The Road to School

By Elizabeth Donaldson
Special to the Times

I have written about some of the aspects of growing up on a small farm but have not touched on an important part, our school days in Box Alder. When I first started school, aged six, we were still living on my father’s farm two miles east so my older brothers and I walked nearly three miles to school. I was in Grade Three when we moved and greatly appreciated the much shorter walk. I attended the same school that my mother had and walked that same road, often pausing to look at the river. My mother placed great importance on doing one’s best at school and it was a regret in her life that she was not able to go to high school. The school stood kitty-corner to the church and these two were the main source of social life and education in the community.

I remember my first day with three other grade one students, Jim McCoy, Madeline Hyatt and Garth Young and my teacher was Mrs. Margaret Lichtenstein. In our close knit community many of the families were related and I could look across the room and see children from the Cain, Barker, Hughes and Strachan families. We were all farm children. School hours were 9 AM to 4 PM and in the winter I remember everyone hurrying home when a storm was coming to help with chores.

The school was a typical one room country school house with grades one to eight. Our school had the unique feature of a big bell in a steeple and the older boys were designated bell ringers. I do remember how the bell was rung loud and long when the war was declared over in 1945 and school was let out early.

There were smelly chemical toilets that emptied into tanks in the basement. A washstand with a large crockery vessel with a little tap for drinking water with a cup from which we all drank stood at the back. A washbasin and bar of soap were there also. I thought the set up was quite elegant.

I liked school very much with the crayons and little boxes of alphabet or number tickets and books. At recess often there were girls’ activities like hopscotch or circle games while the boys played rougher games. In baseball season everyone had to play to have enough for two teams. There was a pump on the grounds with a tin cup from which we all drank heedless of germs. We sometimes played in the woodshed piling the wood to our satisfaction. We also explored the little swampy school bush where trilliums, jack-in -the pulpit and lady slippers grew in the spring but we never picked these.

The two big events of the year were the school picnic and the Christmas concert when the whole community became involved. They were looked forward to with intense anticipation and we were so proud of our acting and musical skills at the concert. It was held in the church to accommodate the large crowd. The janitor Bill Smith would light a fire in the church and we would cross the road to practise. My aunt Edna was very skilled at making costumes from crepe paper and I especially liked the angel costumes made of cheesecloth that we wore when we sang the old carols. The school picnic was held the last day of school in June and there were races and ball games. The Ladies Aid had a booth where we could buy treats. Most of the community attended both these events.

I have never really understood why but in about 1947 the seven students from grades 7 and 8 were transported to the big two storey cement block school in Devlin. We were driven there by Elmer Berg in a station wagon type vehicle for a year and a half. Devlin was like a city to me and I even took piano lessons at noon hour. I liked the school and met many new friends in those years. The library was much more extensive than the small corner room at Box Alder that held a few of the older books like the Dicken’s novels. When we returned to Box Alder at Christmas the teacher was our first male teacher. I graduated from Grade Eight ready for the adventure of High School.

My memories of school are mostly good. I sometimes think of that old school room with the smell of chalk, onion sandwiches and rubber boots. There were some experiences with meanness but also of extreme kindness. The word ‘bullying’ was not used as it is now but it was good to avoid certain rough boys. Although we didn’t realize it at the time many of life’s lessons were learned in that little one room school.