Alyce Faye Bragg column: The ghost of school years past
Charleston, W.Va. — The last of August’s hot and hazy days melt away into summer past, bringing in September and a new school term. If you listen closely, you can hear the clear ringing of the hand-held bell, warning the last tardy scholars that “books are about to take up.”
Our two-room schoolhouse no longer “sits beside the road, a ragged beggar sunning.” Indeed, it never sat right beside the road, but instead was built upon a hill, with an uphill patch leading to it. No longer is it reigning over the bare school yard and the two outhouses that squatted on each side of it. It has been gone for many, many years.
It was no “ragged beggar” either. I close my eyes and see it now in memory, just as it looked to a knobby-kneed first grader climbing the hill to it for the first time. It looked so big and was painted white with banks of windows on each side. I passed the water pump, where we got our daily drinks of water. No water pail and tin dipper for us — we were more modern. Some of the more fortunate kids had metal drinking cups, which collapsed into a round cylinder, but most of us learned to make paper cups out of writing paper. The papery taste of that water lingers still.
A big porch jutted out in front of it with the tall flagpole and fluttering American flag mounted near the steep steps. One of the first things I learned was to line up as soon as the bell rang. The smaller children who went in the “little room,” or grades one through four, assembled in one line, and the “big room” students lined up on the other side. Each morning we placed our hands over our hearts and repeated the flag pledge. I was scared and intimidated but dutifully imitated the other children and “pledged allegiance to the flag.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but patriotism and love for our country was being drilled in us from the very beginning.
We were taught much more, too. Good morals and godly principles were stressed, as well as honesty, integrity and faith in God. I can still hear Mr. Hinkle repeating to us, “Do unto others as ye would have other do unto you.” We lost much when the one- and two-room schools were outdated.
Recess was a revelation. So many children at one time — running, shouting, laughing and playing. Soon we new ones were drawn into their games. One thing I remember so well is how kind the older girls were to us younger ones. We called them the “big girls” and looked up to them. Some of the big girls had brought a jump rope, and it was popular with all of us. I have seen some of the eighth-grade girls take a first-grader on her hip and skip rope without missing a beat. We had to learn to be skillful; those ropes were heavy, and a healthy whack on the shin bone would make a welt or a bruise.
Eight school terms of skipping rope and chanting the jump-rope rhymes make an indelible impression on the memory. We chanted, “Teddy bear, Teddy bear turn around/ Teddy bear, Teddy bear, touch the ground/ Teddy bear, Teddy bear tie your shoe/ Teddy bear, Teddy bear how old are you?” Then we began counting until the jumper tripped up. When the cry came, “Hot pepper!” the two girls wielding the rope turned it faster and faster until the one jumping tripped up or faltered.
The old rhymes keep coming to mind. One of the oldest that I remember was “Wire, brier, limber, lock/ Three geese in a flock/ One flew east and one flew west/ One flew over the cuckoo’s nest!” And there was “Down by the river where the green grass grows/ There sat Janice sweet as a rose/ She sang, she sang, she sang so sweet/ Along came Larry and kissed her on the cheek/ How many kisses did he give her in a week?” We began counting then, and the names were changed to suit the budding courtships.
Recess and noon hour were over far too soon, and the ringing of the bell called us all back inside to the more serious business of learning. Thank the Lord, our two-room teachers were from the same country stock that we were, and were not upset by our country dialect. If we told them that we had already “et” our lunch and would be back “dreckly,” they knew what we were talking about. And if a student was tardy because they had a “fur piece” to walk, they knew how “fur” it was.
The old Hagar school house, which once was a log building, stood there for many years. In fact, my own father went there when he was a little boy with a baked sweet potato in his pocket for lunch. Many generations have come and gone, and the 25th annual reunion of the Hagar Grade School is scheduled for today, Aug. 30. So many of my generation have passed on, and our son Mike, who is 60 years old, was in the third grade when the school was discontinued and students were sent to Valley Fork Elementary.
This reunion will be at the Bethel United Methodist Church Fellowship Building and we are looking forward to being together again and sharing our memories. This is not limited to the ones who attended Hagar School, but everyone is invited. The community has been very good to gather with us, as well as other communities. Our time is running out...
“The Golden Days of Schooltime”
Author unknown — sent by Janice McCoy of Hillsboro
The golden days of school time, how swift they pass away!
Now life seems fair and pleasant, and all around is gay;
These happy days of school time have little to annoy;
These careless days of school time are golden hours of joy.
Each day is bright and joyous, we have but little care;
The year seems almost endless, all goes so smooth and fair.
We scarcely know of trouble, nor think of danger nigh;
For life seems sweet and sunny, as golden hours pass by.
These happy days of school time will seem, when passed away,
Like brilliant hues of sunset that beautify the day.
Through all our life with pleasure, these sunny hours will shine;
And with each thought of sadness these golden hours will twine.
Contact Alyce Faye Bragg at email@example.com or write to 2556 Summers Fork Road, Ovapa, WV 25164.