School days, school days ...
SHORES HILL – Fall. A new school year has begun.
What memories does that bring back? Maybe big yellow buses roaring down the road, the clang of lockers, the thrill of your football team charging onto the field on a cool night.
But for one area resident, the memories go back to a time before all that. To the days of a one-room school, a wood stove and old wooden desks.
Leona Westbrook Heath, now 98, of Shores Hill, near Towanda, recently wrote down memories of her elementary school days in the 1920s at the local school. She remembers all those things — and more.
Today, Leona lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Norma and Ab Maryott. They share her interest in history.
On a recent afternoon Leona, an elegant, bright-eyed lady with wavy, white hair, sits in her living room, a vase of yellow flowers by her chair and lots and lots of books on the shelves behind it. She loves memories, and stories. Her thoughts go back to a time many have only heard about, and few remember ...
She points. The school was "down the road here just a little ways."
Leona was born in the community of Black, a daughter of Robert and Martha (Post) Westbrook. She had seven siblings: Irma Dyer, Robert, Norma Benjamin, Lorenzo, Stanley, Marchia Reeve and Lucy Vanderpool. (Her mom baked 27 loaves of bread a week.)
Her father worked on different area farms and even in the Sayre locomotive shops, so the family moved often.
* * * * *
All of my eight grades of schooling were spent at country schools. I started first grade at Macedonia school. My older sister, Irma, and I had quite a long walk to the school (now the IOOF Hall). We lived in a house on River Road. It is the road to the left at the south end of the Wysox Bridge.
In the spring we moved to Lake Wesauking and my father worked for Mr. Frank Gorham, a farmer.
Farmers hired their help in the spring. We lived in a tenant house part-way up the Lake Wesauking Road and Dad walked to and from the farm each day.
(Leona notes the Hollenbacks now own this farm.)
Irma and I walked to the Wysox School, a two-room school with two teachers. Each teacher had four grades. There were no indoor restrooms. They were on the outside, one for girls and one for boys.
Then we moved again, this time to Shores Hill. I entered second grade. Every spring I think about that first school day. Irma and I dreaded having to go. I look from my dining room window and see two little girls carrying their lunch pails slowly walking and dreading meeting a new teacher and classmates.
Suddenly, they see something ahead of them rising above the little knoll in the road, and they huddle together wondering what is coming toward them.
Slowly the objects move higher and higher and they see it’s the new teacher and their new classmates coming to welcome them. Miss Hawkins was her name. She was a very nice teacher, and what a lovely memory of our welcome I have.
* * * * *
The school was a white, oblong, one-story building, Leona recalls, with three or four windows on each side and two in the cloakroom/hallway.
A stove in front heated it. Leona thinks it burned coal and maybe some wood. A local farmer, Ray VanderLyke, stopped in the morning and turned the stove drafts to warm the building. "He would do that in the wintertime," she says.
Seating two apiece, the old-fashioned desks had metal-legged chairs attached to the wooden table parts behind them. Seats could fold up. They came in three sizes – wee, medium and big, for wee, medium and big kids. Each student got one tablet and one pencil a month.
And, yes, again – "We had outdoor toilets," she says. One for boys, one for girls.
(More recently, one of Leona’s great-grandchildren heard the family talking about outhouses. "What’s an outhouse?" the child asked. They explained. The reaction? "Well, gross!")
* * * * *
Our school attendance size wasn’t large, probably 14 or 15 pupils. During those years, school began at 9 a.m. and closed at 4 p.m.
In country school we never addressed our teacher as "Miss." It was always "Teacher," and she would acknowledge us. I never had a man teacher until I went to high school. There we said "Mr.," "Miss" and "Mrs." And there weren’t too many "Mrs." on the staff.
The teacher was allowed to read 10 Bible verses each morning and we joined in saying the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. The older boys had the honor of taking care of the ritual of raising and lowering the outdoor flag every day. Along with the flag on the front wall hung large framed pictures of presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
For third and fourth grade we had Miss Elizabeth Miller. She was the daughter of our minister. The parsonage was at Hornbrook so she boarded at a neighbor’s home near the Shores Hill School.
One thing I remember about those two years is that the teacher was enjoying the company of a young man who went to the Union Corners Church at Black. He was the milkman and trucked the farmers’ milk to the creamery in Wysox. Once in a while he would stop and have a chat with Teacher. She would caution us to keep busy and quiet; she would leave the room and they chatted in the hall with the door closed, and we did as she asked us to do.
Miss Miller was with us two years, then went to New Jersey. On her way to Towanda one weekend her car skidded on the ice and she was killed.
Our fifth-grade teacher was Miss Mabel Nenninger. She was quite strict. All teachers called us to our 15-minute classes during the day by saying, "Grade one, reading class, stand, pass," and when we got to the recitation bench by the teacher’s desk, "Be seated." We returned to our seats in the same manner.
Miss Nenninger married at the end of the year and in those days married women teachers weren’t hired. While she was our teacher two of our students moved to Wyalusing. We felt badly about losing them. On their last day with us, at dismissal time, Teacher treated us with Fig Newton cookies and we wished them good luck in their new school.
I think my three years in country school that I most enjoyed were my sixth through eighth grades.
Our new teacher was Miss Julia Jennings, who came at the beginning of sixth grade. There were three of us in class. In seventh grade there were only two of us, Margaret Vanderlyke and myself. Stephen Barner was taken ill and passed away with leukemia at the Sayre hospital.
* * * * *
Leona has a copy of a photo of the 1928-29 students standing or sitting in rows in front of a plain board wall. The girls have dresses and 20s-style bobbed hair. One little boy wears overalls.
