Sunday, July 3, 2011

"My First Day of School," a short memoir by Marion Eby

Marion, age 4, with cousin Jack Borman, age 13
At age five, I was late for my first day of school. Mom had started me early enough, but there were many interesting things on the way.

I had to stop at the beautiful stone bridge near home and for some time look at the stream running beneath my feet. The trees were beginning to change colour and cast beautiful reflections in the ebbing waters.

As I wandered off up the first hill, I worried about passing the house where the owner had a turkey gobbler as a pet. The bird had a habit of spreading his wings and running out to the road. However on this occasion he did not appear, but instead I stood mesmerized staring at a beautiful scarlet tanager. Eventually it flew off and I began my journey again.

At the first corner, the village smithy was already at work. One could see the red hot fire and the owner forging on something. And yes, there was a “spreading chestnut tree”.

After watching him for a while, I ambled (I say that because I was a dreamer) up to the top of the next hill. Just past my Uncle Wes’s farm and house I heard the school bell ring. I panicked, tuned around and ran home as fast as I could.

Mom was doing the washing, in the back kitchen. The machine was made of copper and had to be filled by hand. The boiler, a large, open, oval shaped kettle, stood on the wash bench ready for Dad to refill the machine for the rinsing. When she saw me, fortunately (or unfortunately) Mom was really annoyed. She yelled at me and told me to hurry back to school. In retrospect, I think she was almost hysterical. This time I hurried as fast as my five-year-old legs could propel me straight to school.

My school was S.S. No. 5 in West Flamborough Township. The building was completed in 1885 at a cost of $2,800, and replaced the earlier school house. It was a real red brick schoolhouse; the kind they wrote about in stories. My Dad and his brothers had gone to school there too, until they were 11 years-old when they went to work.

To a small child it was an imposing edifice. It was built of red brick and had a hand pump in front where one could get a drink of water. The steps in front were of cement. The doors at the top opened into the hall. If you looked up you could see a large school bell waiting to be rung. A really heavy long rope dangled just waiting to do its duty.

There were steps down into the basement where hooks hung along the walls. Coats and galoshes would appear soon enough. A large new furnace stood in the middle of the basement floor! This would heat the whole school in winter. It was something we did not have at home.

Two doors went off the hall – one to the right and one to the left. It was the right one that interested me. The door opened and there stood Miss Pretty, the primary school teacher. She was really nice about ushering me in to what is now called grade one. The first day we learned to write our names and do writing exercises like lines and circles.

The recess bell soon rang and the children went outside to play. The Primary room, called the “little room”, was on one side of the building and the “big” room on the other. Needless to say the rooms were the same size, but the pupils were of different sizes.

The outhouses were outside to the left and right of the building. The girls went to the left where their outhouse had six compartments with doors. On each partition to the left were the Eaton’s catalogues. At that time the paper was not glossy – just paper with print. Toilet tissue as we know it was not available. In winter the wooden seats were really cold. Somehow in winter children did not raise their hands as much when they wished to leave the room.

Fifteen minutes later we were all back inside to continue classes. We began arithmetic, or counting. A very large abacus was used for counting. Around the same time as we were doing counting, the older children in our room were occupied with reading.

Our first day closed with Miss Pretty reading a story. I could hardly wait until we began to read from our readers. The Little Red Hen would be our first book, but first our parents had to buy the primers at the corner store!

After school ended I ran straight home and shouted to Mom when I went in the door. I wasn’t late getting home.

Marion Eby started school before time began and is still learning. She finds writing challenging because she is usually covered in cats.


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