Anticipated First Day of Class at One-Room Schoolhouse

First day of school at the one-room schoolhouse was as exciting as the county fair.

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Anticipating the first day of school in the old one-room country schoolhouse ranked with a day at the county fair or a family reunion. My folks sent off to Sears Roebuck for two new dresses for me to wear on alternate weeks. If a dress got soiled before the week was out, Mother wasn't very happy with me, for laundry was an all-day-once-a-week job forty years ago.

The drugstore at our county seat stocked both new and used books. For farm folks recovering from the Depression, saving 251t to 501t on a used book was important. If no used book was available for a subject, we children enjoyed fresh pages and fragrant ink for months.

Being with neighbor children of all ages again was the biggest pleasure. We didn't see each other much during summer, for we lived on scattered farms.

The most awesome aspect of the first day was greeting a new teacher. Our favorite teachers were young, but usually after a year or so they married and moved away. If a teacher were older, we feared she might be cranky, though she seldom was.

At ten o'clock recess most students took a small snack from their lunchpails on the shelf, but I had instructions to save all my food for lunch time. We played ball that first day. Older students chose sides so we younger ones were evenly divided. How we admired the big sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

After ten minutes, the teacher rang the big bell in the tower above the cloakrooms, and we raced back indoors sweaty and refreshed. We all drank from the same dipper, and I recall no serious illness following the unsanitary practice. In later years we were required to have individual cups. Eventually the government provided paper towels, and we lined up for handwashing before we ate lunch. In World War II years, schools were supplied with very tart grapefruit juice and longhorn cheese. The teacher encouraged us to take a little, and I acquired a taste for them.

How delightful the classroom smelled that first day, of new crayons, old yellow paint, slate blackboards on two walls, clean white curtains and oiled floors.

I wish for every child the best of such pleasures as school opens this fall.

Elaine Carr
Batavia, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.