The teenage years are perhaps the happiest and most revealing years of one:’s life. All the early home training and the lessons that have been absorbed from life, whether pleasant or sad, have had their effect. The results of the unsolicited experiences may sometimes far outweigh those planned or expected adventures.
I attended Salem College Academy for all my high school work. There were three teachers who greatly influenced me during my freshman year.
Miss “Elsie” Bond was the favorite teacher of Latin for upwards of forty years. We loved her for her great kindness and consideration to all students. You knew that, if you made an effort to recite, she would help you and would never- embarrass you when you made an error. She must have been about sixty years old when she taught me; but there was no thought about her age, nor did she ever seem to think of us as immature upstarts. There was always the feeling in her classroom of complete ease and relaxed understanding. I will have to admit that we sometimes took advantage of Miss Elsie’s kindness and didn’t study as much as we should. Even at those times, her attitude toward us did not change. With great patience, she still taught us and we went out of her room at the close of the class period with a slight feeling of remorse for our laxity.
I learned from her that patience, thoughtfulness for the feelings of others, and humility are not dependent upon conditions outside one-self; but are the direct results of an inner peace and quietness which the world cannot disturb. Did I learn any Latin? Well, of course! But judge for yourself:
love: amo, amare, amari, amatum
I am: sum
After more than fifty years, I can still recognize some Latin words!
Professor Orla Davis was a small, “wiry” man who seemed never to have had a discouraging thought or any ill-will against even those who gave him the most provocation. He taught the unromantic subject of algebra with such joy and enthusiasm that it was often an almost pleasant hour. I never liked math, nor was I a good student in it; yet I took one and a half years of algebra and one of geometry so as not to miss the homespun philosophy of this man who understood youth.
Professor Davis taught me, I realized much later, that there are times and circumstances which make the things of lesser importance become the PARAMOUNT things. He found math stimulating and exhilerating, but days would come when no problems were attempted on the blackboard because there were personal problems eating away at the vitals of one of his boys or girls. In that case, the “minor” thing became the “major” for the hour. and we learned about life.
There was a little farm about three miles out in the country where Professor Davis lived with his wife and two children. He kept some sheep and very frequently he used their tendency to follow the leader as an example to us. He would show us the necessity of leading in safe and fruitful paths when that was our function. All would be followers sometimes, and it was important to choose a wise and good leader. None of his admonition was given in a spirit of “preaching,” but always with that alive smile and the spirit of unity that goes with full understanding.
My English teacher opened up a whole new world to me. I remember with vividness many of the class periods, things that were said and my reaction to them. I remember how she taught, how she looked in a shadowy, vague way, the materials she chose to use, how she made us respond to her approaches–but I can’t remember her name! No matter, for many of God’s jewels remain nameless in this world, but not in the future one.
I learned that life is real, that feelings are much the same in every age and in every land, and that it is possible to share all the gamut of emotions through the printed page.
Two books had an unusual effect upon my life at this time, and they still influence me. First was Washington Irving’s SKETCH BOOK. I remember that I wept when my turn came to read aloud from “The Broken Heart.” It is the stirring story of a girl who 1oved the young Irish patriot who was tried. condemned, and executed on a charge of treason. He was so young, so brave, so generous, so everything, that we are apt to like in a young man. This is the picture given by the storyteller of this hero. The girl of the broken heart was pictured in such a personal way that I felt her anguish to the degree that I was forced by my faltering voice to sit down without finishing my portion of reading. If, then, his fate could awaken the sympathy even of his foes, what must have been the agony of her, whose whole soul was occupied by his image!” Not ever having had a broken heart myself, I suffered her pain with great joy and satisfaction.
Other stories and sketches were read and re-read with varying degrees of pleasure and painful. rapture. I recall the stories of “The Pride of the Village” and “The Spector Bridegroom” because their tragedies seemed to fill a need in my personality.
The other book which I “disremember” so well, but which motivated my life to a great degree, was a small gift book. I do not remember the name of either the book or the author. It was written by a missionary in Japan to express her love for her adopted land and people. It simply expressed love and beauty with so much warmth that I fell in love with the people of the world, regardless of color, language, or race. I yearned to know the people of all nations as friends. This book gave me my first real view of a great world full of people, very similar, and yet so different! People whom I hoped to know as friends. That desire has been partially fulfilled by the acquaintance I have had with people from every continent and many of the nations of the world. How their faces, voices, and personalities come back to me from over the years and miles! Their faces are black, yellow, red, brown, and white, but their fellowship and friendship are all as pure and real, constant and enduring as the mountains and oceans that separate us today.
My first experierices of “dating” came in the high school years. Certainly the most of our plans in that day could not be considered very “groovy” today. We never single dated. We usually went for an afternoon walk “down the tracks” to Lovers’ Leap, had a game of Rook at home, or went to a program at the auditorium, so there were always four of us and perhaps many more.
