Perry No. 3

School Daze Memories from former students and teachers!


Perry No. 3

The smells.  I remember the smells of the country school.  The mustiness when I first opened the door.  The lunches setting in a variety of pails prepared by mothers of different ethnic origins.  The wet clothing on a rainy day.  Chalk, blackboards and old maps.  Books my father and grandfather had read setting on the sparse, dusty bookshelves. The chemical compound (like yellow sawdust) used to clean the wooden floors.  All of these smells combined to give me memories.

These memories bring me back to my country school, Perry # 3,  Plymouth County in the State of Iowa.  I thought there wasn’t a better place in the world to earn an education and to be with the friends I was growing up with.  I knew their parents and grandparents that had grown up with my parents and grandparents.  Small as my world was, I thought it was the best there was to be.

I was so anxious to start to school; I had wanted to go to school since my sister, Marilyn, had started two years before me.  With anticipation I would await her coming home from school each day, sitting in the rocking chair, watching Mom iron while she listed to the soap opera on the radio, “Portia Faces Life” with a classical music piece (at the time I had no idea that it was classical music) playing the theme music.

I started kindergarten in Perry #3 located about 1 ½ miles from the farm I was born on and 7 miles straight west from the small town of Hinton, Iowa (population 340).  I was five, ready to turn six in November when I started school.  It was 1942 and World War II was raging in Europe and the South Pacific.  I started school with three other kinder-gartners, Paul Williams, Marlene Vondrak, and Margie Doane.  None of them were strangers to me, as I knew their parents, (some even their grandparents), where they lived and all of their brothers and sisters.  We knew each other from the social activities, which we attended, Old Settlers Picnics, Farm Bureau activities and the Plymouth County Fair.  I even knew the rest of the kids in the eight grades above me.

I can vividly recall being with Dad when he pulled the car into the schoolyard.  It was a tree barren schoolyard with the exception of a few missed by the mower -- straggly trees.  I never really understood why there were no trees there.  The farmstead across the road had huge oak and cotton wood trees shading the house and the farm buildings and we had very large trees around our home.  The schoolhouse always looked lonesome when we pulled into the driveway, but once the children arrived it took on another look, gladness.

As the group of children multiplied with each new arrival, games were started.  I could hear the game of Pump, Pump Pullaway being started.  Pump Pump Pullaway was a very popular game.  One person would be “it”, the others would line up against the school building ready to make a mad dash to a designated point.  “It” would call out “Pump, Pump Pullaway, come away or I’ll pull you away”.  Those lined up would run as fast as they could to the other side hopefully not being tagged by “it”.  Soon I would also hear, “Ante, Ante Over”.  Two teams, one each on either side the schoolhouse were ready.  One team would throw the softball over the roof to the other side.  The other team would try to catch the ball and with the ball chase to the other side trying to tag a member of the other team, who then would become their team members.  If the ball did not make it all the way over the roof, but came rolling back down to the throwing team, they would yell “Pigtails” and try the throw again.  I wonder how the teacher got any work done in the schoolhouse with all of this going on outside.

Before I had started to school, I came with my Dad many times when we brought my sister to school.  He would let me get out of the car and swing on the swings with the other school kids while he visited with the farm neighbors who had also brought their children.  This was a good time for the neighbors to catch up on the news of the community and ask one another “How much rain did you get last night?”  “Got your hay all stacked?”  One time Dad forgot and left me at school and didn’t discover it until he was back home and in the barn.  Mom came to the barn to find him and asked, “Where’s Kathleen?”  I wasn’t worried though.  I just went into the schoolhouse and sat in a desk until Dad came back after me.  A little disappointed that the folks had discovered me missing.

Every country schoolhouse sat on an acre of ground.  Even today when someone talks about an acre or how many acres something is, I still think of the size of the land that Perry #3 school sat on to give me a perspective of an acre.  Our one room school sat on an acre of land on a corner where two country gravel roads came to a T.

The school ground sloped gradually away from the building.  Toward the back of the building  on the downward slope stood two outhouses.  One for the boys and one for the girls.  To the slope west of the building and across the road was the tree-shaded farmstead.

Before school began in the fall, one of the farmers would go to the school ground with his field mower and mow the weeds, sandburs, cockleburs, etc. included.  So when we arrived at school and went out for recess, we played among the stubble of the weeds that had been mowed.  That also was one of the smells, dried weeds; a smell I would recognize when I returned to school in the fall.  Some of that stubble was really sharp and we would often go back into school with scratches and snags on us.

