Schooling in Berea

My Father was teaching the Upper Otterslide school near Berea, in Ritchie County that year–1925. When he came home to vote in early November he and Mama decided I would go back with him and finish the school year under his teaching. I believe I began calling Papa, Dad, about this time–more in keeping with my age and the times. Mama was always “Mama” for me through her years.

It was a memorable year for me, living in a ramshackle house and going to school with Dad as my teacher. We cut our wood with a two-man crosscut saw to heat our house. Dad was very patient ‘ teaching me not to “ride” the saw. Our furniture was basic: a kitchen stove, a table, two chairs and a bed. Dad was not a great cook but we survived nicely. He baked what he called drop biscuits that were good hot but soggy in a cold school lunch. Once he bought dried apricots and mistakenly put salt instead of sugar in them. A culinary disaster. Mama mailed us cookies, and sometimes bread, every week.

The one-room schools with each grade taking a turn being taught, was a big adjustment for me. Morris Cox was the only other student in the sixth grade with me and we became very competitive, though good friends. Staying at school all day gave us opportunity to play games together. When we played baseball Dad pitched for both sides. Hide and seek was fun with tall broom sage grass all around to hide in. On the hill above the school house there were hickory saplings that could be climbed up and swung out of. I introduced the game of jack stones to the school. Dad expected me to excel academically and I tried not to disappoint him. It was a good year of learning for me.

The older boys in the school had night hunting dogs and would take Dad and me with them to hunt ‘possums. It was exciting to walk in the hills with kerosene lanterns and listen for the dogs to bay on the trail of a ‘possum. There were times when the dogs came upon a skunk–much to our dismay. The boys knew when their dogs had treed the game and welde plunge madly to reach them. I remember seeing Dad knock a ‘possum out of a tree with a rock-a great ego builder for the teacher. The boys kept the ‘possum pelts to sell and gave us the carcasses to cook and eat. They were good meat.

We also hunted a few times at night with Dad’s friend, Jess Kelly. Jess had a fine dog, Shove, and we had good success hunting with him. Dad insisted that I be allowed to go with them and was proud of me when Jess found me worthy to join them. Hunting on the hills at night was quite strenuous.

Dad taught me to trap rabbits. After school in the afternoon I would track a rabbit in the snow to its den and set a steel trap in the opening. Soon after dark I would check the trap and take the rabbit if one was caught. If I took the dressed rabbit to the country store at Holbrook, I could exchange it for twenty-five cents or a steel trap. Sometimes we cooked the rabbits for ourselves.

The storekeeper at Holbrook bought a radio from a catalog–the first one in the area–but could not make it work. When he told Dad about it I took a quick look at the radio and realized that the ground wire was not hooked up. I had learned some things about radios in Paige Lockard’s shop. Of course, twelve year old boys of that day were expected to be seen, but not heard. But Dad had confidence in me, and when I said I could solve the problem he passed the word to the storekeeper who let me attach the ground wire. There is more to the radio episode to follow.

Every evening about dark Dad and I walked down the road to the Jack Hudkins home where we got milk. In their family were Mr. and Mrs. Hudkins, a grandmother, a grown daughter and a foster son, Norris Cox. In the early fall they had gathered sled loads of black walnuts on the hills and brought them down ready for husking, cracking and picking out the nuts. I believe they sold enough walnut meats to pay their winter grocery bills.

When we arrived to get the milk the family would be sitting around cracking walnuts, eating apples and taking turns talking on the party line telephone. When interest in the neighborhood telephone conversations was fading the Holbrook storekeeper would ask on the telephone if we wanted to hear the radio. With a “yes” from all the neighbors, he would put the radio speaker up to the mouthpiece of the telephone and we would take turns listening to radio station KDKA Pittsburgh.

Dad had two treasured tools essential to his teaching profession. One was his Bun Special Illinois pocket watch of which he was very proud. The other was a large fountain pen with a his ink reservoir. One Sabbath afternoon he and I hiked up on a hill to gather hickory nuts. The ground under the tree was thick with leaves and the hickory nuts were large and plentiful. When we had to leave in late afternoon Dad discovered he had lost his fountain pen under the tree. “Never Mind” he said. “We’ll came next Sabbath and find it.” Returning to the tree the next Sabbath, we each began circling from the base of the tree using forked sticks to carefully push the leaves toward the tree. I was surprised and amazed when Dad picked up his Fountain pen.

BOY’S LIFE magazine came to me as a Christmas gift, I believe, and Dad enjoyed reading stories to me from it. I got annoyed when he would come to an interesting part of a story, stop, and read ahead to himself–while keeping me in suspense. Dad was an excellent teacher, a stalwart Christian gentleman and a wonderful Father. He was a great storyteller and I still enjoy retelling the ones I remember.

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