The first breezes of fall fell upon our small town like a salve. The collective sigh of relief was palpable, as the summer had been hot, even brutal. I was eager to trade in my hard worn harvest boots for a pair of oxfords, and a return to the single room schoolhouse. I’d been unable to hide my eagerness to return from my brothers, who would spend the winter haying hogs and cows.
“That boy just sees things differently,” my Pop was fond of saying, and not always complimentary. He was a farmer. A farmer sees the soil as the great connector of lives, ultimately the source and destination of all. The Healer. Restorer and Resurrector. So to see me turn to knowledge as my own soil to turn, my Pop and I learned to accept that we were of different philosophers, but were still kin. He would learn to see his stubbornness in the high expectations in my classroom, his wit in my letters to congressmen and the St Louis newspapers, his attention-to-detail in lads he’d hire for the harvest after spending a year in my classroom. He’d never outright admit so, but he was proud of the man I’d turned into.
A single room with a stove in the corner and bookshelves on every available wall. Unlike other teachers – each student kept a personal chalkboard. My brother had helped me craft them one fall, and they’d changed our room. Whether battling long division – or drawing out plants, the small little boards were a source of pride for every child who owned one.
I would teach them writing, ‘rithmetic and try and expose them to new ideas and stories and adventures from around the world. Many of the kids I saw in the fall had never been but fifty miles square from the little brick building we stayed in together.
They couldn’t grasp 100 miles – leave alone 1000 – or thousands of miles. They’d been raised in the working shadow of the farm and field. Chores had been learned before language. Contributing to the family – and keeping everyone safe was a language they spoke long before anything else. They understood simple ideas like ‘A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?’
My kinders would learn simple spelling – my juniors the history of our brave new country – and my seniors, the ways of business, and what opportunities are out there for the right determined mind. The next spring, the first kids would move on after seven years in my room for the winter. I polished my oxfords, quietly pulled on my wool pants and starched shirt and tie. Soon the bell would ring and a new winter dedicated to exploring would begin.