Christmas in A One-Room School
The following story is featured in All Is Calm: A Maine Christmas Reader. All Is Calm, edited by Islandport's own Shannon Butler, is an anthology of Maine Christmas stories spanning nearly 200 years. The stories show that while Christmas traditions and trends may be changing, the warmth, gratitude, and humility of the Maine spirit is evergreen.
Christmas in A One-Room School
May B. Davidson, 1934
My school days began in a one room school in Bremen.The year was 1934. One teacher, Miss Fossett of Round Pond, taught all subjects to eight grades and somehow provided us with a solid, basic education. She covered all capacities from general cleaning, filling, and polishing oil wall lamps, keeping the wood stove going, and being second mother to fifteen or twenty scholars, as we were called then. The number of scholars fluctuated over time and there were only twelve during my years there.
Our “school bus” was an old, tired, wood-sided “Beech Wagon.” It’s Isinglass windows had long since cracked and blown away. We were kept from freezing in winter by a huge, thickly-furred buffalo hide over our knees.
The school did not have a well so two older boys were required to bring pails of water from a neighbor’s house, about a quarter mile up the road. Gaiety along the way sometimes resulted in limited water arriving to fill the barrel-shaped crock with a small spigot at the bottom. The boys also brought in big chunks of wood from the entryway to pile around the stove.
We created our own drinking cups by folding paper into the proper shape, but it was usually flimsy “arithmetic” paper that went soggy and leaked before we finished drinking.We were happy on days when there was only blue-lined writing paper available to make cups because it held water longer, giving us more time to waste. Also, the blue lines had a fascinating way of dissolving and running down the inside of the cup staining the water with veils of color.
When morning chores were done we were seated and our day began by Saluting the Flag, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and singing a hymn. Handwritten papers, which Miss Fossett had prepared the evening before, and daily assignments for each grade were passed out.
As the morning wore on and the loud tick-tock of the wooden octagonal wall clock with its roman numerals and shining pendulum seemed to be slowing down for us, the teacher’s announcement—“You may lay your work aside for recess”—reenergized us and filled us with new life for the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Noon hours seemed wonderfully long and after the“dinner pail” contents were devoured, we built snow forts, had snowball battles, or went skating on nearby Webber Lake.
When we returned to the afternoon’s lessons we were deeply encrusted with snow, and little pills of ice rattled on our mittens. All removable clothing was spread on the wood stacked by the stove. The wettest of us were allowed to pull our desks into a circle around it. I can still smell the steaming wool of our hats and mittens.
To begin our afternoon session, Miss Fossett read aloud two chapters of an adventure story, this was the highlight of our day. Our energy had been used playing in the snow, and our interest in studies waned.There were two diversions: A bitterly cold visit to the outhouse or the pleasure of watching the Banner Rats at play.
These engaging creatures are not rats, but large and pretty mice, round-eared, soft-eyed, nearly blonde and sport fluffy banners at their tail ends. The mice lived in the entry’s wood pile, and had chewed small arches in the baseboard between entry and school room.They came out to watch us, sitting up and grooming their white tummies. We learned to enjoy them silently because Miss Fossett viewed them as wretched rodents and went after them with a broom if she divined the direction of our gaze.