Red One-Room Schoolhouse

Red for a one-room schoolhouse blends authority and excitement.

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The one-room schoolhouse was a red one, which is the only right color for a country school. This color is a blend of authority and excitement and keeps a boy's mind on where he is supposed to go. It saves him from getting lost in apple orchards, hay stacks and such other small heavens as might coax a boy to forget about school. It takes a strong color to put a young head in books and keep it there, when poems are growing up all about him. And so these schools are best painted the color of discipline.

First you should know that in those days our water supply was kept in a grey earthen jug. There was a faucet that spilled into the wash basin beneath. On this afternoon, for one reason or another, the wash dish was filled with a mixture of soapy mud and a little water - the usual residue from several pairs of hands at recess time. No one had bothered to empty it.

One of the older boys had just raised the sign that, in 1944 would have stood for Victory to Mr. Churchill, but in 1920 meant only "May I leave the room?" Permission was not granted because Teacher sensed that this boy's objective was not so much personal as merely a chance to get out of answering the multiplication tables. Now it was necessary back in those days to have some system by which the teacher could control the comings and goings of children who had to leave the room. Near the door were two cards - one for boys and one for girls. Whenever one left the room he or she turned the appropriate card to read "Out"; when the pupil returned the card was reversed to read "In." This controlled the rural system, indicating whether one could leave the room or not. Only when the sign showed "In" could you receive permission to go "Out."

Well, since this smarty was foiled in his attempt to get out of arithmetic, his nose and ears became pointed like a fox's, and on his way to the blackboard he slyly turned the girls' card to read "Out" - thus forestalling any girl from asking to leave. For the rest of the morning the hair-ribboned side of the room had to stay put, for none of them dared to raise her hand to tell the teacher that the sign was wrong.

But at noon recess one finally did tell the teacher and named the culprit who had juggled the card. Teacher told him to march right up to her desk. She reached for her heavy hickory ruler. He started up the aisle, taking forever to get there. This naturally exasperated our good lady beyond all patience and at that precise moment when teacher, boy and wash basin came into a straight line, she grabbed up a geography book from the corner of her desk and flung it at his head. That book flapped its wings like a blue heron and took off dead on the target. But instinct, like a kingfisher, can out fly the heron and it reached him first. He ducked. Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe and

Australia continued on overhead and straight on down into the muddy waters of the basin. We could not keep our laughter behind our teeth. No one could except the teacher. She was chagrined, and desperately trying to salvage some victory for herself, she told him that it served him right, seeing as how it was his own geography text. A little uncertain, he stooped down and separated the continents from the puddle on the floor. Then he made a discovery. He gave the book a swipe on the seat of his pants as Smarty came all smart again, marched in triumph to her desk and held it out to her. It was the teacher's book!

Ralph W. Seager
Penn Yan, New York
Reprinted with permission from THE SOUND OF AN ECHO


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.