February 2007

Vignettes from OWLTOWN - February

Author: Dennis Malick

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

“Like kissing your sister” is something I never experienced, having no sisters… or brothers. In Irish Valley, there were cousins galore. If you weren’t a Goodman or a Lewis or in some way connected, you probably didn’t live on our end of the valley. I was both.

“Like kissing your cousin” did have some meaning at Owltown School, particularly on Valentine’s Day. Yuk! With about 35 pupils, we pretty much all exchanged Valentines—or at least our mothers did for us. You can bet that no second grader sent “’Tis you who makes my heart beat, Dear” to me. That was one I found in a box of long-saved Valentines.
The same box raised a couple questions about my Dad. Valentines like, “To the one I love,” from Allen. “You’re Just My Style,” from John. Not to worry. Dad was an early grade-schooler at Owltown when he got those in 1917-18. And then there’s “To my Sweetheart,” from Dorothy Miller, who was my Mom’s sister. Hmm…

Owltown’s Big Kid Valentines used signatures like “22-18-25”—no, not measurements, but numbers in the alphabet so you could figure out the initials. That was a Big Kid style. They would exchange 7×10 flimsy paper Vs with guess-who signatures, or none, and rhymes like:
The Flirt.
The only thing you can do
Is flirt with every fellow,
But when it comes to cooking,
Your brains are very shallow.

********************************************** I only spent my first four grades at Owltown. Then the school closed for good. Mom and Dad finished the full eight, just like most of my older first, second, third and fourth cousins. Life inside that one room wasn’t much different for the upper grades, but outside, there were different games going on.

Roger Schuck, son of our school board member and five years older than me, remembers losing his marbles on the playground—literally. With a circle drawn in the dirt, you would hold a steely (large shiny metal marble) on the inside of your index finger and flick it with your thumbnail at other regular marbles inside the circle. If some kid knocked yours out when playing “keepers,” you would lose your marbles.

The hill across the dirt road beside the school, when not used for sliding on sleds, in boxes or on barrel staves, was launch site for paper airplanes. The Big Kids had some elaborate folds in theirs, trying to see who could get one to sail the highest. I liked to fold my planes long and sleek and then tear off a quarter-inch of the nose. I never won.

Roger remembers one time when a paper plane got caught in the air currents and went south. “We never did see it come down,” he said.


The pine trees on the hill were good for climbing, and some were small enough for kids to swing from the top of one to another or from a branch to another tree. There was a game of tree tag. Climb a tree far enough up so it bent over so you could scramble onto the next tree. Miss the top of the next tree, and you were on the ground in a hurry.

One thing some of the recess games had in common was to see how far away from the schoolhouse you could get and still hear when the teacher rang the bell. “Deer hunter” was one such game. The Big Kids—the deer—would take off up the hill or across a pasture next to the creek (“crik”). The “hunters” would chase. After a while, the bell would ring and ring and ring, and neither the “deer” nor the “hunters” would hear it. Somehow they always managed to find their way back just in time for school to let out for the day.

Next issue: Honey deer

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