For some reason my mind wandered back to where my formal education began, at the school house pictured above. I attended first and second grades there, at Montell, Texas, 1952-1954. It was a fun time, and I learned what I needed to learn to move into decades of learning that would lay the foundation for my career of some fifty years as an electrical engineer.
Now I remember what drew my mind back to the school. I was watching a movie last evening and there was a jeep rolling along a country road that triggered my remembrances of the jeep our parents owned. It was a raggedy Army jeep, with even one or two bullet holes in the back. I don’t recall if I ever asked Daddy if that jeep was in the WWII or the Korean conflict, or maybe it was just used for training. I do recall how much fun it was to drive it, as my parents taught me how to drive it when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I will save my stories of driving the jeep on the ranch for another post.
Mama used to drive me to school, as we lived about five miles from Montell on a ranch. I vividly remember those wintry days when she would bundle me and my little sister up, and we would roll along with cold wind chewing us to pieces. During good weather though it was so enjoyable to us kids.
Montell school closed after my second grade, and I went on to attend schools in Uvalde, which was a 40 mile bus ride from our ranch. The school had been there a very long time, and after the community hall closed, the school served that purpose and still does today.
On one side of the school is a historic Methodist church, and a short distance away on the other side is the Episcopal Church of Ascension, with a historic graveyard. Our parents, one set of grandparents and many other relatives are entered there, along with many area residents spanning centuries. The graveyard also has some historic characters in the mist, including a Confederate general, which I am not very happy to admit (but also not happy to acknowledge the slave-owning history of some of my ancestors).
One other building makes up the “infrastructure” of Montell, and in its day when I was a little boy, it was very important to us kids around lunch time. John D.’s store and post office was just a couple of hundred yards away from our school house, and we would of course often skip over to the store as we knew John D. would have some candies for us, and maybe a Coke. Ah yes, when Cokes were in the smaller glass bottles that we seldom see today, and tasted so good during a hot day where we sweated in the open windows building trying to do what our one teacher was working so hard to teach us.
Mrs. Taylor, our teacher, was responsible for teaching four grades at the school, with a student population that varied some, but usually around 7-10 kids over the four grades. She was a very nice and competent teacher as I recall. She got some assistance from two sisters who were in the top two grades (levels), and they would help tikes like me with learning our primary colors and ABC’s.
It took me a while apparently to master the primary colors. I even recall to this day, Mrs. Taylor trying to get me to comprehend what the color orange is, so she took an orange from my sack lunch, held it up, and said “What color is this orange?”. I was totally frustrated by then, and blurted out, “I don’t give a damn what color an’ ol’ orange is!”. Well she was very nice as I said, and didn’t spank me, but told Mama, who laughed about this her entire life. Now I laugh hard thinking about it!
Besides myself, there were usually 2 or 3 other boys, one a little older than myself, and all Mexican Americans. Which reminds me also that at this first school experience all of us kids, Anglos and Hispanics, played together; but, when I went to school for the rest of my days, especially during elementary years, there was a very harsh distinction between the two ethnicities, with the Latin children always sitting on one side of the class rooms, and we “white” kids on the other. And, I clearly recall that we “white” boys were often pitting ourselves against the Mexican-American boys on the play ground. That one day I would marry an African American woman is a testament to how people change.
The Montell school had one big wood-burning stove to keep the school “warm”, but we definitely kept on our coats during the cold days. I and the other boys were given by Mrs. Taylor the chore of going out to the wood pile to tote in logs and keep the stove stoked, so this was a fun thing to do at that age (I was used to doing it at home anyway!). One day we were gathering wood and discovered a huge centipede in the pile, and we ran to get Mrs. Taylor, who grabbed a big glass bottle and came running. Her intent as a teacher was to catch it and let it become a science exhibit. I am not sure how we caught it, no doubt she was doing that work, because I know neither myself nor the other kids wanted to have anything to do with it (and I still today would not). She was successful, and we kids marveled at how scary the thing in the bottle looked.
So it all began there. Very few kids today in America get to experience anything like this country school experience. It was a holdover, a remnant of the past. Although we didn’t have anything like today’s technology (my granddaughter mastered the iPhone at 18 months!), we did have real life lessons, like looking under logs for centipedes!
If you are ever inclined, go visit Montell, just don’t blink or you will miss it!