I had a special. girlfriend, Ruth Davis, and one of us never dated unless we both did. The boys made their plans together- also, even to the gifts they would give us. One Christmas they gave us pocketbooks another time we got gold pen and pencil sets. The day we graduated from high my boyfriend (I can’t remember his name, although we had dated for three years) asked me to go walking with him alone and I went . I was very sorry that I did, for- he asked me to marry him and that broke up our good foursome.
My dad never made much money in his teaching profession, and all the family tried to help out by doing whatever work could be found. Thus, I spent two summers working in the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, as a waitress. I cannot remember what my salary was, but we did receive pretty good tips, for the guests there were usually very wealthy. The hospital and hotel were under the direction of Seventh Day Adventist doctors who had very definite ideas about health foods. No meat was ever served there. but their meat substitutes looked appetizing and for a period tasted delicious. I recall that the first time I left the grounds to eat in a public cafeteria, I bought chicken pie, steak, and liver. I felt like crying when I had to leave some of each kind of meat on my plate.
I had two “growing-up” experiences in Battle Creek. The first was financial and the second was emotional or social. We were paid every two weeks and I bought my meal ticket, paid my room rent, kept a small amount of change and sent the rest home. One payday, I went to town with all my wealth in my pocketbook and I lost it! It had a card in it with the name and address of the family where I roomed. That was lucky, for the woman who picked up the pocketbook knew the family and contacted them about it. Thus, I got my possessions back. Lesson number one: you must protect your belongings with great care.
I had a very lovely girlfriend there, Le Moyne Stevens, and she arranged a date for me. We doubled and went out to the lake for a carnoe ride. It was a very nice evening until we went back to town and left Le Moyne and her friend at her place. Then the young man I was with drove to a park and expected payment for the evening of entertainment. I saw a man walking in the distance and I threatened to scream for help if he did not start the car and take me home immediately. He was very angry, but he feared the results if he didn’t do as I said. He called me a “dumb, foolish kid, ” and I surely was to have been caught in this situation. (He was a prominent young doctor in the hospital there.) Le Moyne quit her friend because he brought such a “sorry” date for her friend. Lesson two: you can’t always judge people by their looks, their reputations, or even their friends; watch out for yourself.
Athletics in those earlier years was mostly for exercise. Our girls’ basketball team never played more than a half dozen games; but oh that practice was fun! Our uniforms were something to behold: white middy blouse with a black tie, black, very full, bloomers. We bloused them just above the knee and then they hung well below the knee. We wore long white stockings with our white tennis shoe. All of this was topped by a wide black ribbon tied around the hair to keep it in place. I played guard with more pleasure than skill.
Orations, debates, essays, and readings had a very important place on our campus. We had two literary societies which each met each week to foster skills in these arts. During Commencement week each year, a contesit was held between the members of these two groups. The rivalry was very strong. As a high school junior, I won the reading contest against a college senior. She was very polished and sedate. I don’t remember anything about her number, except that she forgot once and had to be prompted, and that error on her part gave me the win. I had an elocution coach who prepared the reading for me and trained me to do it to perfection. I still remember it. An old West Virginia couple made their first trip by train to Chicago.
I won the right to represent my society, “Excelsior,” in the contest by giving the reading, “The Bear Story,” by James Whitcome Riley. 1 have used it, or at least variations of it, through all the years since that time. I guess most Lee College students have heard it during the years.
When I was a senior, I won the oration contest. My messsage had to do with the needs of the rural schools in West Virginia. It was a challenge to the youth to bring about better learning conditions for the country children. I remember one sentence which started, “If you can make a better mouse trap, the world will beat a path to your front door; if you can produce a better school, the present and future generations will praise you…” I cannot remember for sure, but I believe the boy I beat in this contest became a United States Senator from West Virginia, Jennings Randolph. I will have to admit that he has done far more with his public speaking than I have.
Play production was another very interesting and important part of our school life. I never missed an opportunity to be in a play. We never- went into elaborate plays, but they were not all comedy. I remember we did Ibsen’s “The Doll’s House,” even going to a nearby city for one performance. (We had one fellow in that cast who was about seven feet tall. He was a spectacle!)
Our- senior class produced two one-act plays. One was Chinese, the story of the “Blue Willow” dishes. It was a beautiful thing with authentic Chinese costumes and very careful training. I have pictures of the cast, but of course they are not in color. The other play had an Irish setting. I was an old woman who was hard of hearing. That caused all the trouble and hilarity of the situation. Weeks of practice had made the production as perfect as our inexperience would allow.
So ended, in 1922, four years of high school and the finality of dependence upon the family. I went to summer school and got a “Short Normal” and began teaching the next fall.
World War I had come and gone before I got out of high school. Near the close of the war, Brady had been drafted when I was a freshman. Troops were moved to the east coast by train.,and Salem was on the main line from west to east. We saw long troop trains almost every day for months. T’here was a “switch” where trains were forced to wait for the passing of other trains, and frequently a troop train would be on the siding for a few minutes. We always went to the tracks and talked to the boys as they waited. If we had anything baked, we took them refreshments. It seemed to be our patriotic duty to cheer them by our friendship and interest. Some of them had few friends and no family, and they would take our addresses and write to us for a while.