School in the Dark Ages

Published 10:00pm Thursday, April 17, 2014

When I tried to Celebrate Liberty in some elementary schools and schedule tuning the piano at the high school for the Community Chorus concert, and hearing the phones ring with no answer, I learned that this week is Spring Break! My first thought was that we did not have that when I went to school, but on reflection, I realized that farm kids did get a week off in the fall to help the family with the harvest!
At Tryon Schools, we also got a day off to attend the Horse Show at Harmon Field and another day off to go to the State Fair. I suppose the authorities assumed that most students would take the day off from school anyway!
I had pre-school with my patient Mother, who merely answered my questions. Dear Mrs. Kittrell, who taught hundreds of my contemporaries first grade at Tryon, put this trouble-maker into the second grade right away to get rid of me. Mrs. Jervey (wife of surgeon Dr. Jervey) was the very strict teacher: feet on the floor, look straight ahead, no talking to neighbors. School was not fun anymore!
We moved to Mooresville when my Dad got a job there, and later to Durham when he was killed in a car wreck. We had to memorize stuff then; I had a hard time learning the 100th Psalm and poems like “Under the spreading chestnut tree . . .” and “I saw you toss the kites on high . . .” but had no trouble remembering the bits of doggerel all little boys learn, but not to be quoted here.
In Durham we had different teachers for different subjects, so we changed classes as in high school. My lovely young music teacher married my Uncle Wallace when he returned from WWII. I still remember the order my Art teacher prescribed for the eight Crayolas in their box: red, yellow, blue, orange, purple, green, brown and black. And the memorizing continued: those “times tables,” actually called the “multiplication tables” and the “weights and measures” about pints and quarts, pecks and bushels, inches and yards. And Mrs. Mann taught me to say any and many to rhyme with Annie, and donkey to rhyme with monkey.
I could show my own kids where I went to school here in Tryon, but when I tried to take them to the Morehead School in Durham, when we went down the last street we came to barricades and we looked across some 300 feet of red mud as far as we could see in both directions: work had started on what would be the 15-501 freeway across town. My beautiful little rock schoolhouse had been sacrificed, but not the Washington Duke estate a block away.
Back in Tryon in fourth grade, I enjoyed my remaining schooling in the one-building school system: the center part was grade school, with auditorium on one end and the entire high school in the rooms behind the stately columns at the other end. New, modern buildings were added for high school later by architects Meriwether and Brady . . . it is all Tryon Elementary now.
My class was the first to have to go twelve years, and we also published the first yearbook at Tryon High, the Tryonite. My senior class poured concrete walks and I later chiseled “Class of 1947” into the set concrete. I designed the letters in the drafting class, and got out of class to make my mark on the school even as it made its mark on me.
My kids refer to my time in school as the Dark Ages, since their experience was so different from mine. I was good in math and English in my time, but I could not help them with theirs.  Fortunately our son was a whiz at both and could help our daughter, who was challenged as I was by the “new math.” Both went on to master life skills as well. You know your kids are successful when they stop asking for money!

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