Reminiscing Upshur County: The Year of the One-Room Schoolhouse
By RUBY IDA DENTON
In the school year of 1939-1940, I attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. Yet it was not a one-room schoolhouse such as you would have found in the days of my mother’s school years. Instead, this was a one-room, one-grade schoolhouse.
Harmony School was in the making. Rosewood and other area community schools had already consolidated and were awaiting the completion of the new rock building. Different classes had been assigned to different buildings in various community locations for the year’s classes. Rosewood second grade had been assigned to the old Rosewood Methodist Church building. This building was located just east of Rosewood Baptist Church on what is now Arrowwood Road. It was at the top of the hill on the north side of Arrowwood, near its intersection with South Mimosa Road. Mr. Fell Floyd lived in a house on South Mimosa near that intersection. South Mimosa led northward to the Rosewood store, which at that time was run by Mr. Floyd.
The road now known as Arrowwood Road was at that time the road eastward into Gilmer. State Highway 154 was later cut through making a straighter road to Gilmer. You can still see where Arrowwood exits 154 to the south and east just east of Harmony School. From there, it still twists and turns, making several entrances and exits to and from 154. It runs through the area where the Rosewood Baptist Church is still located and where the Old Rosewood Methodist Church was located.
The Rosewood Methodist Church had consolidated with the Mt. Gilead Methodist Church about 1929, so the building was available for use as a school classroom. It was in a beautiful location, with a gently rolling hill in a wooded area which sloped to the west. Pines and oaks made a fine playground in which we girls could build playhouses. (I’m not sure what the boys did for recess.) I don’t remember playing the outdoor games like we had at Rosewood. We girls laid claim to various spots for our playhouses. I remember once when the group I was with found an old “abandoned” spot where the leaves had been raked into “walls” and rocks with boards remained here and there as “furniture.” It looked as though no one had played there for a long time. So, we laid claim to it and began cleaning it up for our own. We had it looking pretty good, when one day a rather bossy girl from the class came by with her group and announced: “That is OUR playhouse.” I think we did not have the nerve to stand up to her, so we left. I suppose she had her rights. At least, she was more assertive.
Mrs. Mamie Lou Langford was our second-grade teacher. She was a great teacher, as I remember her. We called her “Miss Mamie Lou.” All the women teachers were “Miss,” whether married or not. Miss Mamie Lou had a happy personality and made learning fun. She had some great ideas.
The Dutch village is one thing which stands out in my memory. We had a long table in the room which we used for various things at different times, for a variety of learning purposes. We had been learning about the Netherlands and its people and customs. One Monday morning, Miss Mamie Lou came in and announced excitedly, “Class, we are going to build a Dutch village!” We watched as she covered the long table with a piece of white butcher paper. Then the fun began.
Each day, we were given hectographed sheets with tulips, windmills, Dutch boys and girls, and other things Dutch to color. Such fun it was. Especially fun was to color the many beautiful colors of tulips. I think that is when I got my first box of 16 Crayola crayons. I remember it had a pink and a red violet which made beautiful tulips. I believe Miss Mamie Lou must have had us paste the tulips and other things on a light cardboard to make them stand up, for we soon had tulips and windmills brightening the landscape of the table. A highlight of the Dutch project was the addition of a pond in the center of the village. This pond was made by adding a piece of blue paper covered with a piece of glass (perhaps once a windowpane.) This made a beautiful pond such as the Dutch children might have used for ice skating in the winter. I loved Holland ever after.
One day Miss Opal Pritchett came by and talked to Miss Mamie Lou. She had exciting news. The first, second and third grades were going to form a rhythm band. We would have little red satin uniforms and would learn to play a variety of instruments such as tambourines, triangles, and bells. There would be band leaders who would have a different uniform with a white tasseled hat and would twirl a baton.
