Friday, January 17, 2014

A Most Memorable Experience

By Dean Rea

            The walk was two-miles long in all kinds of weather: sun, snow, sleet, showers. I walked to a one-room school to attend the fifth grade, my most memorable educational experience.

            The previous year I rode a rickety school bus over rocky roads to attend fourth grade in Sparta, which was located in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri. There I learned that the 5th grade
teacher had a reputation that I feared. So, I told my parents that I planned to skip fifth grade.

            They struck a compromise. I would attend a one-room school near the McCracken General Store, however, I had to walk to and from school.

            The day began early as I helped milk the cows, eat breakfast, pack a lunch and walk to a school heated by a wood stove, equipped with two outhouses out back, an outdoor pump that supplied the water. The woman teacher taught a dozen or so children in eight grades. I was one of two fifth-graders, the other a boy who became a life-long friend.

            I lived farther from school than the rest of mostly boys who joined me in pied-piper fashion as we made our way to school. On our first trip Melodine joined the entourage near the store. She was an eighth grader, the only girl most of us had ever conversed with seriously. We fell in love with her immediately as she shared romantic stories and acquainted us with what we considered the wily ways of women. Unfortunately, Melodine soon ran away with a guy who showed up at her door in a new car and never returned. So much for romance.

            We kept busy studying, stoking the pot-bellied stove with wood, sweeping the floors, washing windows and helping younger students with their math, spelling and reading. I loved the open classroom because I secretly could learn what the eighth grader was studying.

            I learned other lesson, too, lessons that served me for a lifetime. For example, I learned how to trade during lunchtime. Most of us couldn’t afford peanut butter or store-bought cheese. So, we traded halves of our sandwiches made from bread our mothers baked slathered with jams and jellies.

            I also learned to exercise caution in sharing information. That fall and winter I trapped rabbits on the way to school carried their carcasses to the McCracken Store where I sold them for two pennies when the market was good.

            As Christmas approached, the store displayed a number of toy musical instruments. I had my eye on a saxophone and shared that secret with a fellow student who also trapped and sold rabbits. On the morning that I had accumulated enough pennies to make the purchase I told my classmate, who bolted from the group and purchased the saxophone. Seventy years later, I still feel the disappointment.

            I learned a lot about community while attending the fifth grade. Students had to work as a team to accomplish most tasks in the classroom and on the schoolyard. You needed everyone, first-graders and eighth-graders, if you presented a program for parents and played games during recesses and the lunch hour.

            I recall that our school played a softball game against a rival that spring. First-graders played in the outfield. The big kids played the bases, pitched and caught. I played third base, which was an oak tree. I became an instant hero when a rival batter hit a screaming line drive foul past the oak tree, and I lunged and caught it.

            Celebration soon changed to disappointment, however, when I learned that the fifth-grade teacher that I had feared in Sparta would replace the McCracken teacher, but not before I completed my most memorable educational experience. As you might expect, I returned to school in Sparta the next year.

copyright 2014, Dean Rea

 Dean Rea is a retired newspaper journalist and university journalism professor. "Confessions of a Professor" is the title of a memoir about his 30-year teaching career that will be published in late January.  He and his wife Lou, who live in Eugene, have explored the back roads of Oregon for more than a half-century. He continues to work as a freelance writer, photographer and editor and teaches two high school writing courses as a private academy. His hobbies are fly fishing and building model airplanes.


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