It was a cold, blustery February day, so bad that most of the parents came after their children in the early afternoon. I was l9 years old, the only teacher in a one room country school and had no idea that the radio had broadcast a noon weather report predicting that a winter storm. When the firs parent came to school to get his children he told me a blizzard was on the way. All five of his children piled in the cab of his red pickup and away they hurried on the road which was rapidly becoming white with falling snow.
Shortly thereafter two more fathers came after their youngsters, but the little girl, with whose folks I boarded, was still at school with me, for no one had come after us. Normally we walked the two and one half miles, as we had walked that morning.
I wondered if we should bundle up and head for home, or stay in the building. I had heard of teachers who had weathered storms by staying in the schoolhouse for the duration of a storm. I was willing to do that, but it seemed to me that since no one had come for us, they must think it was all right for us to walk home.
We started home about 2:30, a good hour after the others had gone. I banked the stove in the school house, shut it tightly (we never locked it) and we headed out into the wind, our scarves tightly wrapped around our heads. It was not terribly cold, but the wind was very penetrating. About half way home, in a bend in the road, was a large WPA dam, built to insure a water supply. When we reached the dam we decided to cross it because the wind in our faces was so fierce. We were almost across when we heard a snapping sound, and felt the ice breaking beneath us.
The 8 year old who trusted me implicitly was lighter than I but the ice was cracking under her, too. We must have been very near to the other edge and there was no turning back, or so it seemed to me. I said, "Pray, Ellie Mae" and I know she did. I know we both did. It seemed as though the ice‑encrusted tumbleweed that had packed themselves along the dam's edge provided a sort of bouncy springboard for us, and though our boots got wet, we made it across the ice, and on to the sidehill.
Even though we were no longer facing into the wind it was slow going up that hill trying to walk through that snow embosssed thistles and dried rosin weeds, and we seemed to slide back a little with each step forward. I kept saying, "Wiggle your toes, Ellie Mae." All I could think of was that if her feet froze, it would be my fault, because she trusted me and because I was the teacher who should have had better judgement.
We were almost home when the men of the family came for us, with a team and buggy. They had been trying to get their truck going ever since the weather report came out, but their truck was "froze up" and wouldn't start. When they realized how late it was they decided they had better come after us with the team. By that time the blizzard was getting worse, the snow was blowing in little swirls, and visibility was very low.
When we came into the house the mother clutched the eight year old to her and said to me, "You should have known better." I went up to my cold room, closed the door, crawled into bed, and cried myself to sleep. It wasn't long until the little eight year old came up to my room with a cup of hot cocoa for me, and said, "It's time for supper." We went downstairs and nothing was ever again mentioned about it.
The country school was one room, with a corridor at the front where coats and boots were left by the children when they came every morning. About 3 and one half feet from the floor there were places for the youngest children to hang their coats, and there was another such arrangement a foot higher for the older youth who attended the school.
There were l5 children, in all grades but one. By some fluke of nature or perhaps by planning, there were no sixth grade in the Gordon School. Miss Jane Pierson, 4l, had been the teacher for the past 6 months, but of all things, she was resigning to get married. No one had thought she would ever "tie the knot." It had not been of any immediate concern to the school board for
they did not imagine that Barney, her consort for the past few months, could be persuaded to propose.
But apparently Miss Jane Pierson had more going for her than anyone had ever surmised. Not only that she had taken care of everything, had covered all bases, as it were. She had found a replacement to complete the rest of the school year!
That was the real problem, the vexatious part of it. She had told them, when she resigned, that her mother could finish out the year, that she had asked and confirmed that she would be glad to do so. Miss Jane Pierson's mother was 66! A 66 year old would probably not be an appropriate teacher for most one room country schools, but for this one she would most
certainly not do.
The chairman of the Board of Education set to work to seek a replacement. The time was l943, in the midst of the war and most of the girls had gone off to factories where the money was much better and the opportunities to meet a man were decidedly superior. Every teacher in the county had already been brought back into the work force.
What was she to do, short of going back to teaching herself. And her own children were attending that school‑‑that was the only reason she had consented to serve on the Board in the first place.
But the one thing of which she was sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, was that the mother of Miss Jane Pierson would not, could not, should not be hired. She set about contacting the Teacher's Colleges for future graduates. That was how I came to get a job as a teacher in a one roomed country school when I was just l9 and had not completed my teacher's training.
The fantastic salary‑‑$89 per month, which was the county average‑‑ was the persuasive factor. How could anyone turn down such an offer? Even though it was February, the coldest month of the year in those parts, and even though I had never started a fire in my life, and even though that was the first qualification for a country school teacher, I accepted the proffered position.
Many times during the next few months I wondered what had ever possessed me to take the job away from a 66 year old who probably needed the money almost as badly as I did. However, from the viewpoint of the School Board I think I must have looked a whole lot better. I was young, eager, bright, and I was a hard worker. How hard I would have to work I was soon to find out.
Miss Jane Pierson had apparently considered that teaching the harmonica to the students was part of the curriculum, for that was the only assignment that anyone knew anything about. Each youngster had harmonica, and little numbered sheets to show them which holes to cover in order to get a certain note out of the instrument, but despite the effort that had gone into accumulating these mouth organs they still could not produce music. They could not produce music, at least what I considered music, nor did they seem particularly anxious to do so.
The first grader, who had now been in school for five months could not print her name, nor read a pre primer. She was the youngest of five bright children, and all of her brothers and sisters, who had been students under a great teacher for several years, could do most things, almost up to grade. It was obvious to me that Miss Jane Pierson had not really been a teacher at all. But how could I teach a 6 year old all she would need in the last few months of her first school year. I had cried many times over the poem about the boy who didn't pass, imagining how sad he must feel, and I knew that I could never fail any student of mine.