This was exciting news, but it became a bit sad for me. There would be a cost of $3 for becoming a member of this rhythm band. This fee was to cover the cost of the uniform. Times were hard and not everyone could come up with the three dollars. My daddy was a farmer and was only paid when the crops sold. He made a few dollars working on the side at various jobs. One of these was working at a chicken farm for Mr. James Gee. But this job paid only fifty cents a day. Daddy always said, “not fifty cents an hour, but fifty cents a day.” Anyway, three dollars was not easy to come by and I, along with a few others, did not get to be in the rhythm band. I felt very sad and left out.
The rhythm band marched in the Yamboree that year. I really admired the leaders who looked so pretty and smart in their shiny uniforms, twirling their batons. I never learned to twirl a baton. But one of my daughters did.
Sometimes at recess we could walk down as a group to Mr. Fell Floyd’s store. I remember some little wax things you could buy with a sweet liquid in them. There were small bottles and different shapes. One was a pair of red lips filled with a cherry liquid. You bit into the wax and drank the liquid and then chewed the wax. It was quite a mouthful and was not good after a while, but it was fun. The wax things were a penny. If you had a nickel, you could get a “Chicken Bone.” It is called a Chico-Stix or some such now.
We brought our lunch from home. I had a green metal lunchbox. It had a small thermos in it. Sometimes I had a bacon sandwich with mustard; sometimes it was just bread with sandwich spread on it. Other times it was potted meat and sandwich spread. We called the bread light bread. It was bought from the store and was made with yeast so that it why it was called light bread…because it rose to be light in texture. Mother never made homemade yeast bread. She made cornbread and biscuits. Sometimes I had a piece of cake or a muffin. Mother’s muffins were like cupcakes, but plain, with no icing.
We just went out on the churchyard to eat our lunch, no organization or anything. You just went wherever you wanted to. In the winter, it was warmer on the south side of the building, so most of us ate there.
I do not remember any Christmas tree or program at that building. We probably had one, but I don’t remember it like I do the first grade one. I guess you just remember certain things from certain years and that was the year of the Dutch village and the Rhythm Band.
And Miss Mamie Lou.
Coming to Harmony
Many of our class first came to Harmony School in the 1940-1941 school year. The rock building was brand new! We were in the third grade and Miss Mata Mary Schrum was our teacher. We had come from various community schools; many of us had been in the second grade together at the old Rosewood Methodist Church building. Other students came at later times, as their communities joined the Harmony School consolidation.
The move to the new school—this was what we had all been hearing about and waiting for. The new building, with its native rock veneer, served grades 1-11 that first year. The next year, Harmony converted to a 12-grade school, in accordance with a state progressive movement. Classes for grades 1-6 were held in the west end of the building, while junior high and high school classes were held in the east end. A large gymnasium located centrally, toward the back, gave the school a general appearance of an airplane with wings. The gymnasium served for both athletics and school programs.
If I had to choose one school year that stands out above the rest, it would be the year of the third grade. So many happenings of that year have stayed with me. When I have been at work, or at home, or just about anywhere, some little thing may trigger a memory and bring it all back. I wonder… what made this year so special to me and what was behind its indelible imprint on my mind?
It was the year of the hall store, the Walnetto candy bar commercial, Miss Mata Mary Schrum, and Mr. Cleo Turner. Those two teachers worked together in the hall store and developed the Walnetto commercial to promote the chocolate-covered nutty candy bar. We had school assemblies every Monday morning and a group of us third graders sang the little Walnetto ditty. It cost a nickel. You can buy one now from Old Vermont Country Store for about five dollars.
Miss Mata Mary put her third graders on the assembly program frequently. We often sang popular songs of the day, much as the older girls had done at the old Rosewood School. One song I remember Miss Mata Mary teaching us was “Scatterbrain.” Would you believe I still remember the lyrics to that song?
“You’re as pleasant as the morning,
As refreshing as the rain.
Isn’t it a pity that you’re such a scatterbrain?
When you smile it’s so delightful,
When you cry it’s so insane.
Pity that you’re such a scatter brain.
