Starting school was a no-brainer. What else was I going to do?

Mrs. Beeswax … oops, Mrs. Beesley, taught us to read and wash our hands and hold up one finger if we needed to go to the restroom to tinkle. Two fingers meant …

The other.

Most kids who tried to write lefthanded were switched, except for Larry Ford and me. Neil Shepler didn’t get the hang of it for awhile. Olivene and Margaret snickered a lot at Neil.

Olivene Cox and Margaret Linegar were still snickering the day they graduated from high school. Olivene still snickers at me. Margaret doesn’t write, but she’d better. She may be snickering. I bet she is.

Me, in grade school

For those who only imagine the horrors of three-room schools, take heart.

They weren’t all that bad.

If you were in third grade, you did your lessons. When your lessons were done, you did your homework. Finishing that, you waited until the fourth and fifth grades finished their lessons. That’s how you learned. By the time you got to fourth grade, you had a running start. By the time you got to fifth grade, you’d heard this stuff TWICE.

Any questions?

At Fairfield, we sometimes had a working slide projector. On occasion, we had a film. We had almost no library.

We got our books and put our goodies in cigar boxes and kept them in our desks. No lockers. Nobody stole anything. If somebody did pilfer something, it wasn’t real, real tough to track it down. It had your name on it. (It pays to note that the two local groceries had to sell a lot of cigars. Starting about August, a lot of men were seen smoking stogies.)

We put our names on everything. Even our shoes.

“John” was enough. There was only one of me.

Mrs. Beeswax, er … Mrs. Beesley was a stickler for detail and hygiene. She also didn’t like to be called Mrs. Beeswax, a lesson my brother learned the day he went to school for our form of preliminary introduction. “Joel,” Mrs. Beeswax said, “I understand you call me Mrs. Beeswax. I have a notion not to let you come to school.”

HOW DO I REMEMBER THIS? Anyway, Joel’s lip dropped about a foot and he looked at me, wondering what he’d done wrong. I have NO IDEA where he learned that. He thought that was her name, so he was genuinely sorry.

Fire drills were fun.

I don’t recall if Fairfield had an atomic bomb drill, but most kids around the world did. We never saw nuclear holocaust as a major concern in our town. Other things would do us in, we knew.

Childhood diseases being what they were in poor rural towns, Mrs. Beesley was akin to the dangers. Some kids were cleaner than others were and we all knew that.

By the end of my second year, Jonas Salk had come up with the polio vaccine.

After that, chicken pox, measles and mumps did most of the damage. We kept our hair short to avoid head lice and spent most of the summer looking for rusty nails to step on. What didn’t kill us made us stronger and we eased through the process, one room at a time.

Three times.

My report cards show a general inclination for whispering too much, being capable of doing better and occasionally showing improvement. I wasn’t good in health, whatever that meant. I was OK in geography and spelling. I couldn’t write. Now I type. I can’t do that well either, at times.

In sixth grade, the upper room held a spelling bee. I kept spelling, getting it right, waiting … until finally it dawned on me.

Only two of us were left. Linda Crocker, an eighth-grader, waited me out.

The word was



Linda got the word right and reveled in her victory. I never really gave much of a hoot about it. My mother was astonished. Hey, I didn’t know how to spell the word, I told her. No, she told me, that was not why she was astonished.

Win some, lose some.

Mostly, our principal, whose name was Bob Mode, liked to play bingo. So we did a lot of that.

In the fall, we’d always listen to the World Series. The class would shut down and the radio would come on.

We seldom had homework. There was time between class lessons to get most of it done. We did not have the Internet. I’m not even sure there was a phone in the school.

There weren’t that many phones in Fairfield.