The Last Days of School Never Change

I know…I know…

It’s been a month since I’ve shown up here.  Someday I’ll tell you of my secret carousing,  but until National Enquirer finds out and blows my cover, I’ll just keep it hush-hush and instead gust here about change in the past and present.

It’s been a while since we visited the Oregon town of Two Pan.  And you know what? No matter how much time passes…some things don’t change.  The end of the school year, even for “school marms,” has always incited dreams of another vocation.

In the beginning, Two Pan’s one-room teacher, Miss Hackbert, fought to get her job. Folks didn’t want to hire her because she wasn’t a man. It took muscle to whip or backhand a child into a respectful attitude toward education. But Miss Hackbert…oh….she had her ways.

This is what you get for wearing a Hawaiian shirt to school

She’d make an urchin stand for hours with his nose on the blackboard until the poor kid was so cross-eyed someone would have to whack him on the back of the head to get his sight untwisted.

During the last week of school, she had one of the Spinrad girls, who walloped her brother during penmanship, balancing one-legged on a stump of wood at the back of the classroom. The Spinrad boy was sitting red-faced on the girls’ side of the room. He wore a bonnet, his punishment for stabbing an ink quill in his sister’s hair.

All this was going on while the 1-3 grade pupils were chalking up their slates with a particularly challenging arithmetic problem:

A buffalo will feed 10 people for 1 month, how many buffalo will you need to feed 20 people for 3 months?*

 Miss Hackbert rubbed her eyes as she listened to answers that included deer and several wild turkeys.  She’d come to realize teaching on the edge of the world was about as easy as catching snowflakes with a candle. No one, including her, wanted to be there and classes went until July 4th because the children couldn’t bust through the snow drifts to get to school during the winter. Maybe she should return to teach in St. Louis and civilization.

The door to the classroom smacked against the wall so hard everyone jumped. A gangly red-headed boy was shouting, and the Spinrad brother and sister scrambled out of the classroom dragging their 2 younger siblings with them.

Miss Hackbert yelled after them, watching their backsides disappear as she calculated her personal arithmetic problem.  She received a penny a day per child. She’d just lost a nickel; the equivalent to a pound of cheese or a pound of flour**. Five children she wouldn’t get paid for: the 4 Spinrads and Gus Hopkins, the red-headed truant who rarely came to class in good weather. “What was Gus shouting about?” she yelled.

Several of the girls’ hands shot up. Mary Woolsey, a seven-year-old, stood and addressed

The ringing you hear, is me, whacking you with this bell.

the teacher when called on. “Gus said they found a raggedy skeleton in the snowmelt on the trail from the mines. He had a gold-capped pocket knife, and his skull was bashed in.”

“I understand it’s hard to stay interested the last few days of school,” the teacher huffed, “but bones are not an excused distraction.”

“Everybody knows the only thing Bricker Spinrad had of value was a gold-capped knife. He was always showin’ it off,” Mary said. “That was their daddy’s bones they ran to see.”

The teacher sighed, staring out the door. The bonnet lay in the road where the oldest Spinrad boy had tossed it. That was it. On July 5th***, she’d be on a train—headed back to St. Louie.

NOTES: *Taken from White’s First Book for Arithmetic, American Book col, New York, 1890.
**From Washington.edu curriculum packets
** *2012-School still runs late here in Oregon. Kids just got released from desk duty. And the last days of the term are still full of distractions—thankfully, they aren’t skeletons.
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About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
This entry was posted in Change, Pioneer Friday in Two Pan and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to The Last Days of School Never Change

  1. Pingback: Saturday Evening Post | The M3 Blog

  2. Welcome back, Barb. Missed your delightful Two Pan blogs.

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  3. Teaching is a hard job but I see the passion to teach and make a difference in my teacher’s eyes and so of my sons. I just wish we have more behave students, students who value the importance of education. Great post. Happy 4th of July. Wishing you and your family all life’s blessings.

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  4. riatarded says:

    😀 I want to read more from you! also, 4th of july is upon us! share some recipes love! x

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    • Barb says:

      I’m such a gourmet cook, I’ll share a heritage Oregon Trail recipe for the Fourth. Find a patch of blueberries. The berries that easily come off the bush are the ripe ones. Stuff them in your mouth and keep walking. that was lunch. How those women cooked biscuits and bread after a 25 mile day is way beyond me.
      Perhaps we should celebrate our independence by donating money to a restaurant?

      Like

  5. Spectra says:

    Love this line:
    “She’d come to realize teaching on the edge of the world was about as easy as catching snowflakes with a candle.”

    Great imagery. And I got my buns just a little twisted up in a knot thinking of the abuse in schools (and everywhere else) that passed for discipline in the past. Even in my mothers day, the Catholic nuns were allowed, nay – even expected – to whack students across the hands with a hard ruler for bad penmanship – which explains her excellent penmanship to this day. I say, hit me with a ruler for my scrappy handwriting and I’ll stab you in the eyeball with this pointy little lead pencil, you b***h! ‘course, that additude explains all my “visits” to the principals office when I attended parochial school. But at least I have my pride.

