I was born in 1945. In the fall of 1950 I began my formal education. From my doorstep I walked less than a half mile to a one-room schoolhouse. This schoolhouse had a small stream running through a cow pasture behind it and had hayfields on either side. Inside a short hall ran between a storage closet on the left an a coat room on the right. Two steps up from the end of the coat room put you in a small room off the left of the stage. This room held such things as songbooks and various donated handmade costumes and props. The stage held a piano in the right hand back corner and on the front edge of the stage stood the Vermont State Flag on the left and the Stars and Stripes on the right. Only forty-eight stars then.
The main room held about thirty-five desks. Storage under the seat. There was an inkwell in the right hand corner of the desk. I suspect that my father and his sister used fountain pens. Large windows high on the side and back walls let in good light without showing us any outside distracting activity. Either side of the entry hall were large blackboards. The space in front of the left one was used for stand-up recitations and a large table and chairs stood before the other. Classes were held at this table.
The back corner beyond the stage held the boys and girls bathrooms and a large wood stove for heat. The older boys were responsible for bringing in wood an keeping the fire stoked during the day. The space under the back windows contained the library. Nineteen volumes of The Book Of Knowledge plus a large number of annuals(a volume was published each year with current information). There were also stacks of National Geographic magazines.
Fiction like Zane Grey and Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Louisa May Alcott and others that I don’t remember graced those crowded shelves.
The books on these shelves were all part of the learning experience orchestrated by Elisabeth C. Bump. She taught me for six grades and my father and aunt for six grades all while teaching about forty other kids aged from six to sixteen years. I might add that this was a public school.
This is where I learned about the worlds that are contained within the printed word. I learned that in books we can wrap ourselves in magic, in knowledge, in wisdom, and know those who have toiled for liberty. Today we have the world’s libraries at our our fingertips and college students that don’t know what country we fought in the Revolutionary War!
And guess what? At any time you could have asked any six year old in that school who we fought to gain our independence and got the answer….with pride!
Our day at Furnace School started with a student chosen to carry our nation’s flag to the center of the stage and another to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. After the pledge we would usually sing “My Country Tis of Thee”or “America The Beautiful” then the birth of a sister or brother or some other important news might be reported before the first class began.
Classes would be called to the front table and staggered so that no age group was left to get bored. But every age was exposed to what was being taught to the others. Everyone learned and reviewed all the time. Good readers were allowed to read books in the library when their assigned work was done. It was recommended that the biographies be chosen first! Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin, Daniel Boon, Davy Crockett, John Sevier, Bill Cody, Robert Fulton and other important names in American history.
The books that we read were recorded on our personal list and we gave a short report with a special purpose: to get others to want to read it too! When we read aloud Mrs. Bump coached us to pay strict attention to punctuation and do our best read with feeling!
We put on an ‘exercise’ on Memorial Day, Washington’s birthday, Lincoln’s birthday (I recited the Gettysburg Address) , Thanksgiving and Christmas and parents were invited. Thanksgiving skits about the first one with Indians and Pilgrims and traditional Christmas carols at the Christmas exercise.
It is sad to think that we have deprived our children of the joy and pride that creating and sharing these events with their parents was all about. It is not college that young parents should be planning for their kids. It’s those foundational skills and the moral compass that can make miracles happen throughout their lives because education now belongs to them and not an educational institution.
Celebrate with them the pride they feel in achievement and don’t ever ‘rain on their parade’ but label mistakes as learning experiences that are to be built on or discarded.
I think I was about 8 the first time I drove the old International dump truck in the hayfield. In Vermont you make hay when the sun shines and you make do with who and what you have.
Yes, I must have been 8. My brother Ken was born that spring. Mom would have been caring for an infant else she would have been the one helping in the hayfield.
In order to pick up the hay the truck had to be driven through the field in such a way that it straddled the windrows of hay. The hay loader was hitched directly behind the truck. This impressive machine dragged the hay up from the field and dumped it into the truck where a man (my father) with a pitchfork placed the hay evenly around the truck and tread it in to create a stable load of loose hay. Driving the truck became my job that summer when I was 8.