We had no running water in the schoolhouse.  In a small 4”x 6” attached entry way was a large, gray and blue striped porcelain crock with a spigot, which sat on a small stand that contained our water for the day.  Each morning the teacher or one of the “big” boys would go to the Burnett farm across the road and hand pump water into a pail and bring it back to fill the drinking crock.  The common dipper hung on a hook near the drinking crock.  One of our “field trips” would be when all of the students trekked to the farmhouse to get water and each took a turn pumping water.  Sometimes the entry way would get so cold, the water would freeze in the drinking crock and had to be chopped with a hatchet to get the water free flowing again.

It didn’t really matter as to what germs we might catch from each other by sharing a drinking vessel as whatever one student got – you could be pretty assured most everyone in the school would have the “bug” sooner or later and also because we were confined in one room all day.  For some reason, “pink eye” always seems to be prevalent around the last day of school and I missed the school picnic more than once.  Ringworm was another horrific problem.  We had one family that seemed to have that often and when a case broke out, my mother would scrub and scrub us until we were raw in heated water in the old tin tub by the cook stove when we came home from school.  We never did catch ringworm.  Impetigo, the oozing, crusty sores on hands and arms also would strike students in the school.  But once again, thanks to Mom’s ferocious scrubbing, no impetigo for the Crouch girls.  I always figured my immunity to disease was pretty well built up just by going to country school.

There were nine grades (including kindergarten) taught in that little country school, usually our school had about 18 to 20 students and one teacher.  One advantage of having all nine grades was that I was able to listen to the lessons of all the classes, so even though I was only in kindergarten I would hear the first, second, third etc. grades all do their reading and of course I learned from this also.  Plus I learned to quietly study while the other classes were in session on the bench near the teacher’s desk.

Our desks were all lined up in rows, usually the smallest desks on one side of the room and graduating to the larger desks on the opposite side of the room.  None of the classes had more than 2 or 3 students in them, our kindergarten class was considered big with four students.  Sometimes the boys in the 8th grade were too large to sit comfortably in their desks and their long legs would gangle down the aisles.

Our library consisted of one bookcase that had books to read just for fun.  Books for all ages were there but our total library probably was not more than 40 to 50 books.  When I was able to read, I remember reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, I just loved those books and would imagine myself living in that time and experiencing some of the same experiences that Laura did.  Of course, the television series, “Little House on the Prairie” which my daughters also enjoyed was far in the future.

In the back corner of the classroom, we had a very tall to the ceiling, storage cupboard where the teacher kept all of the reading, reference and class work materials.  When the first day of school began, books would be pulled from that cupboard and passed out to the appropriate class.  I would receive books that had signatures of past generations on the flyleaf and of someone that perhaps had even sat in the same desk that I now occupied.  Sometimes we purchased books.  I still have some of my basic reader books with my childlike signature scrawled in the front.

In that storage cupboard there also were pamphlets that had been distributed to the school from Arm and Hammer Baking Soda Company.  The pamphlet, written in cartoon form, showed how the ancient Egyptians would chew reeds in order to brush their teeth for dental hygiene.  The jest of the pamphlet was that you should use Arm and Hammer baking soda to brush your teeth and feel refreshed in our modern times.  (Of course, we had modern toothbrushes.)

Above all the blackboards and around the walls were examples of the Palmer method of penmanship.  The printed capital A and the small a, the printed capital B and the small b, etc. as well as cursive for the capital A and small a. etc.  I remember staring at those letters and trying very hard to copy them.  I did end up having very good penmanship and I attribute that to the examples of the alphabet around the walls of my country schoolroom and practicing on the lined paper so persistently.

I felt so much older, all grown up, when I started to school, even though I was in the youngest class in school; I was the oldest in my class – by a few months.  These few months, however, gave me the advantage of being “older and wiser”.  I became class leader in good times and bad.  Mischievousness began for me at an early age.  (Evidently, it continued through my school years – the caption under my senior picture in our high school annual read, “A little mischief now and then is relished by the Wisest Men.)  Of course, returning to my home after school, I once again was the “little sister” and “baby of the family”.

I loved our kindergarten teacher, Miss Briggs, from the very first day.  She was an excellent teacher with lots of experience and patience; the whole county talked about Miss Briggs and how lucky we were to have her.  She had gray streaked hair, wore glasses, and was very slender.  She usually dressed in a suit and pastel blouse.  She always had a pleasant look on her face, but I don’t ever recall seeing her smile.  In those days, she was stereotyped as “an old maid school teacher”.