    Nice to be back in Two Pan, Barb. Enjoy your summer! (my blog reader is down again so I’m missing premier posts from all my favorite writers 😦 )

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    • Barb says:

      Isn’t it strange how the policy on education was that knowledge had to be beaten into a kid? All of my highschool teachers had paddles with holes in them. And while girls usually got some gross form of detention, the bald-headed, mean-spirited algebra teacher was an equal opportunity man, handing out a lick with a paddle that would lift you off the floor. S&M must’ve been part of the contract back then. Hope you’re doing something fun outside to celebrate summer.

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      • Spectra says:

        I’m surprised corporeal punishment in schools occurred within your lifetime! I bet you have some serious math anxiety from that dumbass teacher.

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        • Barb says:

          Yes, I use blog therapy to deal with it by grumbling around on the internet with all the other education-riddled survivors.

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  6. Red says:

    I love the old school texts. Those children learned tougher concepts by the 7th grade than children do now by grade 12. I know…they rarely got to 7, so needed to learn faster. It says a massive amount about student-teacher ratio.

    Glad to see Two Pan, Barb. I have been missing it and you. On the other hand, when you are not here you are busy sucking the marrow out of life, which I want for you more than anything else.

    {HUGZ}
    Red.

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  7. pegoleg says:

    That school marm looks like she means business. Great to have you back, Barb!

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  8. Nisha says:

    Whoa! Miss Hackbert makes my former schoolteachers look like angels(well, almost)… 😉

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  9. Al says:

    Yep, that there schol marmin’ shor was a diffycult perfesshun. Gud thang my family antsesters had a gud teecher like ole Miss Hackbert.

    Yers trulie,
    Al Spinrad.

    P.S. Missed ya, Barb.

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Al….I don’t know what to say except I bet you’re excellent at texting. I bet it took more time to figure out how to spell these words than typing with your eyes closed. Gud job.

      Like

  10. rose l says:

    Alas poor Bricker…Well, I do hope his family got that gold capped knife. I usually always had nice school teachers, but occasionally you get one who is quite something. Mine was Mr. Dilbridge, aka Dill Pickle.

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  11. Margie says:

    So that’s what happened to Bricker! His wife and kids are better off without him, right!?

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  12. Elyse says:

    Great Job, Barb. Glad you’re back. Even if you are giving me math problems. I’m sure the answer involves PI or pie. Somewhere somehow they always do.

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    • Barb says:

      I never like that 3.14…, I prefer whole numbers just as I like a whole pie and not those wedge-fractions that turn into doubled calories and triple mass around my waistline.

      Like

  13. magsx2 says:

    Hi,
    Great story, and throwing in the skeleton was excellent reading, and Oh yes if I was the teacher I would certainly be getting out of there, way too much money lost over these ungrateful kids, she should of locked the door as soon as everyone was seated. 😀

    Like

  14. I’m new to the story… but I’m hooked!!

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  15. I took math for non-math majors and I passed. Think I got the answer to this one. Good tale. Enjoyed it and agree St. Louis sounds a lot better. Even in winter.

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    • Barb says:

      Here’s the thing, Myra. That was a problem out of White’s book for first-third grade levels. I think I was still using my fingers tshow my age in the first grade, much less figure out buffalo menus.

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  16. Helen says:

    School marm looks pretty tough…Guess she had to be!!!

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    • Barb says:

      Wouldn’t you? For a penny a day ? And she had to board with families because she sure couldn’t afford housing. Her only hope for advancement was to get married, and then she couldn’t teach. Married women were expected to stay home and take care of hearth and kids. Sometime change is good.

      Like

  17. moma escriva says:

    Informative as well as filled with your clever rapartee. (I love that word)

    Like

  18. Jon says:

    I heard when they finally kicked out the oldest Spinrad boy he was unanimously elected “Most likely to marry outside his species” by the rest of the class.

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    • Barb says:

      That’s classic, Jon. I’ll be over to see how you survived the winter and check if all your species stayed true to their natural heritage.

      Like

  19. Alice Lynn says:

    Love having you back to report on the doings in Two Pan! School marms in those days had to have true grit and a desperate need for employment. BTW, I’ll be waiting for the next fascinating chapter.

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  20. Welcome back. Great story-telling, as always.

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  21. dorannrule says:

    A hilarious story Barb (at least up to the skeleton part)! I was riveted…. wonder what the parents of the punished kids would do today. Would the teacher still have her job?

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    • Barb says:

      Those punishments were jaw-dropping. Horse whips, wet-leather gloves, lots of whacking all endorsed by the school board. No wonder when you see black and white school photos those kids are smiling like they’re in a penitentiary.

      Like

  22. Roxie Matthews says:

    Yep, it’s gonna take 6 buffalo to feed 20 people for thee months, and you’d better shoot one buffalo every other week because they’re likely to spoil if you don’t. Who gets the hides?

    You are brilliant, keeping the story going like this. Violet was a grass widow, but now it looks like she’s a widow right and proper. Wonder who’ll come courting’?

    Like

    • Barb says:

      Roxie, you’ve always got an interest in romance. All right, just for you, I’ll throw some romance into the next installment. Romance….1870 style.

      Like

  23. jmgoyder says:

    You’re back – yeeha!

    Like

  24. digipicsphotography says:

    I can see her side. I don’t know if I would want to teach under those conditions. But at least I figured out the answer to her math problem. 🙂

    Like

    • Barb says:

      I’m guessing that those kids innately knew the answer after crossing the Oregon Trail and eating buffalo for months. Now, if I could only figure out the math on why a hotdog bun is shorter than the hot dog.

      Like

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