The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Commencement At A Country Schoolhouse

By Grace Cash © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

My cousin was visiting at our house when school ended at Chestnut Mountain in 1928. The white two story schoolhouse set across the road from the white frame Baptist church. Presbyterians of the community went to a similar church across another road. In those days swapping farm products for store goods was an everyday way of survival   and sometimes a way of pleasure.

That night my cousin and I took an egg to the country store and traded it for two sticks of Teaberry Chewing Gum. We admired the bright bolts of gingham and percale on the shelves behind the long counter. Inside the glass counter, the store keeper kept candy, Brown Mule chewing tobacco, Rooster Snuff, as well as other brands of sweet and strong snuff. On the counter he kept various kinds of chewing gum in a glass jar. Candy was kept in similar jars on the counter. Brazil nuts, English walnuts, apples and oranges were kept in wooden barrels outside the counter.

We bought the most lasting item with our egg money. Chewing gum would last till bedtime, and might be chewed again the next day, and the next. But we looked longingly at the crates of Coca Colas, Nehi and Nugrape. We could imagine what it would be like to drink orange Nehi or a purple Nugrape or a pungent Coca Cola. Deprivation caused farm children to develop strong imaginations. They enacted plays of their own making, and found substitutes for the treats they couldn't buy. In the summertime we made tempting drinks from wild cherries. We made dolls from gourds or stuffed stockings, and our brothers made sleds from gee whiz teeth and old pieces of lumber.

The schoolhouse plays were written by professional writers, but the teachers taught the children how to act. In some cases, the students required no prompting. For the older grades there might be a play, such as "Mr. Periwinkle Takes A Wife." The students dressed in their parents' clothes, looking as they might look ten or twenty years later.

When I was in the sixth grade, I got the role of an aging woman. I wore Mama's long black skirt and white long sleeved blouse. The teacher roached my hair on the top of my head, and clamped it down with side combs. Then she dusted my hair liberally with flour. when the play ended, she said in a very complimentary way, "You make a good old lady."

The most remarkable commencement of my recollection was held at the Macedonia two roomed school, where we went before moving to Chestnut Mountain. My brother Carl and his classmates, seven or eight boys around eight years of age, played the role of Indian warriors. The mothers sewed brown, fringed boxy suits for their sons, using walnut dyed flour sacks. They gathered feathers from the yard flocks and made tall headdresses. Fathers furnished hatchets, which the boys waved to and fro, as they counted to ten in the Cherokee language:

"Onery, twoery, zero, zound, hollybone,
crackybone, wheelbarrow, blackstone, dollary, ten."

That same year I was in a play with the girls, all six or seven years old. We wore our mothers' spool heeled shoes on our hands. We were partially hidden behind a curtain, and we moved across the stage on our knees, giving the effect of walking on our heads.

In those days the parents   and the community   encouraged their children to get a good education. Mama would cut a length of new cloth, helping one of her children solve a difficult arithmetic problem. Teachers, parents, community and state took an avid interest in each school child. Working together, boosting the school, and teaching their children to respect their teachers, add up to what is rarely found in 1986. Our parents paid for our school books, and sent us with tin boxes filled with baked sweet potatoes, sausage biscuits, ham biscuits, sometimes jelly biscuits off to school, asking for nothing except what we could learn. One thing we learned was a sense of values, the most precious thing any child can lay in store for a happy contented life.