How the Class of '26 Embraced Learning

SIXTY-SEVEN years ago in our pretty white dresses and our $12 blue serge suits, we walked into the ``Congo'' church to be graduated from high school. Yesterday (as I write) we gathered at Dorothy's home on the edge of our hometown for a reunion. We were all there except Alice in Dallas, who felt another trip home to Maine was excessive since she had seen us all 10 years ago anyway. But after we rehashed the Clinton jokes, Dorothy brought the cordless telephone down from the kitchen and we called Alice in Dallas to complete the roster. She sounded tiptop. ``Imagine,'' said Osborne, ``making a telephone call to Texas from under an apple tree!''

Dorothy's home is as modern and comfortable as anything you'll find in Dallas, but it sits on the fringe of the small town where we went to high school. Step across the road and you're in the next town. It's maybe four miles from Dorothy's to our long-ago high school. (This is not my Dorothy - this is the Dorothy who made faces at me in school and made me laugh at prayers.) Of course we had prayers in school, and we had our graduation in a church - you wanna make something of it?

In those deprived days - 67 years ago - our town had a dozen school districts, each with its one-room building with grades one to eight. After that, a pupil could continue his (and her) education at high school, which the town provided, but the school was in the village and a pupil was expected to appear and participate under his own power. The absurd notion of a school bus hadn't been given a thought by anybody. And Howard, who was in our class, had grown up near Dorothy's present home, and here he was back at our reunion lamenting that the farmhouse where he had grown up was gone. Back from retirement in Connecticut, he found little in his neighborhood save memories.

One big memory was his horse. Retired from hilling potatoes, the horse had embraced education and took Howard to high school every school day. Except for others like Howard, who lived at a distance, the rest of us walked to school and didn't know there was another way. So I was sitting on a lawn chair under the apple tree, having chatted with Alice in Dallas, and I asked Howard if the late-model automobile in which he had arrived from Connecticut made any better time than his schoolboy horse.

Howard's school day began soon after yesterday. He'd grain his hens, help with the barn chores, and then harness his horse into the buggy to be ready to go to school. He had to pack a crocus bag of loose hay to entertain the horse during school hours, and then he (Howard) could go in the house to eat breakfast. His mother would pack Howard's dinner in a two-cover lunch basket, for which a hot soapstone and small blanket were provided on really cold days to prevent freezing.

Arriving at the village, but a few relative yards before reaching the schoolhouse, Howard would turn into the Eben Patterson place, where Eben had empty stalls for stabling school-day transients. Howard would unharness, empty the loose hay into the crib, tie his horse in the stall, back the buggy into a corner, pick up his lunch basket, and come forth with shining morning face to join us townies on our way to school. The horse would work on his hay while Howard embraced learning.

Howard didn't ``participate'' too much. True, we didn't have so much in those days to participate in. We had no band, and athletic activities were limited to basketball and baseball. Our Latin Club met every other week, and scholars from the outskirts usually skipped evening events. For Howard, his ride home was something to do right away, what with feeding the hens again, filling the woodbox, and so forth.

I remember Howard as a good student, quiet and serious, but pleasant to be with and always in good humor. But also, always going or coming. It was good to visit with him under the apple tree. And I wondered, as we sat there, to what heights Howard might have climbed had he enjoyed the privileges and advantages of today's highly enlightened school system? What a shame that was to tie him down with a horse! Suppose Howard had ridden to school over a paved road in a big yellow bus with flashing lights? Suppose instead of his mother's homely farm fare in a battered basket he had nourished himself with subsidized, and balanced, hot lunches? He didn't even go to Washington, D.C., on a class trip! None of us did, for that matter.

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