We had a very poor school house. The winter I was 8 years old the trustees decided to have the school in summer as the house was too cold for school in winter. Father rented a room from Uncle Elisha and sent some of us to Perie, who was teaching at Otter Slide. She had a program at the end of the term. It was at night, and there was a large crowd there. I had a small recitation, which was the only part I ever had in a “Last Day of School Program.” For the benefit of some of the little grandchildren, I will give it:
A boy got up one winter’s morn and came to breakfast rather late,
Yet raised a fuss because there was no nice, big pancake upon his plate.
His father took him o’er his knee and raised his hand up in the air,
And when that boy got loose again, he held his spanked ache in the chair.
This was all my experience as an actor until after I began teaching.
The summer after I went to Perie at Otter Slide, I went to school to Callie at Berea. Mr. Brake owned the land all around the school house. He came to the school one day and complained that the children were getting into his orchard and wasting his apples (which I expect was so). Callie told them that she would whip anyone that went into the orchard. A few days later one of the Brake boys and two of the Hise Davis boys got some apples, and she whipped all three. This stopped apple stealing.
Some Memories of a Teacher Named Hall: The winter I was 9 years old, a young man by the name of Hall was teacher. He could do nothing with the children. I will give you one incident that I saw myself. Four or five of the larger girls were in mischief, and he told them they would stay after school. When he dismissed school, they started to get their wraps. He said, “Girls, I told you to stay in.” Ocea Colgate said, in a voice that was plain for everyone to hear, “I don’t have to; I don’t intend to; and you can’t make me.” What do you suppose he said? “Well girls, you can stay in at recess tomorrow.”
When we got outside, John Meredith proposed, “Three cheers for Ocea,” which we all gave with all the power of our lungs. Then someone proposed, “Three groans for the teacher.” This we gave just as loudly as the other. We were up on the hill on the road to Auburn one half mile from Berea and could be heard there. We told about it at supper that evening; and Father said, “If one of my children was in such a thing, I would whip him.” We never mentioned that we yelled as loud as anyone.
Now this teacher had a rule that when he called the roll, if you came in late you were to answer, “Tardy.” Also, if you had whispered that day, you were to say, “Imperfect”; if you had not whispered, you were to say, “Perfect.” Ellsworth was 19 years old and was very careful to not whisper. But one day some of the big girls fooled him into whispering, so he had a time the rest of the day. The girls had lots of fun thinking he would have to answer, “Imperfect.” When the roll call came, he answered, “Tardy.”
The trustees planned to turn Mr. Hall out at the end of the second month (we only had four months then), but he promised Mr. Brake that he would quit his tarnal partiality and not whip his boys unless he whipped someone else. Father took us children out of school and sent Ellsworth and Alva to another school three miles away.
Another Teacher-Tom Brown: The next winter Tom Brown taught our school. He was entirely different from Fred Hall.
One day the trustees came in to visit the school. They were Father, Mr. Brake, and Mr. Colgate. They were seeing about getting some new seats. Of course, the children were watching. After Father left, Mr. Brake made a speech. He said, “There’s not enough studying, too much looking around. Give it to ‘em, whip ‘em. Give ‘em the rod; it’s good for ‘em. We had to take it.” Mr. Brake always said lick ‘em. But if he found the teacher whipping one of his boys, he would take them all out of school.
The teacher was mad. After Mr. Brake left, he told us if we didn’t study better he would get some hickories and whip anyone who looked off his book one minute. He soon got the hickories and told us not to look off our books one minute on penalty of a whipping. I was 10 years old and knew the difference between looking at a book and studying. I looked at the book, but I did not study. (There’s an old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”)
(I have heard that there is a way to get many to think, but some will not for they have no thinker.) But during the evening while I was looking intently at my book, (with my eyes rolled up, looking at the front of the house), I saw the teacher looking at his clock on the wall, then jump and grab a whip from the wall. I suddenly glued my whole mind on my book. When I heard him pass my seat, I knew I was safe. A moment later I heard him say, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “I was studying.” But the teacher said, “No you weren’t”; and he jerked him out of his seat and gave him a hard whipping. I didn’t look back to see.
Now, who do you suppose it was? You’re right; it was one of Mr. Brake’s boys. I am sure he had watched all day to catch one of them. Mr. Brake always said, “Whip ‘em!”; and just as he did this time, he always took them out of school if the teacher whipped one of his kin.
More School Memories: I will go ahead and finish the account of my school days, and then go back to give an account of other happenings in my boyhood days. The next year Mr. Luzader (the father of Everett Luzader) taught part of the term. The children were so bad that he quit and Tom Brown finished it. I remember nothing important happening except his giving Elmus Bee a very hard whipping for looking out of the window to see how much snow was on the ground.
Mr. Wade taught the winter I was 12 years old. It was reported that he was very strict, so everybody was good the first month. The first morning of the second month he told us he had heard it was a very bad school, but he had never taught a better one. Poor man! That was the worst mistake he ever made, for the Berea school would not be bragged on. In the next three months he whipped not less than 10 or 12 times. Of these were the four largest boys in school and two girls. One of these girls was 15 years old, would have weighed at least 175 pounds, and was married in six weeks. He whipped her very hard. Mr. Brake again took his boys out of school because they got whipped.
