The Little Red Schoolhouse 

Karen Radford Treanor 


Copyright 2018  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo of the little red schoolhouse.
The following is an expanded version of a story I wrote some years ago, which was originally published in the Tri-Town Transcript where I held my first real job as an adult. Finding it tucked away in some old papers, I thought that it hadn’t aged that much in the intervening decades. For some this will be the story of a totally alien world—and for others, a carbon copy of their own early years.

Not long ago, the last one room school house in my home town closed forever, and a page in local history was irrevocably turned. Looking back on the experience of attending classes at the Little Red Schoolhouse, I sometimes wonder if I lived it or have a false memory from some old TV family drama. In my mind’s eye I walk through the back fields, go down the small road past the large new elementary school, and stand once more in the tiny cleared space before the front door, worn down by many busy little feet over the years. The grass is beginning to encroach, the long tough witch grass that springs up rapidly once a clearing is not often used.

When the eight of us first graders started in the Little Red Schoolhouse, the only heat was provided by a Franklin stove. This doubled as a cooking surface in the winter when Mrs. Millay would heat soup for those of us who wanted it. It was invariably Campbell’s tomato soup which I didn’t much care for, but now and then the luxury of chicken noodle would be on offer.
There were only four third graders, who by virtue of 'their superior size and age sat behind the two rows of first graders. Across the room were two—or was it three?--rows of second graders. They were referred to as the "Big Kids" and we stood in awe of them because they had been initiated into the mysteries of reading, writing and arithmetic. We looked up to them in fear and admiration when they read aloud the classic prose, " Oh, Dick,said Jane, “See Spot run after Puff. Run, Spot, run.” Would we ever be able to look at those jumbled letters in the reader and reel forth those long sentences and big words? It seemed unlikely.
I remember the excitement of the first day we got pencils and paper--those fat, yellow, soft-lead pencils that a six-year old hand could just encompass, and the foolscap paper with one inch lines. The desks were grown old and pitted in the service of education, and when you wrote you were bound to run into a pothole and punch through your paper in the middle of a word. Eventually, we all learned the topography of our desks and became adept at avoiding the hidden menace. There were many initials carved into the desks, and the more discerning among us found the signs that our own parents, uncles or cousins had sat here before us. (Aha, I know what you did!)

Recess and lunch time were bracketed by clangs of the big brass bell Mrs Millay wielded. Almost regardless of weather, recess meant that you went outdoors. In winter this meant putting on a lot of extra clothing. For the girls, it meant time wasted stuffing our skirts into heavy woollen leggings held up with suspenders, zipping the legs down, putting on galoshes, coats, hats, mittens and scarves. For the boys life was much easier, presaging the world to come--they merely put on coats, galoshes and mittens and raced outside to hog the best patches of new snow. Life was a bit fairer in warm weather when we all just raced outside. No worry about sunscreen, Polaroid glasses, and UV-blocking clothing then.

We girls had several parts of the field and surrounding jungle of wild cherry bushes (which, when you are six, are classified as trees) staked out as ours. We often spent all recess and lunch hour among them, industriously clearing paths with twig brooms, and piling the swept up leaves along the bare spots as room dividers and corridors. We lived in mortal terror of the "Big Boys" wrecking our carefully tended verdant palace. They frequently came through scuffing and yelling, and we would have been disappointed if they didn't--this heinous crime gave us the opportunity to carry on a feud to the death with them for the balance of that week.

Every so often something out of the ordinary would happen, such as somebody's dog getting into the schoolroom, usually with the aid of the more daring boys, and we would all be eager to get up and help shoo him out. With 30 kids running around we could, with smart manoeuvring, keep the dog in the room for 15 minutes or more; all the time running around and barking like crazy.

Mrs. Millay was usually one jump ahead of us, however, and with an unerring eye, picked out the culprits responsible and made them take the uninvited canine out. We never knew how she could tell the guilty parties, but suspected she had access to some sort of second sight. She had powers beyond those of mortal men, and could even count to 100 without stopping to think about it!

A sudden population explosion made our grade large enough for a whole room to itself, and so the following year we moved up the road to the two-room Aaron Wood school. I was proud to learn that my grandfather had donated the land for this building back in the 1920’s. From humble beginnings, he was the embodiment of the American Dream, a man who’d ‘made something of himself’ and made a bundle of money while doing so, enough do make a grand gesture like donating land for a new school. It seemed only fair, since he contributed four children to the modest population of the town.

There was great excitement in 1953 when the genial general, Mr Eisenhower, was inaugurated. This was felt to be a matter of such import that a television set was brought into the school so that we could all watch the events. (I still have my “I Like Ike” button.)

Not long thereafter the post war 'baby boom came of school age and the undersized school house was relegated to the role of: kindergarten and Brownie meetinghouse.

One hopes that the Little Red School house will not be torn down in the name of progress, for it can still serve a useful function, sitting by itself in the corner of the field a few hundred yards from the massive new brick school; a bookmark in the pages of history to say  This is how things were in a simpler time.

I am intermittently trawling through a lot of paper that is stashed in file cabinets and boxes in my office and the guest room.  I ran across a folder of yellowed newspaper cuttings from when I worked on a small town weekly.  One did not get paid extra for original writing; one was grateful for being published at all!  The attached story was among the clippings.   I’ve tidied it up and expanded it a bit.  I even found a picture of the building on line, although it is rather sad, looking blind with its shutters closed.

( The Wikipedia entry is incorrect, as it states that the school ceased being used as such in 1931.  It was still  a school well into the 1950’s.)

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