The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Uncle Stump's School Days

By Conway Smith © 1987

Issue: September, 1987

I was setting on Uncle Stump's front porch, listening to the old man spin some of his yarns. His chair tilted back, feet propped on the porch railing, and puffing contentedly on a blackened old brier pipe, Uncle Stump was reminiscing of his school days.

When Uncle Stump was a child – before county schools were consolidated – there were around fifty schools scattered about the county. Children walked to school in those days, as there were no school buses. So there had to be schools within walking distance. Most of these were one–room schools.

Uncle Stump was telling me about the old Chestnut Ridge School where he got his education...

"Lots of young'uns got their learnin' in the one–room log schoolhouse on Chestnut Ridge. The old schoolhouse is gone now – torn down long ago. And the blight has killed all the chestnut trees that the ridge got its name from. Only recollections are left."

"School was strictly for learnin' in those days. No football, baseball or basketball teams. No school buses. We walked to school carrying our books and lunches. There were no school cafeterias – but tenderloin pork sandwiches, huckleberry jam! Biscuits and apple pie out of a tin pail or brown paper poke, tasted pretty good."

"When the schoolmaster came to the schoolhouse door and rang a big brass bell it meant to 'get inside, sit down and be astute. A bunch of willow switches standing in the corner added emphasis. The school was heated by a wood stove; and there was a bucket of spring water and a tin dipper on a table at the front of the schoolroom."

"Most of us young'uns went barefoot till after the first couple of frosts. I recollect there was a snag in the middle of the path leadin' up to the schoolhouse, where somebody had cut down a mountain laurel. That old snag caused a lot of stumped toes. It was not unusual to find a toenail layin' alongside it."

"What with walkin' barefoot to school on frosty mornin's lots of us kids had colds. An ounce or so of foul smellin' asafetida in a tobacco poke tied around a young'uns neck was thought to ward off colds. Mothers wouldn't think of lettin' their kids go to school without their asafetida bags. The school room stunk with asafetida till it was well–nigh unbearable; and we had to do somethin' to relieve the situation. About fifty yards below the schoolhouse there was a hollow stump beside the path. We finally hit on the idea of storin' our asafetida bags in the stump on the way to school – and resumin' them on the way home. This improved classroom conditions mightily."

"Every pupil had a slate and slate pencils. Paper and lead pencils were too expensive. A small sponge was attached by a string to the slate. When you finished an arithmetic problem and the schoolmaster had inspected, you spit on the sponge and washed off your slate. Then you were read for the next exercise."

"Every Friday evening there was a spellin' bee. The pupils lined up around the schoolroom, and the schoolmaster stood behind his desk and called out the words from the spellin' book. If you misspelled a word the next kid had a try at it. If he spelled it right he moved up to your position and you swapped places with him. I generally wound up at the tail end of the line. But I didn't mind. In that position I couldn't be spelled down anymore – and was under less strain."

"Mr. Brunk, the old schoolmaster, was respected and liked by his students – but he demanded discipline. I don't recollect his ever whippin' a girl; but the boys caught it every once in a while. There was the time little Daisy Mae Simpson caused me to get a lickin'. She was a pretty little girl with bright blue eyes and corn–colored hair hangin' down her back in two plaits. She had the desk right in front of mine. I was kinda sweet on Daisy Mae, and always tryin' to do something to attract her attention. One day at recess I caught a june bug and brought it back into the schoolroom. When everybody had settled down to study I dropped the june bug down the back of Daisy Mae's dress. Screamin' like a wildcat she jumped out into the aisle and did the wildest dance you ever saw. She had pretty near undressed herself before the june bug got loose and flew away. Everybody laughed – except Daisy Mae and the schoolmaster; and I got a real good switchin'. When he got through with me I was smartin' and snifflin'. Then the old man put his hand on my shoulder in a friendly sort of way and told me he hated to thrash young'uns – but he had to do it for their own good. Maybe the lickin' did do me good. I never put another june bug down Daisy Mae's neck."

"The old Chestnut Ridge School was...."

Uncle Stump was interrupted by his wife coming out on the porch with a plate of fragrant gingerbread hot out of the oven, and small glasses of elderberry wine. She was a sweet, motherly old lady with white hair and blue eyes that smiled at you out of a pink, cheerful face.

The old man knocked the ashes out of his pipe, put it in his pocket, and turned to his wife... "I was just talkin' about the good old days when we went to school in the log schoolhouse on Chestnut Ridge," Uncle Stump chuckled, and looked up at his spouse with an impish grin... "Daisy Mae," he said, "do you remember the time, I put the june bug down your neck?"