On the Farm: First Grade in A One-Room Schoolhouse

My school looked almost identical to this one, except there was only one door.

Life on the farm was far different than life in the city. I don’t remember too much about my life in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The main thing I remember is that I went to kindergarten there, and there were paved streets and sidewalks. I don’t recall moving to the farm near Montevideo, but I remember first grade. The little schoolhouse was white and there were two outhouses in the back on each side, one for the girls and one for the boys.

The inside of the schoolhouse was all open—one big room. And it had a large wood burning stove or furnace near the front. That’s funny, I don’t remember ever having to get wood for the furnace. I guess the teacher did that before all the kids arrived in the morning, and maybe she added wood during recess and lunch breaks. Who knows? But I know she never called on me to help. Maybe because I was only a kid—in the first grade.

I vividly remember what the inside of the school looked like. There were about four or five rows of student desks. I’m not sure how many grades of kids there were, just that there were three in my grade: Rollie, Cheryl, and me. Cheryl sat in the middle of our row and Rollie and me were in the front and back. I know that because I remember how me and Rollie would always be poking Cheryl and pulling her hair. I would pull her hair from the back, and then when she turned around to hit me, Rollie would get her from the front. But it was all in fun!

You know, I don’t remember ever getting in trouble, at least not in the first grade. I really liked the teacher. I think everyone did. I wish I cold remember her name. I do have a very old picture of her. She looks to be about 25.

I learned a lot in the first grade: how to read, write and do arithmetic. And then after the first grade I have no memories of school until 7th or 8th grade. It’s all a blank. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because as a family we moved a lot. From age 6 to age 13, I would say we moved about six times to different houses and schools. So, I had so many different teachers and class mates. I really can’t tell you what happened to me, but my guess is that all the mental confusion of moving, along with family troubles, caused me to just shut down.

I do have one school memory—a very unpleasant one. I can’t tell you what school or grade it was, but I was sitting, looking out the window, and the teacher came over and grabbed me by my ear and almost pulled it off.  She didn’t like that I was day dreaming instead of paying attention to her teaching. So, I have a feeling that that was what my school life was like all the time: sitting in class, but wishing I was somewhere else, anywhere but school.

Oh, one more thing I remember about first grade. Walking there. I don’t remember ever getting a ride to school. The three of us kids always had to walk. My sister Diane was two years older than me, and my brother Mark was one year younger. Anyway, it was a long way to walk for us kids, more than a mile I’m sure. It was a gravel road all the way, and rarely would we see cars on the road. So we usually just walked down the middle of the road. I don’t know why I did it, but I can remember picking up rocks from the road and throwing them toward, and even at, my sister. I guess at that age I didn’t have much of a sense that little rocks could actually hurt someone. I know I wasn’t especially close to my sister, but still, throwing rocks at her was a terrible thing to do, and I regret it.

My Earliest Memories

As I ponder the task before me of telling my life story, I have decided that the best place to start is to recount my earliest memories. I suppose most of us can’t recall too much before the age of three or four. I think my earliest memories were when I was about four or five. Here are five vivid early memories—and I will do my best to explain why I think I have those memories.

Walking to school. I was five years old and in kindergarten. I don’t remember too much about the routine of walking or even how far I had to walk. What I remember most clearly is meeting and walking with a little black girl. And it was a pleasant memory. I suppose the memory has stayed fixed in my mind because she was black and different than me, and because I enjoyed her company. At that age I suppose we have no prejudice. We see the differences but we don’t care.  I think that was true for me. Later on in life, unfortunately, I came to be afraid of the differences—as most people do. That was true especially at that time in history—in the 1950’s. I thank God that over the years I have grown to be less fearful of people. I just wish we could all get along and accept each other.

Trying to be the class clown. This memory isn’t as vivid. In fact, my mom told me what happened and then I seemed to recall it. In my kindergarten class I would stand on the tables and would basically do crazy things in an attempt to get attention: like make faces, crazy noises and dance around—anything that I could get a laugh out of. But the most significant part of it was when my mother very seriously and firmly told me that I had to stop doing it. That I was disrupting the class. And, according to my mother’s recollection—and I seem to slightly remember it—after that talk I was like a different person. I sometimes wonder what happened there. If she wouldn’t have said anything, would I be a more outgoing person. Or maybe what she said to me changed me in a positive way, like kept me from being a life-long rebel. I don’t know.

A scary lady. I don’t remember what the lady across the street looked like. All I remember is that she was constantly yelling at us kids and telling us to stay on our own side of the street. We actually thought she was a witch. Her house was black with a picket fence around it, and with a gate that no one dared enter. I remember that at Halloween we would dare each other to go up to her house. We were surprised that she was actually friendly and gave us treats. But we were very suspicious. Maybe the candy was injected with poison.

Why have I held on to that memory? Maybe Satan is using it to enforce any fears he wants to instill in me; fears of dark and wicked things, fears of angry people, fears of the unknown. But I keep taking my fears to God and He continues to give me victory over them.

Saturday morning TV. Let’s see, the memory had to be in the year 1956. I think we had just gotten the television. The screen was very small and black and white. I remember that especially on Saturday morning the three of us kids, and maybe a couple neighbor kids, would set around the TV and watch cartoons. But the most vivid memory was when my dad got very angry and yanked the TV cord out of the electrical socket and even out of the back of the TV. I can’t remember what he said to us, only that he was very angry that we were watching TV. I think he said that it was a waste of time and that we should be doing something more constructive.

That whole memory was centered only on my dad’s out of control anger. That’s the way he was, and we never knew when it would flare up. More fears from the devil. I think he was using my dad’s problems to make me fearful. At times I still have fearful memories and dreams of my dad. Right now I’m thinking that maybe it was like David’s strained relationship with Saul. Saul had a mental problem, as did my dad. And like David, I seek the Lord constantly in prayer.

When my uncle came to visit. If my calculations are right, I was about four years old and my uncle Lyle was about 25. I don’t remember many details about his visits, except just seeing him, and seeing his shinny gold watch. I also remember feeling so good about being around him. He was so cool. That’s the only word I can think of to describe him. He was nothing like my dad. He never got angry. I always have thought of him as being cool and rich and smart. He lived on the farm with our grandpa and grandma, and with our younger uncle Mike. Mike was cool too. Both of them had their own horses. But it was Lyle who had the brains and who kept the tractors and machinery running. Lyle could do anything. We all knew that about uncle Lyle.