I was a small child, blonde hair and very blue eyes.  Everyone thought I looked like my mother, which I couldn’t understand. because she had very black hair (which I envied) and only until later did I think I looked like her.  My sister, Marilyn, two years older also was blonde and blue eyed but favored my father more.  Mom dressed us alike all of the time (something I was determined not to do with my 3 daughters).  People often thought Marilyn and I were twins, which I thought was okay.  If we were in a crowd, I suppose it was easier for Mom to keep track of us dressed alike.  I would outgrow my dress but would then receive the “same look-a-like” dress from my sister which I wore until I outgrew that.  However, I was always pleased that Mom and Grandma sewed our dresses for us (often from chicken feed sacks purchased full of feed from the elevator – it was fun picking out the bag made of the heavy rough cloth with the prettiest pattern of purple flowers, yellow daisies or pale roses printed on them.  I couldn’t wait until the chickens had eaten all the feed so I could get a new dress.)

Often in the cooler weather, we wore brown, cotton, thigh length stockings under our dresses.  A waist garter belt and garters that hooked onto the stockings held up these stockings.  Brown stockings were for everyday but we had white stockings for Sundays.  Later we were able to wear slacks to school and the brown stockings went by the wayside.  In one of the school pictures, Marilyn and I have white blouses and red slacks on.  (Of course, the picture is in black and white, but I remember those red slacks very well.)

The school day started out with the Pledge of Allegiance, all standing, all facing the flag with our hands over our hearts.  I felt very patriotic, especially, since we were in the middle of a war.  We also were loyal Iowans.  On music days, Miss Briggs, would wind up the Victrola and the whole class would stand and sing, “Ioway, Ioway, I’m from Ioway, that’s where the tall corn grows”.  (Yes, the y was pronounced!)

One time in kindergarten and not too many weeks into the school year, the teacher let my class go out to recess by ourselves while she taught the other classes inside.  This was common practice not to have supervision outside; we were very safe to be playing along the road in the schoolyard.  This one particular time at recess we decided to build a fort out of the dried weeds that the farmer had cut in the schoolyard.  So we busily gathered them up and built a nice, semi-circle fort near the swings.  We played and played in it until the rest of the classes came out for recess.  The “big” kids (boys mostly) decided they wanted to play in our beautiful fort, but also rearrange it.  They actually ended up destroying it.  We four kindergarteners promptly marched back up the hill to the schoolhouse.  “Miss Briggs”, we whined, “the boys wrecked our fort!”  She came out and had the boys rebuild our fort for us.  We kindergarteners stood there supervising exactly where each weed needed to be put back.  It all happened.  We had our fort back before recess ended.

Of course, there was no such thing as copy machines in our school.  But our teacher could make duplicate copies, one at a time on the ditto copier.  What a mess that was, if you helped the teacher with this, you usually had permanent purple stain on your face and hands for a week.  She would write out the lesson on a special paper that had purple dye on one side and then press the paper onto this soft substance that would leave an imprint.  She could then press a blank paper on the imprint and have a copy.  She could make as many copies as needed, one by one, while the imprint lasted.  Great Invention!  (I loved the smell of that ditto stuff!)

But as students, we did our own copying.  When the teacher had something she wanted us to copy, we just took the picture, a blank piece of paper and went to a window.  On sunny days you would put your pattern on the windowpane, put the blank paper over it and trace the pattern onto the blank.  There would be colored pumpkins, stars, moons, Christmas trees, candles with NOEL, (Charlene Scherner, a kindergartner at the time commented that NOEL was her brother’s name, LEON, spelled backwards!) and pilgrims decorating all of our walls throughout the school year after our tracing jobs.  This was great fun, mostly because you could legitimately look out the window at the same time; see what the neighbors were doing, what pasture the cows were in or who was going by on the dusty, gravel road.

School in the fall was exciting.  Seeing kids after the summer vacation was a delight for all of us.  None of our families took vacation or really went anywhere outside of Plymouth County during the summer.  The biggest excitement might be driving over to South Dakota to see cousins or having cousins or grandmas and grandpas visit us.  Back to school we would start right up where we had left off in the Spring being friends.