Below she lists their names: Peter Williams, Lorenzo Westbrook, Peter VanDerlyke, Ivan Post, Margaret Barner (married name Gillette), Alberta Post (Westbrook), Marguerite Williams (Wiggins Cobb), Norma Westbrook (Benjamin), Margaret VanDerlyke (Frawley), herself, Edna Post (Northrup), Robert Westbrook, Gordon VanDerlyke, Garn Campbell.
* * * * *
Miss Jennings had us learn a poem each month. Each grade level had a different poem. We had a month to learn the poem. Each Friday if you had done so, we would tell Teacher and during the day we had a chance to say it. Then we recited it for a grade. I enjoyed that assignment and memorized them, seeing them in my mind’s eye like I picture the stories in books that I read.
* * * * *
Today, more than 80 years later, Leona begins reciting:
"Be there man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, ‘This is my own, my native land. ... If such there be go mark him well. ..."
"I don’t know what the name of that is," she admits.
Students also learned "reading, writing and arithmetic and geography and history, health," she says. Once a year, a dental hygienist, Miss Gruver, visited from Wyalusing and cleaned their teeth. The boys had the privilege of turning the pump machine to power her equipment.
In the spring, the teacher took them to the woods to look at flowers. "That was our field trip," she says. "To us, that was nice."
* * * * *
Every morning, Teacher took a pan of water and dusted windowsills, desks and seats with a damp cloth. At night, she swept the floors and straightened things up.
We never had a substitute teacher in country school. One afternoon Teacher was ill and she had Margaret and I have the little ones read to us and the other grades worked quietly on their assignments.
Miss Jennings walked to school or her father brought her to school by horse and buggy or sleigh. During the cooler months she had a pair of gym bloomers she wore to and from school. She stored them in a cupboard where there were books and, as children are curious, we sometimes found excuses to go to the cupboard to have a glimpse of them.
* * * * *
Leona remembers how "in the winter time you could sit in school and hear the teams go up and down the road when they were hauling ice." Farmers would cut ice off Black’s Pond, a mile or 1 ½ miles up the road, for one another. "They all worked together," she says.
* * * * *
I think it was during her second year (Julia Jennings), she bought a car. I used to stay at school on Friday night and help clean for Monday. The erasers had to be clapped together. Sometimes the bigger boys did that. And, the blackboard needed to be washed. ...
Remember, our area was country, so until REA (Rural Electric Administration) came through in the latter 1930s homes and the school used lamplight. As I remember it, the Vanderlyke and Barner families were the only families to have generators to supply their home and barn with electricity.
We took turns going after the drinking water from the nearest neighbors’ well. We had a water cooler and each student had his own cup. The water cooler was in the hall and it was a crock with a cover on it and a spigot near the bottom. Each student brought a cup and the cups were placed in little squares in a small cupboard hanging on the wall. Below each space was a paper with our name so we knew where to store our cup.
We never had a clock on the wall of the school until one year the students had a Halloween party. Parents made homemade fudge for us to sell to earn money to buy a clock for our room. The party was probably on Saturday afternoon and the parents came with other foods to eat and they bought candy. The clock was one that was wound by a key.
We always had a Christmas tree and drew names to exchange gifts. We had a Christmas program. We learned special poems and little plays and sang songs. An organ was in the school and Mrs.Vanderlyke came and played for us. We practiced at noon hour. The last day before Christmas holiday, parents and neighbors were invited in to listen to the program.
For Valentines Day we used art paper and made our Valentines, put them in a decorated box, and passed them out. One year, Teacher’s mother made a nice cake and her father with his horse and sleigh brought it down for our party. It was a nice surprise for us.
One time the county superintendent came to visit and Teacher was sitting on the recitation bench between Margaret and I explaining a lesson. The other students were busy at their desks and the superintendent complimented her on the studiousness of the room. The superintendent’s visits were never announced and he never knocked on the door when he arrived.
During the winter months Teacher put a pan of water on the top of the stove, and if our mothers made a container of soup, it could be put in the pan so as to be warm at noon. The containers were small metal ones with a handle. They originally held peanut butter. Sometimes we huddled around the stove to warm up after we had walked to school or played outside.
There was a board fence at the middle of the school out back and we were asked not to jump over it. One day, Teacher caught someone jumping over it, so she called the boys all in and six of the boys said they were guilty. She sent one boy who hadn’t jumped over the fence to cut a switch. Teacher stood them in a row and each one received a few switches. Only one of the boys cried.
There were a few times during the noon recess when Teacher went out and joined in a game of Drop the Handkerchief, a ball game or Ante, Ante, Over the Shanty, or Fox and Geese.
Education was of high value in those days and Miss Jennings drilled Margaret and I throughout our eighth grade school year on all our subjects. At the end of the year, she drove us to the Ulster High School to take the ninth grade entrance exam with other eighth-graders from the county.
* * * * *
They passed the test. Leona graduated from Towanda High School in 1933.
Afterward, she kept house for various people, then attended Elmira Businesses Institute and worked awhile at the Blue Swan Airport. She married Edward Heath, and they raised two children, Norma and Warren. Ed passed away in 1988.
The couple spent most of their married life back on Shores Hill. Leona was a homemaker here, "And I call it my castle!" she says of her house. She’s attended the nearby Union Corners Methodist Church at least 75 years.
The little school closed long ago. Leona still has keepsakes, though, like her "Souvenir of our School" booklet from 1927-28, with pupils’ names, Miss Jennings’ picture and poems. "Count that day lost whose low descending sun views from they hand no worthy action done," it advises.
She has the knowledge it gave her — the reading, the writing, the history. All those poems. The good ‘ol ‘rithmetic.
And it gave her memories. Of stoves and outhouses, old desks and chalkboards. Of bloomers. Of a water cooler and lanterns. And of teachers. And friends.
"I enjoyed it," she says of the school. It was her school.
And it was the good old days.