- Posted December 27, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
The farm and the one-room schoolhouse
I was raised, from birth to when I was 11 years old, on Mineral Street in Milwaukee during the 1950s. During those "baby boom" years, the neighborhood was swarming with children. I played some in our back yard, but usually I joined the swarms of other children playing on the sidewalks, in the alleys and on the vast, cement and asphalt schoolyard at Longfellow elementary. It seemed to me at the time that it was great place to grow up. It was a very happy time for me and also seemed to be the same for my friends.
During spring break periods (then referred to as Easter breaks), my parents, my sister and I would get in the car to visit my grandparent's farm. We would drive about 5 hours until we got to the town of Holmen, Wisconsin that is outside of Lacrosse. As we drove down the 2-lane road from Holmen to the farm, we were always able to see where the farm was from about a mile away. For looming on the right in the distance, directly across the road from where the farm was, loomed the largest, highest, rock-faced bluff in the area.
My grandparents and my aunt and uncle's family lived on what was then about a 100 acre, family owned and operated farm. It seemed at the time that just about all of the farms in the immediate area where owned by people of Norwegian ancestry. My grandfather, with the help of neighbors from other farms, built the farmhouse and barn during the first decade of the 1900's. The farm usually had about 10 pigs in the pen, 20 cows in the barn and 50 chickens in the coop. The cows strolled out to the field, which was below the bluff across the road. They were fortunate to have a metal tunnel under the road to walk through, and then they strolled back to the barn at milking time. The farm had electricity, but also had an outhouse. In-home plumbing was a 2 or 3 foot tall, cast iron, hand cranked water pump in the kitchen.
The farm was just a great place to visit. When I said this to my cousins, however, they claimed they were fed up with all the work required and envied me, the city dweller. I, of course, greatly envied them.
When our family visited the farm, my two cousins who were about the same ages as me went to school each morning since the school breaks there were closer to and during the planting and harvesting periods. During our weeklong visit each year, I spent time just playing and exploring the farm, but I also got to watch my uncle shovel the cow manure from the barn that replenished the fields. I tried to pick eggs from under squawking and flapping chickens every year, but startled I would drop too many and my aunt would always have me reassigned. Occasionally, I watched my uncle milk the cows even though he would squirt milk in my face from 15 or 20 feet away. I would even get to climb to the top of the bluff with my sister and cousins and look down upon the immense patchwork of green fields and white houses with red barns.
It was just a great time to be alive, to be able to smell the farm fields and animals…to be able to hear the rural silence…to see and feel with a singular sense of wonder as children do.
After a couple of days exploring the farm, I would start to get a little restless, so each year I volunteered to go to school with my cousins. This I volunteered to do every year between the ages of about 6 to 11. We rode on a school bus for what seemed about 3 or 4 miles, picking up other children at farms along the way...along the way to the one-room schoolhouse.
The schoolhouse was set back from the road and was in a clearing surrounded by pine trees. The pine needles fell and formed a soft padding in the schoolyard. The playground had a few swings, a teeter-totter and tetherball. The white, wood school was about 20 feet by 40 feet and the roof was high and steeply pitched. The first floor had a coatroom and the classroom while the basement was where lunch was served.
Each year, my cousins introduced me to the teacher and each year she seemed surprised that I wanted to go to school during my Easter break. But I was always very warmly received by the teacher and all of my fellow students. I would be shown my desk and then work along with my fellow students.
The classroom consisted of about 6 rows of desks, with about 5 or 6 desks in each row to accommodate about 30 students who were about 5 to 11 years of age. The front wall had a large blackboard on it and the top of the wall displayed letters written very correctly in now almost obsolete cursive. Each row of students was in a different grade from about the 1st to the 5th or 6th grade.
I remember being impressed with how the teacher maintained complete order and studiousness in her classroom at all times (compared, that is, to my classrooms in Milwaukee).
Throughout the day, the teacher would stand at the front of a row of students and teach all of the students in that row while the other students worked on written assignments. She then taught students in all of the rows and grades and taught some subjects in front of the entire classroom of students. When the teacher was not standing at the fronts of rows, all students read and wrote assignments at their desks while she graded material.
At about 10 a.m., we would all be given cold chocolate milk and then take recess in the schoolyard until the lunch truck would usually arrive. The teacher and helped the driver take pans filled with food to the basement where they were put on heaters until lunch.
At the end of recess, we would be called back to class by the teacher ringing a large bell that hung by the front door. Once back inside, the teacher would again teach and the students would again learn.
At about noon, the teacher and students would all go to the basement where the teacher served us lunch. We ate warm food and drank cold milk as we laughed, surrounded by bare rafters and ceiling lights and bricks and shadows.
After lunch, the teacher would assemble all of the pans while students played outside until studies resumed. About an hour later, the lunch truck again arrived and picked up the pans.
At the end of the school day, the bus arrived and we all then slowly journeyed back to our farms…for me to again roam and play, but for all of the others to do their evening chores.
In about 1961 when I was about 11, I remember visiting the farm during Easter break, just as we did every year. I was told that all of the one-room schoolhouses had been closed in the region and students were instead taken by school bus to a large, 3-story school in Holmen. I visited there once too, but I remember that the brick building and the cement and asphalt playground were similar to Longfellow’s. I remember feeling a little sad that I would never again return to the one-room schoolhouse during Easter breaks on the farm.
Never again, except for moments like now.