My First School
Since preschool and kindergarten were not offered when I was a kid, first grade was my introduction to school. Brother Al and I went to the “Old Haug School.” I think it was Al’s first year there, too. Of course, he had attended school before that, but this was just after we moved to the Louie Peterson place, so he had to change schools.
The old Haug School definitely would not pass state regulations these days, but it was a great school! It must have been a model school building in its day. Mom said it had once housed a school that even offered two years of high school. It was so modern that they even taught Home Economics. It was a big, boxy building located just behind the Benny Christianson farm (later the Jackie Erickson farm and now the Harlan Solberg farm).
The school had suffered the ravages of time by the time I started first grade. Mom says she thinks the building fell into disrepair because of a lack of tax money to pay for its upkeep. (I was born in 1942, during the war years – WWII) A more-or-less collapsed portion of the building was off-limits to us kids. I think it had once been a gymnasium. There were three large classrooms that were used for the eight grades. Depending on class sizes two or three classes were taught in the same room. There were only three teachers for the whole school — one for each room.
When I started school, first through third grades were taught by Arlaine Pederson (Duray). She was a wonderful teacher and I loved her. Embarrassingly, I sometimes slipped and called her Mama. Everyone laughed and taunted, of course, but I believe every one of us made the slip at some time. And when others did, of course I laughed and taunted, too.
The room had a large wood- or coal-burning furnace in the front right corner, a water crock to the front left, blackboards at center front, and large windows to the rear. The old-fashioned student desks were arranged in rows, except when it rained. Then the roof leaked, so we had to rearrange the desks to make room for several pails to catch the dripping water. In winter, sometimes we got to sit on the desktops with our feet on the seats because the floor was so cold, and sometimes we had to move the desks around because it was so cold near the windows. However, it was fun to sit at the back near the windows even if it was cold, because the snow would build up on the inner sills and we could lean back, grab a handful of snow, and put it down someone’s neck or even form small snowballs.
I had an advantage academically because, before I started first grade, Al missed a lot of school when we had polio and Mom tutored him so he could remain with his class. Of course, that meant that he got an inordinate amount of attention – or so I thought. So I joined the classes, and as a result, I learned some reading and math. With that advantage, I got top grades — all “A”s. But in second or third grade, the snow on the sill was too much temptation and I got my first “B” — in conduct. Mom was not pleased!
I was in second grade when our current events paper introduced us to the concept of television. I remember because the teacher discussed the subject and wrote the word on the board. Later she erased it and asked who could spell “television.” I was the only one in the three classes who could. Boy! I thought I was clever being able to spell such a modern word!
Another time we did an experiment with paper towels — the brown, crispy kind. The teacher plastered two wet towels to the blackboard, one close to the hot furnace and one further away from the heat. She asked which one would dry and fall off the blackboard first. I thought the experiment was stupid, because I thought everyone should know the one closest to the heat would dry more quickly. Watching those towels dry was about as exciting as watching the grass grow, as they say. All through school, I thought experiments were dumb and boring — probably because this introduction to experiments was less than exciting.
Of course, if that were true, I should have learned to hate reading. Learning to read was no challenge as I had already learned the basics in “Mom’s School.” And the books we had to read in school were somewhat less than interesting. We read about Dick and Jane, their little sister Sally, and their dog Spot. Rather bland characters and the plots were mighty bland, too. “See Dick. See Jane. See Sally. See Spot. See Dick run. See Jane run. See Sally run. See Spot run.” It seems amazing that any of us grew up to enjoy reading!
But recess in the winter was not boring at the Old Haug School. A deep ditch ran next to the school, and in winter, snow would accumulate in it. We had a grand time sliding down the slopes on makeshift toboggans–large pieces of cardboard from cardboard boxes. When we tired of that, we’d play King of the Hill, or if enough snow had accumulated, we’d build forts and even igloos.
Entertainment at the old school was sometimes an unusual activity and sometimes a spectator sport. There were some daring young men in the upper grades who did things like venture into the collapsed portion of the building and work themselves between the walls. Apparently, there was no insulation, plus unusual construction. Anyway, the noise they’d make between the walls was funny and the teachers’ consternation was hilarious.
And one time in the spring when the weather was warm, one of the upper-grade teachers opened an unscreened window to allow in some fresh air. Later she left the room momentarily. Before she returned, one of the daring young men dived out the window headfirst! Reportedly, the teacher arrived in time to see his feet disappearing through the window. We younger kids, being in another classroom, did not observe the trick, but we heard about it and secretly yearned for the courage to perform such acts.
We moved to a new school in the spring of my third grade, so I must have been a rather precocious child because I had a love life while still at the Old Haug School! Once I punched a boy and gave him a bloody nose. When the teacher asked why, I said, “Because he tried to kiss me.”
Another time I got a love letter from an “older man.” I think he was two or three years older than I was, making him about 5th grade or so. Now, I was old enough to know that Mom wouldn’t like this development, but also old enough to be flattered and I didn’t want to dispose of the precious letter. So I brought it home and hid it behind a loose brick in the chimney upstairs. My brother Al, however, promptly snitched on me. I had to produce the incriminating evidence and face the music. I don’t know why I should have got in trouble over the note — I didn’t write it. If I’d ever liked the boy who gave me the note, I sure didn’t after that incident!
The Old Haug School was a marvelous place, but the spring of my third-grade year, we moved to a new school, a consolidated school known as Haug-Leo. It was all shiny and new and modern, but it didn’t have the interesting features of my first school.