SCHOOL DAYS
From A Lady's Notebook
Contributed by Marilyn Widler

Today I walked along a country road, lined on each side with willow hedge. The "breath of June" is in the air; a fleecy cloud lies motionless against a heaven of blue; on the soft breeze is borne the contented low of cattle and the drone of insect life. Amid such scenes, and on the floodtide of memory, am I, this perfect summer day, drifting along the way I once "crept like snails unwillingly to school."

Just here, where this new house stands, once stood three, or was it five, lofty cottonwood trees. On their bold fronts were blazed, with the aid of a jackknife, numberless dates and birth dates of village school children. There were initials and hearts and crosses; but now not even a stump remains where poesy and genealogy strove so long for mastery over forgiving nature. Under these old trees is where we had school, when the August heat drove us from the schoolhouse nearby. We can see Miss Fannie Harding leading the "wee girlies" by the hand, while Teal, Charley and Frank, carried the long recitation benches out under the trees. I look for the old frame schoolhouse but find it was dust and ashes long ago; is only a memory now. The tears will start as I look over the familiar playground and picture it with the forms of long ago. I picked up a broken window pane and as I look at and through it what ghosts of the past troop by. Henry, Arthur, Will and Sam are busy with the flowerbeds in the corner by Merwine's fence. Anna, Addie, Sarah Jane, Clara, Jane and Flora are playing "chickany, chickany, craney crow" while Lucy, Ida, Cora and "Sis" are busy with "ring around a rosey." Where are they now and what are they doing? Have they all settled down to the realistic, utterly forgetting the dreams of long ago? As I turn and stroll to the west of the playground and look along the fence, scarred and gashed with the conflicts of former generations, I can but think how many have--figuratively speaking--been on the fence ever since; afraid to climb down for fear of getting down on the wrong side.

The old rostrum or platform, in the upper room--we wonder is there one splinter left? And those funny little benches raised on props, how did children ever study or their parents attend Sunday service in such a place, and under such conditions. Many who adorned those old pine benches (figuratively) have since adorned far higher ones (literally). How we used to shout: "To arms! They come! The Greek! The Greek!" and oh the weary days we offered "The world for sale!" How many times as "speaking day" came did we march up that rostrum, with a sinking heart, to recite selections from our readers which though carefully conned, yea, earnestly sought with tears, had a treacherous way of receding into vagueness when verbal attempts were made before a crowd of grimacing, unsympathetic co-laborers. Who of us that heard_____recite "Tis Little Oscar's Grave" can ever forget her doleful voice, or the tones of ______who besought us to "Follow me if you be men," until our favorite schoolmate, Frank S______ said his voice had induced the plastering to crack. One of the girls John Harding called a day express whenever she read, for she never stopped any place. Who that was in the class can recall her name.

The spelling schools and last day exercises were not to be compared with the entertainments and commencements with their electric lights, hot house blooms and fine music. Everyone who owned a lantern took it to light the blackness of the schoolroom; flowers were not to be had and as for music, didn't we sing "We Are a Band of Schoolmates," and "Little Brown Jug?" How many scholars are left in Paw Paw who "spelled down" at the spelling school when J. Marshall Clark was "teacher?" Representatives had been sent from the South Side, Fields and Cottage Hill schools to Paw Paw District No. 5, to try conclusions, and how hope and fear, alternately fluctuated, as our "crack" spellers went down under the ominous "next." How confident at first and then how carefully spelled the representatives. At last "our school" was all down. Frank Barber, Ellen Gates and John Blee were standing. The "teacher" gave out several hard words that had been handed in and they were spelled with ease; a word from the old blue speller was given and all missed. "Who in the audience will spell the words?" asked the smiling pedagogue. Mrs. Alex. Fields arose and modestly (yet triumphantly) spells the word. "Saved for Paw Paw District No. 5" is shouted by the school and all of the representatives join them in a hearty good will hurrah. How plain it all comes back. The dialogues, songs, essays and recitations. The feelings, which animated the breast of the writers as she ascended the "stage" at that wonderful spelling school, cannot be told in cold type. It was hers to apostrophise the "American Flag." At the finish the audience heartily applauded, and the happy girl never for a moment suspected it was because she had concluded.

How long the days seemed and how much solid enjoyment we put into them. The rude, roystering games on the green in summer, and sliding on the pond in winter.

That sound! Yes, the church bell. How many times have we paused in our games to listen, as the sexton tolled the age of one who had solved life's wonderful mystery. The tolling of the church bell always had a wonderful fascination for the school children. We would pass in review the life of him who lay dead, as the years were solemnly counted off on the rosary of the great bell. First stroke! Babyhood. 10! childhood is passing. 20! Early manhood advances. 40! Middle age. 70!! Falls on the listening ear-life's allotted span. What of that life? Was it cold and unfeeling? God knows, and knows all that went toward making that life. Still the bell tolls on--80! Then ten long, measured strokes. It could have been but rest that met the aged man on the way and comforted him.

It is not far to the graveyard. How many of our former schoolmates billow God's acre here. How very many who started out on life's highway with us grew tired of the journey, and strayed from the hot and dusty way to peaceful paths, to pastures green. Here is a broken stone mutely begging recognition. I wonder if I can read the name "In loving memory of Allie Derr." I recall the long, weary sickness of this little playfellow, and go on farther and pause before a snow white tablet and read: "Addie Field, aged 22 years, 3 months, 11 days." That was all, yet it fills my eyes with tears. The toil, and grief, and heartache happily escaped in her dewy youth. The old wishful look has its fruition; for now across the shining way she sees the King in his beauty and is satisfied.

"Such is time that takes on trust,
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us with but age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days."

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