I clearly remember my sixth birthday. It had always been my understanding that when I became six years old, I could go to school. But, now that I had turned six, they said I would have to wait until September. I threw a temper tantrum. Mother pacified me somewhat by promising me that she would talk with Uncle Cornelius about it. A few days later they let me visit the school for one day.
In September 1938, I started the first grade at Porter School. There were eighteen students in one room, including grades 1 through 8; and Uncle Cornelius Boggs was our teacher. Bertha Schoolcraft and I were the only ones in the first grade. “Birdie” was seven years old, and I was six. She could count to 100 on the first day of school. I was ashamed that I could only count to ten. That evening, Mother and Norris taught me to count beyond 100.
Our little country schoolhouse was in the middle of Uncle Charlie’s pasture field, and when the horses, “Nell and Cole”, were out (when they weren’t working in the timber or otherwise occupied), we had to maneuver ourselves very alertly as we crawled through the fence and across the open field to the schoolhouse. Every morning, we lined up and pledged allegiance to the flag and then marched in and took our seats. Uncle Cornelius sang a song for us before we started our lessons. “Good Morning! Good Morning! The sun shines about us today. So we work while we work and play while we play. That’s the way to be happy and gay (Gay had a different meaning in those days. I had heard of “Sissies”, but not “Gays”.
In one of my earliest memories of school, some boys were teasing me about Birdie. I threw a rock and hit Charles Schoolcraft on the shinbone. Someone told Uncle Cornelius, and I got a switching. It didn’t hurt, but it embarrassed me a lot. Norris told Mother and Dad, but they were not the least bit sympathetic with me. On another memorable occasion, the county health nurse came to Porter school to vaccinate us for small pox and diphtheria. Some of the kids squalled, even before they got their shot. I was very brave, but the syringe separated from the needle while it was still in my arm. The nurse reconnected them without taking the needle out of my arm. It hurt some, but I did not cry. I held back because I was ashamed to cry in front of all the other kids.
The first sign of spring was when it was warm enough to go barefooted and coming home on a bright sunny afternoon to see Dad planting potatoes—on St. Patrick’s day—with blackbirds (cow birds) following the furrows. The longer days, noisy peepers (toad-frogs), tad poles, the flowering of the redbuds, the dogwoods, forsythia, tulips, daffodils, dandelions, and Mother going green picking are other memories of springtime. One spring, I left my shoes at home on a day when the weather turned cold. I walked that afternoon home in an inch of snow.
School would be out about the first of May. “School’s out! School’s out! The teacher let the fools out.” To celebrate our last day of school, we walked about a quarter of a mile up a hill to the “Devil’s Tea Table”—where we ate our brown bag picnic lunches and Uncle Cornelius handed out presents for various achievements. I received a "dollar watch" for perfect attendance. I was very proud of it, but I wound it too tight and broke the spring. Robert Burton was staying at our house while on a leave from CCC camp. He tried to fix it for me, but couldn’t. Robert was Maude Burton’s brother. Maude was our “hired girl”. She lived in with us and helped Mother, receiving room and board plus $5 per week. At one time, during the depression, her brother Merdy and her father were homeless, and Dad cleared out our chicken house and let them move into it. They were like our extended family to us.
When I was eight years old, I was running around the yard, pretending to be a motorcycle—sputtering with my tongue. I ran into a concrete banister and bit my tongue nearly half off. Uncle Waitman took me to Dr. Harper in Clendenin. The doctor sewed my tongue without giving me any anesthesia. I sputtered, spraying saliva into the doctor’s face, but I did not cry or scream. Dr. Harper was so impressed that I could withstand that much pain that he called Uncle Waitman into his operating room to demonstrate my bravery. (My dad had trained me to be a good soldier.) After they took me home, I continued to bleed so much that they took me to Statts Hospital in Charleston. My tongue swelled so much that I couldn’t close my mouth, and I had to drink my nourishment through a straw. I stayed there for six or seven days.
An attractive young woman, Holly Samples, was our new teacher for my third school year. One day while we were standing beside the creek, some girls dared me to go on the ice. It was against the rules. When I took the dare, they told the teacher. She whipped me with a switch. It didn’t hurt much; but I cried because my feelings were hurt.
Dorothy and Dorcas started first grade to Miss Samples. About halfway between our house and post office we had to walk through Peckfield. In the wintertime and, it was very cold. The wind swept down between two hills, and the pipeline right-of-way clearing acted as a wind tunnel. One year, snow drifted so high that we had to tunnel through it at the intersection with left-hand. One cold winter morning, when they were walking with us to school, just as we got around the bend before and Uncle Charlie’s house came into view, Dorothy and Dorcas were so cold they couldn’t go any further. Dorcas cried, “I’m freezing. I’m freezing”. Somehow we got them going again, and we made it the rest of the way to school.