Rural Grade School

I grew up in a rural setting. We lived in a trailer on a steep hill in the middle of the woods. My closest neighbors were a half-mile away. Thick woods separated us, but we regularly heard their guns firing.

My elementary school was a small red brick building with huge maples trees in the front yard. Close to the street the yard was lined with large pine trees. Large maple trees crowded the building, providing much-needed protection from the hot sun in warm weather. I fondly remember completely ignoring my lessons, opting instead to stare out at colorful maple leaves dancing in the fall wind and daydream.

The school could only support one classroom per grades 1-6. Although it seemed huge to me at the time, I realize now just how small my world was. It was two kickball fields, one walking track, a grassy area, a swing set, monkey bars, a crabapple tree and a patch of blacktop big. In warm weather, the janitor propped the building’s side doors open to get decent airflow down the hallways. Our artwork on the walls would flutter in the breeze.

The main hallway smelled of the linseed oil liberally applied to the wide board to keep them conditioned. They were just the right amount out slippery to glide down in stocking feet…until you got caught. Occasionally the sharp scent from pine shavings would waft down the hall, the telltale sign of clean up from a sick child. Every class had that pale kid who puked all the time.

All told, no more than 200 kids were in the building that had only one phone. The wall-mounted phone had a rotary dial and long spiral cord; it hung just outside the head teacher’s classroom. I never understood why the third-grade teacher served as the head teacher for the entire school. I got the impression from other teacher that they didn’t care for her bossing them around.

It was the ’80s which meant in addition to wild prints, teased hair and sky-high stilettos, the head teacher also sported incredibly long fake nails. Nails that required she dial numbers on the rotary phone with the eraser end of a No. 2 pencil to keep them from breaking.

I think back to that time when I feel myself getting antsy about not having “enough.” Most of my classmates, including me, lived in poverty, but none of us knew that. We played games with pine cones and old kickballs, decades removed from our future high-tech lifestyles.

Of course I remember difficult growing pains during those years, but it’s much easier to wax nostalgic about a time without cell phones, security guards, and ubiquitous computers.

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