Swings and a teeter-totter were available on the school ground.  I loved to swing.  I loved to feel the warm breeze on my face, feel the power of flying in the air, swiftly coming back to earth and pumping the swing up again.  I could swing all day if it had been allowed.  (I still love to swing with my grandkids.)  Mostly the young kids played on the swings and even with such sparse playground equipment, no age seemed to lack for entertainment during recess or lunch time.  Games were either established or made up.  The nice thing about games at the country school is that everyone played.  When teams were chosen to play a softball game, everyone was chosen because everyone was needed in order to make a team.  From kindergarten to 8th grade everyone got to bat and no one made fun of you if you struck out.

In the winter during recess or lunch we played school in the dirt basement below the schoolhouse.  You had to go outside and around to the back of the schoolhouse and open the basement door to go down into the dark basement.  The door was always left open for some light.  There were old maps, and a few other odds and ends down there and we would set up school and play until the bell rang for us to come into school!

Our classroom was heated by what seemed to be a monstrous coal stove in the back of the room.  In the winter, you were lucky if you had a seat near the stove.  Some winter days when we came to school, the room had not yet warmed up.  The kindergarteners were freezing (we thought).  Miss Briggs told us to sit on the piano to take advantage of the rising heat until the room warmed up.  I imagine early morning visitors would have been surprised to see the small children sitting on top of the piano!

The girls’outhouse down the slope at the back of the school sometimes could prove to be a very dangerous place to be.  Especially, if the boys were in a malicious mood that day.  The scene usually went like this.  The school bell would ring calling us back into school and before going in, we would take a quick trip to the outhouse. Then the boys would park themselves at the top of the slope near the open basement door where chunks of coal were easily available and since there were not windows at the back of the school house for the teacher to observe, they would throw coal at us every time we would open the outhouse door.  Of course, shrieking and squealing went on and the boys threw the coal until they figured Miss Briggs would soon come out to find us.  The boys finally quit and we were safely able to climb the slope back to the schoolhouse, hopefully not too tardy.

I always have heard of the long walks people had to take to go to the country school in all kinds of weather.  But I don’t recall ever walking to school, Dad usually took us in the car, but we walked home with the rest of the kids every nice school day.  There usually would be 8-10 of our classmates walking at least part way with us along the dusty, gravel
road.  I remember the sweet fragrance of the wild roses growing along the roadside and checking out the bugs and garter snakes (dead or alive).

The first boy I had a crush on, Robert Jackson, walked our way home.  He was new in our community and was a curiosity for me.  I probably was in the third grade.  I got too close to him one time and he swung at me with his lunch pail.  That quickly cooled any romance I had in mind.  Even though he broke my heart, we are still friends today.

Often we would loiter along the walk home, and we would go down to “Williams’ Culvert”.  This was a huge cement culvert under the roadway in which we could stand up inside and run and splash in the cool, trickling water from the pasture creek.  The folks never seemed to worry about us in our mile and a half walk; we always made it home safely.

Sometimes Marilyn and I would stop at Grandpa and Grandma Crouch’s on the way home.  They lived a half mile from our house.  Often Grandma would walk to the “little hill” with us, treating us with fresh cut turnips.

We never had a school nurse, I am not sure that we even had a first aid kit at the country school.  We had very few accidents even though in the summertime, we would dig, deep, long tunnels in the dirt banks and crawl through them.  In the winter, we had snow forts and snow tunnels.  No one seemed to be injured in any of our self-made entertainment activities.  The only accident that I can remember is when an “older” kid came running down from the school house, swooped under the swing that Charlene Scherner, a kindergartner, was swinging on and gave her a big push.  Charlene flew out of the swing and landed on the ground and broke her arm.  All of us students were petrified.  I probably was in the 2nd grade at this time.  Charlene lay there with her arm swelling and the rest of us crying and worried.  A message via the farm across the road was sent to her parents and they came after her.  Concentration on school lessons the rest of the afternoon was pretty nil.  Life was full of everyday dangers back then, but there were very few accidents among any of my friends or family.

In the wintertime snowfalls caused excitement to run high and the eagerness of going out to play in the snow “Fox and Goose” often helped us burn off some energy.  One person tracked out a big circle in the snow with diagonal spokes to the center, which was the “safe” spot.  Another person was designated as the fox and the others were the geese.  The “fox” would start the chase, with all the “geese” safely in the center but running toward the outer circle and trying to keep away from the fox until they could get back safely to the center.