It really wasn’t hard to do. Dad set the hand throttle. He showed me how to slide off the seat and push in that pedal on the left with my left foot and while I had the pedal down slide the gearshift up in the corner, let the pedal out very carefully, and slide back on the seat. I got up on my knees. Now all I had to do is follow the windrow of hay.
Dad said, “When you get to the end of the field, turn hard pick a windrow and follow it back.”
The trouble came on the return trip. The field had a small hill. The set throttle was not going to be adequate. Dad had carefully explained that it might be necessary to “give it a little gas” in this situation. When the engine started to falter he yelled down to me from his position on the load of hay…”Give it a little gas!”…in a panic I slid from the seat and stomped on the gas pedal!
I of course didn’t see his landing but he pulled open the door, reached past me, yanked the truck out of gear, dragged me out and kicked my ass, put me back in the cab and quietly explained that I had to be very gentle and only give it enough gas to make it up the hill.
The next trip I negotiated the hill flawlessly.
It might have been the year before the Johnny Walker affair that Dad decided we(Dad and I) should camp out up on Long Hill to give me the best chance to take my first Whitetail Deer.
I was startled awake in the night by a gunshot. It took me a while to figure where I was and what was going on.
I was looking at a living,breathing,glowing, sparkling and smoking entity that didn’t make any sense to my sleeping brain.
The ash of Dad’s cigarette sat on the remains of our heavy canvas backpack. Everything downwind of the ash was consumed or about to be by a creeping flame-less fire. The gunshot was going to be repeated if the box of 22 longrifle cartridges were not rescued from the heat!
I woke Dad with difficulty. The empty wine bottle told the tale.
Truthfully I cannot remember any more details. As a grown man I hunted Long Hill. On at least one occasion I walked through this historic site and noted that some charred canvas and rusted buckles still marked the spot.
I am happy with the fact that I’m not a drunk. I had a really good shot at that…. but that’s another story.(I’m not sure I can write that one)
My father was a drunk. He liked to visit his drinking buddies. At the time in question his getting-around vehicle was a Blue GMC 2½ ton flatbed truck.
Mom got a phone call from Dad. I was to start the model B John Deer tractor and run it on up to Johnny Walker’s place…. and bring the log chain.
I guess I was somewhat South of 15 at the time. (maybe 12) It was a proud day when I started that old John Deer tractor and drove it the 5 miles up to Johnny Walkers place to pull Dads old flatbed out of the swamp!
There was a bit of an audience by the time I got there (top speed was 8 miles per hour). I believe there was some betting going on and it felt like the odds were against me.
Dad had forgotten to turn the wheel and backed straight out of Walkers driveway.He backed straight across the road and into Vermont wetlands…. “swamp” was the word we used. Only the front wheels remained on the road.
I don’t think I even thought about the possibility that the tractor was not up to the job. I turned it around and got into position. I jumped down from Johnny and hitched the chain to the GMC’s frame behind the bumper and to the tractor’s drawbar. I got back on johnny.
I don’t know if the betting had anything to do with Dad not offering to help but he seemed to be part of the audience. He knew I didn’t need his help. (even drunk if he’d seen a dangerous mistake he would have stopped me)
I got back on the tractor, shifted one gearbox into low range and the other to low gear,pushed the hand throttle ahead to give it some gas, and engaged the hand clutch.
I spun two holes in the top layer of the tar road before the Deer got a grip and johnny and I sucked that big long truck out of the mud and back on the road.
I guess I was suffering too much from pride to properly appreciate the error in my fathers ways. I don’t remember any money changing hands but the currency was more than likely beer.
footnote: Starting that tractor was a big deal for a 12 year old. I remember the procedure like it was yesterday. First, on the right-hand side you open the petcock over that cylinder. Then you went to the left-hand side and opened that petcock. Then you adjusted the hand throttle on the steering column by watching the carburetor and close the choke. Then, standing on the left side in front of the flywheel, you grabbed it with both hands, locking fingers into the notches on the inside of the flywheel. You then pulled the top of the flywheel toward you quickly and spinning it downward. If you were lucky the engine caught and the two cylinders would build momentum hissing with the compression stroke of each. You would close the petcocks left and right to restore proper compression and stop the hissing. Failing to open those petcocks a strong man would have trouble spinning that flywheel and might get knocked on his ass when he did.
There were times a sweat might be necessary.