The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Olden Golden Rule Days - Part 2 of 6

By Virginia Webb Mitchell © 1985

Issue: October, 1985

Architecturally, most of these schools varied little in style, consisting of two school rooms, each with its own entrance and each with its own small porch on which a winter supply of fire wood was stored before the autumn air had begun to chill. The windows were placed high enough to obstruct any distracting view and suppose, to minimize drafts of cold air. Facing the school, the “Little Room,” the room for the younger children, was situated to the left of the building, and the room for the older students, the "Big Room," to the right. Later, as schools started to consolidate, only one room was used.) Centered between the two entrances was the cloak room. The schoolroom floors were bare wood. They were given a generous coat of oil prior to the commencement of the school year; the black soles of our bare feet bore the evidence for many days thereafter

If memory serves me right, each room contained three or four rows of desks, with the smallest desks (for the primer) beginning at one side of the Little Room, graduating to the larger desks at the opposite side of the room, the Big Room ending with the seventh grade.

Since mother's sister was a teacher, I was permitted to attend school as a guest before I was old enough to enroll. I can recall my terror whenever I was sent on an errand from the Little Room to the Big Room. It was almost like facing life with all those grown-up eyes looking at me. I felt so small, so inconsequential, so sure I would never grow up. (I shouldn't have worried!)

Aunt Nettie treated me as though I were a student; my ego soared as she taught me to write the alphabet. Assiduously I applied myself to learning to write my ABC's to win her praise and her approval. After I had mastered the alphabet, it began to trouble me because I couldn't spell anything. My older brother volunteered to teach me to write my name. Past experiences should have made me wary, but unwittingly I accepted his assistance, and for quite some time thereafter believed my name to be a four letter word (one of the milder ones) which I proceeded to write on every level surface I encountered paper, books, walls, porch, etc.). Mother would spank me each time she caught me writing my name." (My handwriting suffers to this day and I relate it to the "trauma" connected with that graffiti!) With eight children to manage, she hadn't the time to analyze the situation, but once she realized that I was too young to know what I was writing, retribution set in. Her "strong" suggestions precluded any more tutoring from my brother.

Getting back to the classroom, there was a long blackboard on the wall at the back of the room. We considered it an honor and a mark of favoritism whenever the teacher selected one of us to take the erasers outside to dust them against a tree. We enjoyed this opportunity to be out of the classroom and made the job last as long as we could.

After the weather turned cold, it was necessary to heat the classrooms before the students arrived. Usually one of the older boy students assumed this responsibility. Each morning he faithfully arrived early enough to build a fire in the potbellied stove which stood near the center of each classroom. His reward for these efforts was probably a present at Christmastime.