December 2006

Vingettes from OWLTOWN - December

Author: Dennis Malick

Owltown School.
Standing alone.
One room. Eight grades.
Irish Valley. Paxinos. PA.
The mid ‘40s.

Owltown had running water, sort of. If you were a good kid and big enough, Mrs. Kramer would send you, metal pail in hand, across the two-lane road to Farmer John Urick’s springhouse. Next came running water—you running the water back to be poured into the big ceramic cooler for our only drinking water. Room temperature.

Another good-boy, good-boy treat was to get out of class to burn waste paper in the schoolyard fireplace where sometimes we had wiener roasts. One such time, I had my first smoking experience. I rolled up a piece of tablet paper very tightly, put one end into my mouth (my Dad was a smoker), lit the other end and inhaled. Also my last day of smoking.

Seeing Mrs. Kramer being rolled across the hardwood floor on her white, wooden desk chair was a holiday treat not to be forgotten. Propelled by one of the Big Kids, Gertie was clutching the chair arms and sailing across the uneven floor and out the door, off the six-inch drop to the porch, the door slammed and locked behind her.

Holiday? Well, holiday times at Owltown were pretty much like everywhere else. Thanksgiving, Christmas and such. Not this one holiday: Teacher Lock-out Day, or Lock-in Day, depending on the circumstances.

This “holiday” coincided with Doughnut Day, when the churchwomen baked Lenten-season doughnuts for sale. Lock-out Day was the most fun. Lock-in Day was just during recess with kids outdoors, teacher inside. One of the Big Kids would swipe Gertie’s door key and, after we all were outside, BK would lock her in.

In or Out depended on how alert Gertie was. On a Lock-out Day, we sat at our kid desks, both eyes on our books and a third eye on Hen Schlegel as he sneaked up behind her, spun the chair around and rumbled down the side aisle past the potbellied stove and out the door.

“YOU JUST WAIT ‘TIL BARNEY SCHUCK HEARS ABOUT THIS,” she threatened as she stomped down the wood steps, across the dirt schoolyard and headed for school board member and general handyman Barney, who lived about a quarter mile away. True to form, he showed up in a couple minutes, growled a bit and pretty soon school returned to normal.

School got very quiet indoors for a couple days after In or Out. The book learning went on, little of it remembered this long afterward, except for one very distinct recall: a Roman history book from second grade. A one-room school and Roman history in the second grade? I can’t remember a thing about the Romans, but never will forget that dark brown book cover with chariots embossed across the top.

Outdoors was where a lot of the learning continued. Science “projects” like damming the small creek (“crik”) that flowed along the playground and then going up the creek to catch crabs (actually crayfish) to stock the dam … and occasionally drop into a girl’s dress pocket. A little water snake or grass snake worked the same. The “science” in it was seeing which did the most wiggling—the snake or the girl.

The Big Kids (like first wives) always got blamed for everything. Stoning the big hornet’s nest in the eave of the school, rocking the outhouse, hiding the handbell that sounded end of recess. Pretty much guilty as charged because we wee ones hadn’t the nerve to do such things.

Of course, there was learning, and then there was learning. Sex and the first grader. One day walking home over the hill and through the woods, there was an “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours” couple of moments when I discovered what was to become known as the “opposite” sex. Ahhhhh, but that would be another book to write … or not.

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