THE OLD COUNTRY SCHOOL
In first and second grade, I attended Balance Rock School in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. This school was definitely old--it appears on a 1904 map. And it was definitely country--we all walked to school.
There were two classrooms: Miss Simmons taught grades one through four, while Mrs. Weirum taught grades five through eight. There was also a cloakroom where the milkman left our lunch milk, in glass bottles. By the back door was a large water dispenser, filled every morning by the biggest boys, who brought the water up the hill from a nearby farmhouse. In the basement was a coal-burning furnace, which on the coldest days did not give enough heat. Sometimes the milk in the cloakroom froze. Sometimes we had to wear our coats and hats, maybe even our mittens, in class.
In Miss Simmons' class, the day began with opening exercises. Not having a real flag, we pledge allegianced to the picture of a flag. Then we said the Lord's Prayer, which was confusing because not everyone said it quite the same way. Then Miss Simmons read us a story. My favorite was Doctor Doolittle, who had a duck named Dab Dab and a Pushmepullyou with a head at each end.
Then the lessons began. Each grade had its own lessons, so while the first grade was learning "left" and "right", the second graders might be doing arithmetic while the third graders studied geography.
When it was recess time, we ran out the back door, first to the outhouse (one side for boys and one side for girls, though it was rumored that the boys could peek through a crack to watch the girls). We could swing on the swings or play Farmer in the Dell or Red Rover.
When Miss Simmons came to the top of the steps and rang her bell, recess was over and we headed reluctantly back to the classroom. We were puzzled by our reading books. In many ways, Dick and Jane were like us--in fact, Dick looked much like my next-door neighbor Larry Palmer. But Dick and Jane did some strange things. They rode on a school bus! They had a sidewalk in front of their house! Their father wore a suit to work! And even a hat!
At lunch time, Miss Simmons handed out the bottles of milk. We opened our lunch boxes (Howdy Doody and Roy Rogers were popular ones), took out our sandwiches, and ate at our desks.
When Miss Simmons consulted her clock and determined that it was 3 o'clock, class was over and we all walked home.
This was my school for first and second grades. At the end of the second year, there came exciting news. There was going to be a new school! We were going to ride on a school bus! You could get your lunch from a "cafeteria"! (This was probably like a "restaurant," but since I had never been in a restaurant either, I still could not imagine it.) The bathrooms would be inside! And most improbable at all, the blackboards would be green!
So I left the old country school for the new in-town one. The old building stood vacant for a few years, and then was converted to a residence, which is still a home.