Chapter 18 – Teaching Experiences, 1936-1945

Bug Ridge School-Teaching Three Generations: I got the Bug Ridge School the fall of 1936 and had a very nice time. Brady and I used a little politics to get it. One of the board members ran for assessor and offered me the deputy job if I wanted it. He said I had been treated dirty. Brady asked the board member how he would like for him to work against him. He said “No, no.” Then Brady told him of the offer and that I would accept it if I was to get no school. He said I would get a school, and I did.

It was during the winter of 1936 that Bond [Ashby’s oldest son] stayed with us for a month and went to school to me. This meant that three generations went to school to me [Jennie, Ashby, and Bond]. I had a number of cases where a father and child and in one case where both parents and children went to me, but this was the only case where the mother, son, and grandson went to me. I also taught Johnnie [Elmo’s son] to read. Very few teachers can say that they have taught three generations, but fifty years is a long time to teach. I’ll bet I don’t teach another generation.

This was a successful school although they had had lots of trouble for two years. I had no trouble of any amount. It was a large school. I had a large class in the eighth grade, and they all got diplomas. They were Beulah Combs, Edgar Gillespie, Juanita Gillespie, Harry Dillon, and some others I have forgotten.

Edgar had been having a lot of trouble, but I found him all right except a little lazy. When he got his report card, he came to me and wanted to know why he didn’t get a better report. I tried to dodge for a little. Then I looked at him and said, “If you will go to work, study some, and try to learn, I’ll give you a better grade.” He looked at me rather sour for a minute and then smiled and said, “I’ll do it, Mr. Randolph. I’ll answer every question you ask me.” From that time he studied well. When I gave him his next report card, he looked at it and grinned. I asked him how he liked it, and he said, “That’s better.” I encouraged him all I could, and he did fine. I do like to help a pupil who tries.

1937-38Substitute Teaching and Lower Stone Creek School: The board gave the Bug Ridge School to Zana Hartley and gave me no school. The superintendent, Virgil Harris, got mad at Brady and so had it in for me. He tried to keep me from getting a school ever after, but only kept me out of a school one whole year.

The last of November I got a call to teach for a week at Baker’s Run. The teacher, a young man, went to Chicago with the 4-H club. Before I left, several of the pupils told me they intended to have me teach their school next winter.

On Friday after I got back I got a letter from Harris saying I had been given the Lower Stony Creek School to teach half time. If I would teach it, I should to be at his office Thursday and get my papers. I went right down and told them I sure would teach it.

Monday morning I headed for school. The snow was about 6 inches deep and cold as blazes. As I did not have to teach but half a day, I aimed to get there by noon. When I got there, cold and tired, I found nobody there and no fire. There was a family moving into the house right by the school house. They built a fire, and one of the children went and got four more children. So I had 7 the first day; the next day I had 11. I had over 10 on an average the first month. The average attendance for the whole term was 99 percent. Harris (the superintendent) tried to keep me from teaching full time, but the board gave me full time after the first month.

I failed to find any place to board. One place I had the children ask their parents for board, and the woman sent back word that there were 11 of them and they had four beds. I told the children I might be back and I might not. When I got to the mouth of Wolf, which was three miles from school, I was tired and it was getting dark. So I headed for Brady’s. When I got there, he wanted to know what I was doing there. I told him I was looking for a place to get out of the weather. He told me to stay there that week, and they would try to find me a place to stay after that. Alma got a camp for me to bach in about two miles from school. This made it very nice. Brady would take me part way to school of a Monday morning and bring me part way home of a Friday evening. For this I paid the rest ($150) back on the farm.

I had a very nice time as there were only 11 scholars and five grades. We had a Parent Teachers Association meeting, which was attended by several out of the district and was very good. Before school was out, they got up a petition for me to teach the next year, which was signed by everyone in the district and two or three outside who said they would send if I got the school. This would make 27 scholars to attend.

No School, 1938-39-Ashby’s Illness: When the board met, Frank Hosey (the member from Holley) told the board that he had promised the Baker’s Run School that he would send me there. However, it was a long way and they all wanted me at Stony Creek; so he would favor my going there. This was agreed to; then when all teachers were placed, Harris said they would not have any school at Stony Creek. Hosey knew this was a plan to keep me from teaching, so he asked the other members if I should have the school if it was taught. They all agreed. Brady was nominated for the board by a good majority at the primary (I worked for him at Wolf and got all the Democratic votes but nine, about 95%). At the next meeting Harris proposed another man for the school. Three of the members backed down, and I got no school.

This did not prove to be quite as bad as it seemed, for Ash took sick the last of August and sent for Mamma. Three days later Brady called me at 11 at night and told me to be ready in half an hour to go to Ash’s. Brady, Mary, and I went. Brady drove like John! When we got there, I didn’t believe he would live 24 hours. The next morning we took him to the hospital. They found he had double pneumonia, blood poison in the blood tubes, and some other troubles. Mamma stayed with the children till March, and Ruth stayed at the hospital with Ash. So you see there would have been no one to have looked after things at home if I had taught that winter. After losing one leg, Ash has been able to teach for the last ten years.