I know I’ll end up apoplectic,
But there’s nothing I can do,
For without you my life would be just so insane;
And though my life will be too hectic,
I’m so much in love with you,
Nothing else can matter, you’re my darling scatterbrain.
Nothing else can matter, you’re my darling scatterbrain.
Come to think of it, those hit songs really had their messages.
It was the year of MY HEALTH BOOK. Health was a new subject. I had never studied it before. We learned about the different food groups and what vitamins and minerals were and which foods contained which vitamins and minerals.
What made this fun was we made our first booklet. Miss Mata Mary handed out sheets of hectographed pictures of fruits, vegetables, meats, etc. and we colored them. Our homework was to find pictures of different foods in magazines and cut them out. We didn’t have many magazines but fortunately, Mother had some seed catalogs. She let me cut pictures from them. So, these came easy but meats and bread or dairy products were harder to find.
So, we collected, and we organized, and we labeled. Then we got to make a cover of construction paper. Miss Mata Mary brought letters she had cut from construction paper, and we pasted these on our covers to spell MY HEALTH BOOK, with our names up in the corner. I kept that book for a long time.
It was the year of the big snow. That winter we moved from our west-end classroom temporarily to a room at the high school end. If I remember correctly, this took place so that some further needed work might be done on the west end of the building. Perhaps some repairs were needed.
Soon after our move, the big snow came. It was a big snow because it was so much more snow than we usually got in Northeast Texas. It was so big that it stayed on the ground for more than two days!
It was such a snow that some of the high school football players went down to the old railroad dump for some makeshift “skiing.” The “dump” was left over from the old M. and E.T. railroad that had once run from Marshall to Winnsboro. The old dump crossed what was then the school playground. I remember the skiing event because one of the high school boys fell on the ice-crusted snow and broke his leg.
We, being in the third grade, were not allowed out during this unlikely weather. But we didn’t really mind because our teacher had some surprises for us. At least she did for the girls. I just cannot remember what project the third-grade boys worked on during those snow days. Maybe some of you can. But we girls made doll dresses. I was excited and yet, a bit anxious. My anxiety lessened considerably when Miss Mata Mary said we could get our mothers to help us get the dress started at home. I knew my mother could help because she sewed most of my clothes all the time. We were to choose our favorite doll to sew for. This was not so easy for me. I had, at that time, about eight dolls.
I decided on my Snow-White doll. It was a doll patterned after the Disney movie which had just come out. It had a cloth body with composition face, arms, hands, legs, and feet. The only dress it had was its original.
Mother got out her scrap box and we chose a red and white print for Snow’s new dress. Mother didn’t have a doll dress pattern, so she measured the doll and cut out a pattern. The pattern had a plain bodice with a skirt pleated to fit the waist. Its sleeves were cut in with the bodice. Mother let me help cut it out and then showed me how to make the little pleats and pin them in place. She did not sew it for me. I took it to school the next day and with my needle and thread I painstakingly sewed the bodice together and then sewed the pleated skirt to the bodice. The last step was to hem the skirt. It was slow because it was done by hand, and it was slow because it was done by a third grader who had not sewn before. I think the dresses got done by the time the snow melted.
In the early spring, we moved back to the west end to our third-grade classroom. At this point, Harmony School water supply was still “in process.” There was an outdoor drinking fountain at each end of the building. The water flow would dwindle down to almost nothing before the school day was over. There were also only outdoor restrooms. These were located on the far north side of the school property. The cookhouse and out first hot lunches would not come until the next year. We still brought our lunches from home.
We now had to ride the flat top school buses on a longer route. Our feet got colder in the wintertime. The roads were dirt roads, sand or sticky clay. When it rained, they got stuck. When it snowed and iced over, they slid off the road into the ditch. If the big high school boys could not push it out, they had to walk to school to get another bus to come for us.
We froze on these flat-top buses and fared only slightly better with our gas furnace in the corner of the classroom.
But…were we happy? Well, I guess.
Harmony, Harmony, yes, yes, yes