Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bear Lake School/ Rusk county

It is still there, that one room school, east of Chetek about 9 miles. Used for a township meeting hall now, I believe. 56 years ago it provided me with the beginning of my education. Do you remember your first day/days of school? Here is what I remember.
Being on the resort, I had not pre-school, kindergarten, small play group or anything where I might learn the expected behavior of young people in a group. That first day, I happened to be sitting behind a girl and she had long hair that was laying on my desk. What does a 6 year old do? You got give it a pull. She turned around and told me to stop it or she would tell. As if that would deter me. Hah! So, I gave it a yank again. This brought the young lass to raise her hand to inform the teacher of my inappropriate behavior. With the naked arm pit now to entice my evil, I immediately began to tickle her arm pit. (Yes, I know harassment) She, of course, brings her arm down and reports to me now she was going to tell on me for that. My response: "Try!" I was feeling quite smug with my situation. As soon as she would raise her hand, I would tickle and the teacher remained ignorant of my rebellious behavior. Can't remember how it turned out; just the occurrence.
The largest words I had ever seen were being written on the chalk board. They were names of ancient beasts that I had never heard of like Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus etc. It took me forever to write out those words. Can you say carpel tunnel? Speaking of words, the word that gave me so much trouble was the word "round". "The boy went round and round the tree." I had never used that word before but I had used the words around and around. I would always be corrected and I thought the teacher was just plain nuts using this word that I had never heard of.
Speaking of teachers: There were two I remember. One was Mrs. (Irene) Trowbridge. She was nice, old but nice. Probably about 26 or so. She was married to Charlie. Charlie was a cool guy. He could take his teeth out! He would show them to us and the guys would squeal with delight and the girls would run and hide. He was funny too. Charlie would come in with Mrs. Trowbridge in the morning and start up the large wood stove that would heat the one room. That stove would get plenty hot as I discovered.
It was a very cold morning and I immediately made for the stove when I got to the school. The stove was a large, cast iron burn box surround by a 1 ft. air space and then a pressed metal jacket going all around it except for a door opening by the door of the stove. On that, day the jacket door was open so it was there that I got as close to the stove as I could; too close. Someone said, "What's burning?" It was me! I had this new wool pea coat and I was so close to the door of the stove that it had branded the name of of the stove company on the back of my new coat. When I got home, there was another sort of branding to be handed out by some one's mother. Man, I was just sick and embarrassed because the kids really made fun of me. "Couldn't you even tell you were on fire?" Ah, nope!
The other teacher was the meanest teacher I ever had. If you mis-behaved, you had to carry a chair on your head and walk around the room. If you were really bad, you had to take two chairs. This looked pretty ridiculous as you can imagine. It also cut down that chairs available for sitting on which is what god had designed them to be used for. That keeps one from pulling hair and tickling underarms, for sure. At the end of the day, we all had to sit at our tables and put our hands on top of the desks. If someone would talk, she would come by and whack our little pinkies with a ruler. That is all I can remember about this woman and, that she was really, really old.
The teacher's "copy maching" was an interesting apparatus. It comprised of a jel-like roll that went from one spool across a one foot square metal surface to another take-up spool. A teacher would make a carbon copy of what she wanted to make copies of and press it down on this one foot square, jel surface and then peel it off. Then taking a clean piece of paper, she would press it down, smooth it out on the jel surface and peel it of and some of the carbon would adhere to the clean sheet giving her a copy. She could get about 8 copies this way. This jel surface was a great temptation for little boys to dig their fingers into it. Hummmmm! Of course, I did not do this: who wants to carry chairs on their head?
The physical necessities of attending a one room school were interesting. To get a drink of water, took two people. Outside there was a pump with a metal ladle hanging on it. One person would pump away, while the other would hold the ladle under the spout to get some water. positions would be switched to satisfy both. One ladle per school. Getting rid of this intake was another whole experience. When I was in the first grade, there were out houses; One for girls,(a mysterious building, never investigated by any boy I knew) and one for the boys. One holer for that was all the building could occupy at a time. Little boys and real old men sometimes have to go really, really bad and in their hurry, are lousy aims with their urinating apparatus. Result was pee, pee all over the place. Not so bad if one did not have to sit down. Really bad if it was winter and this yellow fluid was in frozen form around the hole that you had to sit on. I think it was when I was in second or third grade that they built on to the back of the school to provide two bathrooms with real running water. Just took all the adventure out of it.
My class was the largest-6 of us. Some of the names I remember were: Tucker (Eugene) Tubbs. Lauraline Rathburn, Linda Oliphant, (you can imagine how this girls name was made ridicule) Tucker was quite a character. During recess, he never played the games we played but striding around the playground in his striped coveralls, he would pretend that he was driving a bull dozer, sounds and all. I think his dad might have been a heavy equipment operator. No body made fun of him; he was just Tucker. First and third grade I attended with my classmates all through the year. Second, fourth and fifth, I started in the fall when the resort was still open but then we would move to Rice Lake where Dad would pick up a winter job and I would attend one of the city schools. A whole new experience for me.
As a side light, about 10 years ago, I attended a cousin's wedding and the officiating pastor's last name was Trowbridge and I asked him if he knew an Irene Trowbridge. He said that she was his aunt. I found out she was still alive. During the following summer I looked her up and went for a visit. She looked really good and she said remembered me. Her Charlie had passed on and she was living in their home on Mud Lake just north of Chetek. She said she had moved into Chetek and taught in the city schools the rest of her career. Her favorite time of teaching was in the Bear Lake country school. I asked her how she did it. Man, just trying to imagine teaching 8 grades, all subjects in one room just blew me away. I asked her if she got the older kids to work with the younger and she said no. She would group two grades together to teach subjects like history. I just looked up in the phone book today and her name is still there and in the same address that I visited her about 8 years ago. I'm glad. I would like to visit her again.
I'm trying to remember how I got to school. I think the Rhones who had a resort a few miles further from school would stop and pick me up at the end of my drive way. the drive way was about 1/3 mile long. The school was about 3-4 miles from the driveway. I never recall walking to school the "up hill both ways" deal.
There really was something to be said for that sort of education. First, the teachers, the good ones, anyway, were incredible. For most, it was their life. The school was the center of the rural community. We used to have lunch box socials at Halloween. Families would come with decorated boxes containing a lunch. They would exchange with other families and then share in fellowship. Sort of like our pot lucks we have now.
I have been looking for a picture of the school and have not found one yet. When and if I do, I will add one on.


  1. thanks for sharing, dad!

  2. Nice! You really started out good with the ladies dad! hah thanks for sharing ~A