Choestoe schoolhouse has been moved from its former location and now stands on land that was once my Daddy’s, then my brother’s, my own, my son’s, and now the county’s. The old Choestoe school house is being restored and will eventually be used as a voting precinct building and perhaps a community clubhouse.
But what took place there in the building’s heyday as a schoolhouse? Come with me to learn about “Lard Pail Lunches and Shared Knowledge.”
I received my early education in a two-teacher country school from 1936 through 1943. I never felt deprived educationally from this inauspicious start. In high school, college and graduate school, I regarded my elementary school education as excellent and special indeed.
Not only did I begin my education in a two-teacher country school, but my first year of teaching was in that same school in 1949-1950. “You can’t go home again,” as proposed by author Thomas Wolfe in his novel, Look Homeward, Angel, did not apply to me. I returned home to teach with anticipation and joy, and gratitude that the Union County School Board would consider a product of that school to be worthy to teach there.
By 1949, due to declining pupil population, Choestoe had become a one-teacher school. Having attended that school myself the very first year the “new” two-room building opened, and then returning thirteen years later to teach my first year there at the same school, were both rich and rewarding experiences for me.
Let us look at life in Choestoe School from 1936 through 1943, the years I was a student in its hallowed halls. From Primer through Seventh Grade I was educated at that school. Choestoe had been an early school, although the building in which I attended was brand new in 1936. Previous schools had preceded the one I knew so well. Early settlers began the school, some of my ancestors with surnames like Dyer, Souther, Collins, Hunter, Nix, Self and England, to name a few. Many of these forebears were in the county when it was founded in 1832. And straightaway they began a school at various locations, not necessarily on the same spot as the new building of 1936. Earlier, a log building used for both school and church had been replaced by a two-room, two-story frame school building. On the upper floor of the old building, the Choestoe Masonic Lodge met. I can vaguely remember attending events in that building when my older brother Eugene and my sister Louise went to school there. Even as a young child, the steps to the second floor fascinated me and I wondered what lay beyond the confines of what I could see.
The brand new building in which I began my educational adventures in 1936 had two rooms, both on the ground level. A covered open vestibule-type entrance was at the front. Two front doors led in from the vestibule to the classrooms. The “lower grades” (primer through third) classroom was on the left and the “upper grades” (fourth through seventh) was on the right. Each classroom had a cloak/storage room across the front where we had pegs to hang our coats and shelves to set our “lard bucket” lunch pails. If we wore galoshes over our shoes in rainy or snowy weather, we removed them and left them in the cloak room while we were in class. Also in that room were bookcase shelves in one end of the room on which the extra textbooks were aligned, grade-wise.
The classrooms were separated by a removable partition, ceiled with wood on both sides. I can remember my father and other men in the community taking down those partitions to provide a large space. A raised stage was put in place and the classrooms could then accommodate our school programs.
Each classroom was heated by a wood heater, an iron stove (not the usual “pot” bellied) a low, oblong heater with a door on the front into which to feed the wood. Parents (or patrons of the school) were required to haul their fair share of the wood consumed throughout the months heat was needed. Long tin stovepipes connected the heater to the common chimney that was outside the building about where the middle partition was located that separated the classrooms.
That first nervous day—in July, 1936—we students waited outside, anticipating what school might be like until “the principal,”—the upper-grades teacher, rang the school bell—our signal that “books” (or classes) were to begin. Miss Opal Sullivan was the upper grades teacher, a trim, beautiful young lady who seemed to me then all-too-young to be a teacher. She stood in the school entrance on the right side, awaiting her fourth through seventh grade pupils to line up in an orderly row. Mrs. Mert Shuler Collins was the primary grades teacher. She stood at the school entrance on the left side. She patiently showed the new pupils like me how to line up. When everyone was quiet and in order, we were given the signal to proceed.
Once we were inside that primary side of the magnificent new school building, it was not hard for us to tell which desks were for the primer and first grade students. The very smallest individual wooden desks were in a row nearest the line of tall, glowing windows. I quickly found one in a location I liked, and soon it seemed to me that I had found a new home. And, indeed, I had, because from that first day of school in 1936 until the present, I have found my home-away-from home in classrooms, wherever they have opened welcoming doors to me.
[To be continued: Part 2 of “Lard Pail Lunches and Shared Knowledge”. Note: This story, in modified form, written by Ethelene Dyer Jones, appeared first in Moonshine and Blind Mules edited by Bob Lasley and Sallie Holt. Hickory, NC: Hometown Memories Publishing Co., 2006, pp. 88-91. Used by permission.]
c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 27, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.