Christmas…..what a delightful time of the year.  Our classes started preparing for it right after Thanksgiving.  Pictures were colored and put on the walls, strips of green and red construction paper were pasted together to make paper chains to be strung kitty cornered across the room, and all the old Christmas decorations of years past were brought in cardboard boxes from the dusty basement, unpacked, and either cheered or jeered over.  Decisions had to be made as to which decorations would be put up and which ones would not get hung, every student wanted to get in on the deciding.

Classes and lessons continued, but now we had new work to do.  A Christmas program was planned; one that we would be put on for all of our parents and others guests on a wintry evening in December.  Memorizing poems, songs and little skits the teacher assigned to each of us became part of our daily schedule.  We would also take the little strips of paper with our lines to remember home, so our parents could help us with the memory task.

Before the Christmas program we had another special occasion of excitement and anxiety.  We would gather around the teacher and all the students’ names were written down and each student picked one name out of the shoebox with the intention of buying a 25 cent gift for that student.  It was embarrassing sometimes if you picked the name of an older boy and didn’t have brothers.   If that happened, Dad always came through and helped us pick out an appropriate 25 cent Christmas gift to be exchanged the night of the school program.

Anticipation filled everyone at school on the day of the Christmas Program.  A small wire was stretched across the front third of the classroom, secured on each end around a bent nail on the opposite walls.  The “stage curtain” mysteriously appeared from somewhere, probably stored on the top shelf of the tall cupboard.  The curtain was gray and green striped, and not very thick, so you could often see any antics that were taking place behind the scenes.  A plank platform served as our stage to make our Sarah Bernhardt entrance.  After weeks of work, everyone had their parts memorized, at least to the best of their abilities.

On the big night of the program jitters and giggles set in as parents, younger brothers and sisters, grandpas, grandmas, aunts, uncles and cousins arrived and stuffed themselves into our desks.  The large German men in their new bib overalls hoped to get one of the 8th graders’ desks (they still didn’t fit).  All the winter coats were double hung on the students’ coat hooks next to the furnace, many of them dragging on the floor.  New smells in our schoolhouse.  Mackinaw coats fresh in from evening chores— the smells of cows, pigs, and horses on them.

The program started with the youngest students reciting their pieces first (sometimes they just stood there with their mouths dropped open, tears starting to well in their eyes as they searched for their mothers in the audience.)  It ended with the older students doing their skits and the whole school and audience joining in at the end singing “Silent Night”.  After the program, student gifts were exchanged to oohs and aahs (remember 25 cents in the 1940’s bought a pretty nice gift!)  The smell of coffee started to permeate from the entryway and cake our mothers had baked was cut and passed out on paper plates.  What a special night it was and the ride home with Mom, Dad and Marilyn across the frozen gravel road with the moon shining on the half standing corn stalks rising about the drifted snow seemed to complete a perfect night in the memory of a second grader.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about eating LePage’s paste from the paste jar with a wooden stick (or fingers).  It was creamy and white and almost had a spicy  flavor.  It was so-o-o good!

On the last day of school at the beginning of summer, usually a very hot day, we had our school picnic.  Often one of the farmer’s would offer a cool, grassy pasture under some very shady trees for the picnic spot.  Again, everyone came, Dads would leave the fields for a few hours, Moms would forget chores and all the kids thought it was the best day of the year.  And if we were lucky, someone would bring ice cream packed in dry ice in big canvas totes.  Reports were passed out; my hands would shake as I pulled my report card from its envelope, hoping I had passed to the next grade.  I always did!!  (I still have some report cards from elementary school.)

I look back and wonder how the country school teachers handled all the responsibilities from starting the fire in the mornings, getting the water, dusting and sweeping the classroom floor with smelly sawdust compound, dealing with nine age groups as well as all the parents, maintaining the classroom often with sparse equipment and supplies.  Then I remember how different it really was then.  The country school was a social hub for our community.  Often a church is the community gathering spot, but it was our school, and I think that was due to the diversity of the families in our close community.  We had Catholic, Protestant and the non-church attendees  as well as different ethnic groups; so it was fit that our school would be the secular gathering point.  Besides, our families had lived together for several generations.  Also members of the community felt a great responsibility for the school and knew it was up to them to keep it running and help the teacher and each other to keep it going.  I do not believe there were any hidden agendas or secrets in the country school.

However in 1946, the shock was soon to come, and after attending third grade our dear country school with all of its history and memories was being closed, as many of the schools in the county would be closed.  We were being consolidated and would be bussed to “town school” at Hinton, Iowa.

Oh, the changes!! 

Memories written by: Kathy (Crouch) Bjorklund




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