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.
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 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.