I was sure glad to see Mamma when she got home in March. I didn’t have so much to do, but it was lonely to be by myself for seven months. It was fine to have her back.

Cleveland School, 1939-40: One of the board members told me in the spring of 1939 that he intended for me to have the Cleveland School. Ed Davis got up a petition for me (I knew nothing about it), and every one in the district signed it. When Ed took the petition, they asked him if the teacher they had wasn’t all right. He said he was not complaining about their teacher but that they wanted me. Harris replied, “You had just as well understand that you won’t get him. Ed looked at Harris and said, “We will too, and you can’t help it.” I got the school, and Harris couldn’t help it,though he tried.

Stories About Mountain People

I think it will be well to tell two or three stories so everyone will get a better idea of these mountain people. These stories I take from Stories of the Elk (a number of stories written by Bill Byrne, who once had been prosecuting attorney of Braxton).

Victim of a Scam: Bill Byrne and Jake Fisher and several others (among whom was Squirley Bill Carpenter, who was noted as a hunter and fisher and as a teller of tall tales) were going down to Clay Court House. As there was a circus in town, they had to visit it before they could go. There was a doctor there, a fine fellow who lived out in the country; a man came to him and told him they made the best gate in the world and they wanted someone to handle it in Braxton. He said he had been told that the doctor was just the man they wanted and that the doctor would not have to do any selling. They would ship the gates to him; people would come and get them and pay him; and he would keep half and send them the other half. But to show his good faith, he must make a deposit of $25, which he did.

A little later he got worried and tried to find the man, but he couldn’t. Then he yelled for Byrne and wanted him to arrest the man. Byrne wanted to know where the man was and who he was, but the doctor didn’t know. So Byrne told him he couldn’t do anything about it. The doctor just raved, things were in a fine shape when an honest man could be cheated and nothing be done about it. A crowd had gathered and a boy called out, “Doctor, it ain’t a lawyer you need; it’s a guardeen.” The doctor looked at the boy a moment and then said, “Bub, I expect you are right.” That settled the whole thing.

A Big Fish Tale: They went down the river in a boat, and on the way Byrne gigged a very large Jack Pike. It began to rain as they came to an old mill, so they ran under it to get out of the rain. They began to brag on the pike. Squirley said, “I saw a lot bigger one. One day I was coming down the river just as we did today, and a rain came up just as it did today. I ran under here as we did today, and I looked down and there was a pike in the spillway. It was so long it couldn’t turn around. I ran and got my gig and gigged it. It was six feet long; I’ll swear to it on a stack of Bibles this high,” and he raised up on his toes and lifted up his arms and tipped into the spillway. The men all jumped down to help him out, but his son Squack never made a move to help. When the men got him out, nearly drowned, Squack looked at him and said, “Dad, if that fish had been one inch longer, you would have drowned in spite of Hell.”

Monk Dillon: Monk Dillon owned 200 acres on Bug Ridge, of which our farm was a part. He had a brother about 70 years old who stayed in Sutton during the summer and tended gardens and worked in livery barns or anything an old man could do. Then he would go up on Bug Ridge to his brother Monk’s, who always had corn bread, hominy, and sow belly (his neighbors said the meat didn’t all come from his own hogs). It seemed Monk rode his brother pretty hard. One winter it seemed he rode him harder than usual, but he couldn’t drive him from his corn pone and sow belly.

The next spring the old man saw Monk on the street talking to two men, so he went over to see if he could get even for the way he had been treated. Just as he got there, he heard Monk say, “I’ll leave it to you men, if being an honorable man I could do that.” This was the brother’s chance, and he said, “Honorable man, hell! Didn’t you shoot Mint Squire’s big gat sow?” The answer was, “What if I did? Didn’t you hep cad her in?”

Now Squire had lost a big sow (all hogs ran out in the woods), and he was going to have Monk indicted for stealing his hog. Monk paid for it to save himself from the law.

Monk had 10 or 12 children. The girls would run and hide when anyone came, even when they were grown. Monk raised lots of wheat. At threshing time the workers had to go inside the house and up some steps to put the wheat in a box in the loft. As a neighbor went in with a load of wheat, one of the girls took up the stairs; of course, the man followed her. Now the upper floor was laid with loose boards. As she ran across the floor, she stepped on a board that didn’t reach the joist. It tipped up; she went down right into the flour barrel. The flour rose right up and settled all over her.

The man was not immoral, but unmoral. A preacher told me that Monk said, when he was 80 years old, that he had never heard a sermon preached. So the preacher held meeting where Monk was and preached so he could say he had heard one sermon. It hardly seems possible anyone could be so ignorant in the last forty years.

Elmo and Madeline Married in 1937

In 1937 Elmo and Madeline were married and spent their honeymoon in a 4-H camp in New York. Madeline came down and stayed a while with us that fall. One Sabbath we went up to see Ozenia Bee and her sister Maggie. This was a very nice trip. We also went to the Homecoming at Salem.