At 13 I went to school to George Hoff for my last term at Berea. This was a very quiet term of school-never but one little flaw. He told us one morning that there had been some kissing games played and that there must be no more. A lot of us boys went down into Mr. Colgate’s field to play ball. We heard the bell in just a little while and went to school. He told us, “I told you this morning you were to play kissing games no more, and at noon you went down behind the house and went to playing them again. There will be no more of it.” And there wasn’t. Mr. Hoff boarded at our house and was a very nice man about the house.
An Incident at Upper Bone Creek: Before school began when I was 14, they had made a new school district at Upper Bone Creek and put us in it. Mr. Hoff was the first teacher. Things went along very well until he got into trouble with Frank Prunty. The school house was built on the Prunty farm. At recess one day Frank saw their sheep in the meadow, so he went to put them out without asking the teacher. He didn’t get back until 15 minutes after school was taken up. When Mr. Hoff asked him how he came to be late, he wouldn’t say a word. So Mr. Hoff told him he could stay in five minutes at noon. But Frank ran out.
Mr. Hoff got a whip at noon. Then before recess he got the key from the janitor and locked the door. Frank told the janitor, who was a boy about his age, that he would kill him if he gave the teacher the key. Before recess he was told that he could stay in all recess, but he just laughed at him. His older brother said at noon that he hoped Hoff would skin him alive as he was so mean none of them could do anything with him. Mr. Hoff proceeded to do what the brother hoped. Frank fought, but he was surprised to find himself jerked out of his seat, thrown to the floor, his hands tied behind him, pulled to his feet, and the whip worn out on him. Frank fought and swore he would kill Hoff, but George just threw him down on the floor and held him there all recess.
It was equal to any revival you ever saw. There was weeping and wailing, but no shouting. The girls all cried; the little children howled; and Frank kept swearing he would kill Hoff and the janitor. After recess he turned Frank loose, and Frank went out and got a ball bat and dared Hoff back there. He then went home, swearing to kill the two.
The trustees met the next day and expelled Frank. Mr. Prunty was away and did not return until the next afternoon after the fight. On being told why Frank was not at school, he went to the woods, got some hickories, and whipped him until he gave out. The next morning he got some more whips and began again. Frank finally said, “Father, if you won’t kill me, I will go back to school.” The trustees took him back when he agreed to behave in school and not bother young McClain (the janitor) while they were at school. He did not keep his word, but picked on him every chance he got and still said he intended to kill him.
One day the next summer, the McClain boy went down to get some sheep that had strayed onto the Prunty farm. Frank saw him and ran down and started a fight. The boy proceeded to cut him up, but not seriously. He was indicted for unlawful cutting, but he was cleared when Frank swore that he had said he would kill McClain but he had decided just to give him a good beating. The District Attorney said Frank got what was coming to him, which proves that justice is pretty sure to come sooner or later.
Another Teacher-John Lowther: I will write of one more teacher so that you may get a fair picture of the schools of that day, both good and bad. The next winter after the events mentioned above had happened, we had John Lowther as our teacher. He was a big man about 25 or 30 years old, but a teacher that kept no order at all. He would yell out so you could hear him for a half mile, “Cut that out,” or “You’re getting fresh back there.”
One cold wintry day, when Frank was the only one of the Johnsons who was there (now Frank had to be careful when any of the other children were there, for they would tell on him and Mr. Johnson would whip the life out of him), Frank was having a big time at the stove and Lowther told him to go to his seat. But Frank did not go. After Lowther yelled at him two or three times, he started back and Frank ran. Just as he got out the door Lowther yelled, “If you go out that door you’ll never come in here again.” Frank had closed the door, but he opened it, came back in, went up to the stove and sat down. Then Lowther really spread himself. He said, “If you ever do such a thing again, I’ll cut every dud off you. I’ll skin you alive! Don’t you know you’ve got to mind me?” Frank replied very quietly, “No, I don’t.” Lowther finally ran out of steam. After telling Frank to go back to his seat and close his knife (which he had been whittling a seat with), he then went on with the school.
My Final Years of School: The next year Alva taught, and I had a very successful term of school. The next year Alva taught again, but I stayed at home and helped with a big saw set. The next winter I was 18 and went to Miss Miller, who was a good teacher for an ordinary school but could not handle some of the outlaws of “Bloody Bone” (as we called the school). They annoyed her until she became a nervous wreck. They would drop a book on the floor to see her jump and hear her scream. They would throw a ball on the roof at recess to hear her scream. She finally had to stay at home and rest a few weeks before she could finish the school.
I will now tell you of an incident that happened at my last winter’s school, to show you the kind of boy my youngest brother, Delvia, was. One evening after school was out a boy ran up behind him, knocked his hat off, and started to pick it up and throw it in the mud. Delvia just lifted his heavy boot up by one foot and placed it firmly in his face, which left a rather muddy spot. The boy just turned around and walked off.
The next morning, Delvia slipped around the garden to the barn with the new hat. When I overtook him, he pulled an old, slouch hat from under his arm and said, “I am going to knock hats today.” When anyone came around knocking hats off, he took his turn. His aim was poor; instead of hitting the hat he would take the side of the head just about the ear. They never bothered his hats any more.
This was my last year in public school, for the next year I got a second grade certificate and began teaching.