checked over my wound and determined that I would probably live through it without loosing an eye or half my face, so it would be ok.

As the school day progressed, the teacher would, after the allocated time with an age group or class, move on up to the next higher grade. The lessons got a little more involved; arithmetic reared its ugly head and demanded recitation of multiplication tables.

Quite a bit of the learning process at that time was having a good memory. Practice and recitation was the best route to good grades. Having been exposed to the one room system and then going to a centralized system where you stayed with your own class and changed classrooms several times a day.  I have ambivalent feelings as which system is best.

My own children have seen many changes in teaching methods with the “new math”, number lines and a general deterioration of standards. Unfortunately many of our students are emerging from school as functional illiterates. Many cannot figure out what their pay checks should be. Simple basic arithmetic is beyond their comprehension.

As I told all of my kids, ” The most important thing you can learn, is to read and understand what you are reading. If you can do this then you can LEARN ANYTHING.”

As mentioned in the newspaper article above Richard Brown, seventh AND eighth grades achieved 95 percent. Dick was given permission to take both grades in one school year so that he and his brother Jack could continue school and still be able to work the farm.

They did not go to Pulaski but rather Sandy Creek High School. There was something to do with tuition costs involved if you went to a school in a different township or school district.

I have to confess I do not recall if we carried our lunch or went home to lunch. I suspect that when there was good sledding we went home and made sure not to overshoot the driveway or we would be late getting back. If we carried our lunch it would have been bread and jam.

At one time the U.S. Department of Agriculture instituted a “hot lunch program.” Mr. Butterworth brought in a couple of sauce pans from his kitchen and us kids each brought in a spoon and a cup or mug. At lunch time the can opener was put into operation and three cans of red kidney beans (surplus foods) and a can of evaporated milk (also surplus) with an additional can of water were mixed together and heated on the stove.

The heater had an ornate crown that would rotate out of the way so the pan could be placed directly on the hot stove. This then, was the government’s idea of what a hot lunch should consist of. Mom generously contributed a loaf of bread occasionally. For some reason the delivery of the food was rather sporadic for a while, then stopped completely

By late afternoon the teaching day reached its pinnacle; Seventh and eighth grade. That was as high as one could go. From this point on it was up and out to high school. Something mysterious called “algebra” and another creature called “geometry” entered the vocabulary.

Speaking of vocabulary, my ears always perked up at this time of the day. I had been an avid reader of anything and everything since I was four or five and had an insatiable appetite for new words.

One of my most treasured Christmas gifts (they were few and far between) was a well worn copy of Hawthorn’s Wonder Book.  I literally read the print off those pages. What wonderful stories to stir the imagination of a young boy. From the mist shrouded isles of mythology to the printed page.

I wish I still had that book but it has long ago vanished to another world. The dime novels, usually westerns that Jack and Dick would bring home from high school were avidly read as were the newspapers brought home by DG.

History and geography were much more interesting at this level too. I was learning beyond myself and enjoying it immensely.  I was truly sorry when that school year ended as there would be no “upper classmen” in our school again. Mr. Leo Butterworth was a kind hearted soul and a good teacher as well as a good man. I formed a friendship with him that lasted for many years

A very special event occurred at this school. Unfortunately my memory fails me as to whom the teacher was other than she was a super nice lady (I’m almost convinced it was Mrs. Shoecraft).

Up until this time I had never heard of a movie show or theater. There was one in Pulaski but I had no idea what it was. This particular lady arranged to transport her classes to the theater in Pulaski to a special matinee showing of the original Tom Sawyer movie. To say I was astounded is ridiculous. I was transfixed as we followed the story line and became acquainted with all the characters that came from the mind of one of America’s greatest authors, Mark Twain.

Years later, I had the pleasure of attending a performance by Hal Holbrook acting as Mark Twain. It was beyond imagination. I literally time traveled back 100 years for a couple of hours. I don’t remember enjoying anything as much as I enjoyed the first movie and then I saw the man representing the living author. Two of my better moments!

The minor catastrophe that happened with the concrete pad around the well pump came about on a nice fall day. It was recess time and all the kids were out on the swing sets. All of a sudden I noticed the people, Browns and Quackenbushes alike slipping around the back of the school building.

Being very curious and not knowing what was happening was more than I could stand. Slipping out of my swing seat I sneakily headed around the FRONT of the school to find out what they were up to. Just passed the front door I realized it was a ruse and they were headed back to the swing set.

I spun on my heels and took one step and tripped.  Seems like I was always falling down and getting hurt. This time my two upper front teeth hit the concrete first. The cement was stronger and my two front teeth were now only half there. They were broken off just about half way to the gum line.

Again the usual tears; blubbering and snotty nose, but this time for a real reason besides a fat lip and bloody mouth. Once the bleeding stopped there was no pain or discomfort other than the fat lips. Apparently the nerves were not exposed It was a strange sensation to run my tongue across the teeth and feel the jagged broken edge.

My big concern was the problem I would have next summer eating sweet corn with those broken teeth. I ended up cutting it off the cob with a sharp knife.

The following year DG took me to Pulaski to see Dr. Abbott DDS. After much discussion and dickering it was agreed that the teeth would be pulled and replaced with a metallic bridge with the replacement teeth attached to the bridge. This would be a permanent repair and not be removable.

I was scared half to death. As I said before, “I don’t do brave very well at all.”

Dr. Abbott looked at DG and asked if he wanted me to have a little help, meaning Novocain. DG nodded indicating yes and I was quickly injected with the deadening substance. The problem was he didn’t wait for it to take effect but proceeded to yank out the two broken stubs, again the tears and snotty nose.

I recovered rather quickly because now the Novocain had started working. The sockets bled very little and after making arrangements for an appointment to take impressions.

We left the dentist’s office. On the way to the truck we had to pass Foster’s ice cream shop/pool hall.

“Think you could handle some ice cream?” asked DG.

I nodded and managed to grin showing the gaping crater that was my mouth. In spite of the numbness of my lips the vanilla ice cream tasted pretty damn good. It was the second time in my life that I had tasted it.

Two weeks later we went back to get the impressions done. Not a very pleasant experience but thankfully, no pain. Two weeks after that we went back to get my dentures installed.

Dr. Abbott held in his fingers a pair of pearly white teeth that certainly resembled my old ones. What were different were the two large, shiny gold teeth, one on either side of the white ones. This then was my “bridge”. Solid gold.  THIS WAS WAY SUPER COOL even before the term was invented. REAL GOLD TEETH. Talk about bling.

What he had to do next was carefully grind away a little space between my adjacent teeth to allow the gold caps to slide over them and be cemented in place.

“Take it easy on biting too hard for a day or two and you will be all set and ready for sweet corn in time for summer”. DG paid him $35.00 and we left.

Another event that comes to mind was the warm spring day that Dugal, Bill Q. and I went over the back fence into the woodlot during lunch recess.  We wandered around and came across a patch of wild leeks.

Now if you know what wild leeks are, you know they literally STINK. We ate leeks, we crushed leeks into our clothes, we rubbed leeks in our hair, and we went back to school, went in and took our seats for about 35 seconds. That is about how long it took for our aroma to permeate the entire space. One word was heard from Mr. Butterworth. “OUT” as he pointed towards the door.

Dugal and I went home where we received much the same welcome from mom. Handing us a bar of yellow laundry soap she suggested the creek might not be too cold for a bath and if it was that was too bad. We were not to come home smelling as we did then.

It is with particular fondness that I recall those carefree years at the Sage District School.

The years that followed were certainly different, not always to the better but I guess that is what they call, “growing up.”

Next: Chapter 10 – Erin’s Story, Soaped

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