My Final Years of Teaching

Back at Poplar Ridge, 1939-41: The winter of 1939-40 I taught on Poplar Ridge. This was quite a different school from what it was when I taught there in the 1920s. Then I had 59; this time I had 26. When I first taught there, they knew nothing about real study, and most of them would not talk and had no interest in going to high school. Now they were nearly all planning to go to high school; in fact, nearly half of them did go to high school. I feel that I had much to do with this happy condition. But there are still too many who will pick up things which belong to someone else. Still, I think many have changed about that.

Teachers Get Tenure: This winter the legislature passed the Tenure of Office Bill. Teachers no longer had to be appointed every year. This meant I had a school for some years to come, but I could retire at 65 (I was 67 then) and receive a pension. Retirement was optional with us until 1945, when a new law passed that a teacher must retire at 65 unless the State Board of Education agreed to his continuing.

Second Year at Poplar Ridge: The second winter I had trouble to get a place to stay. I tried to get a house of Dave Hosey. But his boy (Skip) would not move out till the last of October. So I boarded at Dave’s till the first of December. The boy did not move out, and Dave charged too much. Ed Davis was fixing a small building for me to live in till Skip moved out (I had arranged with Ed to move over there when Skip moved out). Dave found out about it and told me Ed could keep me till he got the house fixed. This proved very satisfactory, for the house was large enough and very comfortable. Ed’s were all very nice to me. In fact, it was one of the best winters that I boarded away from home. Dave was mad at me for four or five years, but one day I met him in Sutton and he came reaching out his hand to shake hands and was as friendly as ever. I was glad of this; Dave and I had been close friends, and I just don’t like to have folks mad at me.

Brady told me in the early fall that one of the board members said he intended to see I got the Bug Ridge School. I told him I didn’t want it, for I was sure it would not be pleasant. In February Brady told me again that the same member said he intended to see I got the school. By this time I had got tired of getting up by 6 a.m. and walking six miles through a foot of snow of a Monday to school and having Mamma stay by herself and do all the feeding five days a week.

This was my last winter at Poplar Ridge. These last two years, there were six eighth grade diplomas; in the six years I was there, there were 14 diplomas received. When you consider that in the 60 years before I went to Poplar Ridge there had been no diplomas and then in 6 years there were 24, I feel pretty good. The fact is that the school had been doing so poorly and the house was such a disgrace that the parents and children (though they did not know it) were ready for someone to come and teach a real school; I arrived at the opportune time. When I went up there to get votes for Brady, some of them said to me, “Of course we will vote for Brady for the work you did for our children.” All things work together for good, etc.

Mamma went to Alfred and stayed at Elmo’s for two months when Dan was born in July, 1941. I did very little while she was gone, for my ankles were hurting me badly and she told me to do nothing but the chores. The rest seemed to help me lots.

Bug Ridge School, 1941-45: In 1941 I had a large school. I had a good-sized eighth grade class to graduate this year. Among these were Thelma Combs, Gay Ellison, and a Stewart girl. There may have been others, but I don’t remember them. The Stewart girl started to school her first year at Upper Wolf and years later got her diploma at Bug Ridge. We had a fine school this winter with very little trouble.

At Christmas time we had a program. It was not extra good as we could not get the children to learn their parts well. I have always thought a good program was very valuable. In some schools I think it is of untold value. I think our programs at Poplar Ridge were of more value than several months of school. This was because the children were so timid and not willing to talk. They sure got over it before I left.

It was this winter that we got into World War II. They asked the teachers to get help and do the rationing. I got three women (Mamma and two others) to help, and we put in two days. Later we had to do a second job. The second year they asked for milkweed balls and scrap iron. We did fairly well with the weed, but we got a very fine lot of iron. In the fall of 1942 the government asked all schools to collect as much scrap iron as possible. The superintendent told all teachers to spend three days with their scholars and get all the scrap they could find. We got several tons-in fact, we were among the best in the county. We took an interest in everything the government asked us to do.

Each of the four years I taught at Bug Ridge, I had a class to graduate. The first year there were three, all girls – a Combs girl, a Stewart girl, and an Ellison girl. The third year Zeno Watts graduated. The last year I had two – Iolene Combs and the Ellison boy. Bob Combs took Iolene and me down [to the graduation ceremony]. I had not intended to go, but he asked me to go as a favor; of course, I went.

Two or three of my “friends” got sore and tried to get up a petition to get me out. When they talked to some of the others, they said I could teach their children and they were satisfied. This put a stop to the racket.

I told the superintendent that I was willing to teach to the end of the war as teachers were so scarce; he said they would like for me to do that. I told the children in the fall of 1944 if the war closed that year that I would resign at the end of the term. I decided early in 1945 that the war would end that year. Then I told Olta I was resigning so she had best look after her interests, and I wrote a letter resigning and told the children I had resigned. Olta went right down and got the school for the next winter. I was very glad of that. Although there were two or three that got out with me, I think everyone was my friend when I left. At least they have all been very friendly when we went back.

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