||Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton
Before School, Life Is Sweet
Grumpy, a.k.a. Mackenzie Boughey: Aug. 31, 2004
Thats the way it goes; ask a toddler a question, and you can expect a direct if brief answer. Thats granddaughter Grumpys response whenever the subject of school comes up, as it has a lot of late.
Grumpys parents, my daughter Heather Boughey and her husband Jon, are trying to pre-condition her for day care, which for a youngster going on three seems appropriate enough. But not to Grumpy, who knows a good deal when she has it.
Plant a seed, and it will grow; thats the thinking of the parents. Grumpy, it is assumed, will be so eager to go to school when the time comes, probably next year, that the change from a carefree, unstructured life to one a bit more regimented will be as simple as one, two, three.
But its not working out that way. Somehow or other, Grumpy instinctively realizes that once school starts whether nursery school, day care or kindergarten life will be different. Therell be schedules to meet, more formal discipline, less self-rule and rising early (she sleeps until 8 or 9am). Forever after, it will get increasingly complex in the succession of kindergarten, grade school, middle school, high school, college and then work, marriage, raising kids and who knows what.
Grumpy is an only child. She lacks older brothers and sisters to bring home tales of exciting school activities, meeting new friends, socializing and putting to advantage her exceptionally gregarious attitude. Shes no shrinking violet, but why go to school to meet friends when she does that in her daily rounds with her stay-at-home dad.
I Know How She Feels
Im not one to fault her. I have many reflections on switching from a life of fun and frolic to school. And like her, I had no older siblings to lessen my apprehension about the impending change. I was the oldest of five, but only sister Ruth was around when I heard my first school bell not, I might add, an electronic bell.
The honor of ringing the hand-held bell went to a student who had accomplished something in class, or perhaps erased the blackboards or carried in and stacked wood for the twin pot-bellied stoves in front of the classroom.
Cherry Valley School, you see, was a one-room facility; eight grades in a single room, with one teacher to ride herd on the whole shebang. Miss Griffin was kept mighty busy, finagling the curriculum of one grade to that of another, though it suited my fancy.
Sure, there was more than a disadvantage or two in the packing of perhaps 30 youngsters of grades one to eight in one classroom. But Im quite sure that others of my generation in multi-grade rooms will agree it had its advantages, particularly for those in lower grades. The teacher couldnt spend much time with each grade, not in a 9am to 3:30pm day, so those not in the particular grade to which the lessons were being taught could listen in and learn quite a lot about what was coming in the future.
First Grade, circa 1930
But at first, like any youngster headed to school for the first time, there was much apprehension on my part despite assurances from Aunt Caroline, who was a teacher of four grades in another one-room schoolhouse at Harmony, 15 miles away. Then, too, my aunt MiMi was a teacher of high school home economics. So it wasnt teachers or schools or such that prompted foreboding as Mother primed me for the first day. I wasnt much for socializing.
We lived in the country. Houses were far apart, parents were busy trying to make ends meet, the Great Depression was on. Walking to the home of someone of approximately the same age was out of the question. Mother could find no time (probably no energy, either) to walk her children to a neighbors home to play.
Everyone was busy; there was little time for socializing, which was referred to as gadding in the country back then. No one wanted to be accused of that; it suggested indolence. That was for people in the village where houses were closer together and chit-chat commenced at clotheslines, not infrequently moving indoors for coffee or lemonade.
I had seen that myself on occasion when I was allowed to accompany Mother into the village when occasionally she found time to visit old friends from her village days. It was fun playing with kids more worldly thanks to their proximity to others of their age. But after hearing their older siblings talk about getting a hickory stick across the legs for classroom or recess misbehavior, gruff truant officers who took one home where a spanking awaited and the pain of getting up early each morning, I had an inkling school might not be all that Mother made it out to be.
Moreover, I was young to be embarking on a scholastic regime. My birthday is December 15, and according to the rules back then, if your birthday was by the 31st of that month, you entered school at a good bit less than six. But I was old enough to appreciate that I had a good thing going.
I could stay in bed as late as I desired. Then my mornings could be spent playing with the cats, trucks, coloring or whatever. There was no need for an early morning washing. No baths; we had outdoor plumbing, and baths came only on Saturdays in the kitchen when the big tin washtub wasnt reserved for clothes, linens and such.
So the time came when Mother walked me the mile and a half to meet Miss Griffin at the schoolhouse door. Thereafter, I would be making the hike by myself. Mother had sister Ruth, a year and a half younger, to tend to, aside from all her other indoor and outdoor chores.
The boys went in one door, the girls another whenever the bell was rung. In back of the schoolhouse, on one side was a Chic Sales for boys; on the other side another for girls. Regardless of age, one had to raise one finger for a short visit, two for a more lengthy stay. Toilet paper in the two holers came from Sears & Roebuck catalogs. If a student was figured to be tarrying too long, there was the embarrassment of Miss Griffin pounding on the door, which of course prompted snickers back in the classroom.
Of course there was the occasion or two when Miss Griffin caught some of the older boy students peeking into the girls outhouse, which brought a whipping in front of the class plus another one when the note was brought home.
Here and Now
I only wish Grumpy were a bit older, old enough to understand if I were to tell her about those early experiences in first grade. Whatever her entry level, day care or kindergarten, she will have hot lunches, central heat and air conditioning, indoor outhouses and colleagues her own age. Yet, on the other hand, I selfishly think of me in semi-retirement, able to stop by her house to color, read or play at any time Im looking for fun. Thats more exciting than recess ever was.