Getting Schooled


Once upon a time there was a little red schoolhouse that was in fact a biggish red-brick edifice.  Until it was built sometime before 1920, at considerable cost for the times, the children of the local farming community attended classes in a drafty wood-frame building that kept the mothers stewing over its shortcomings.  Farming was booming, there was a homestead on nearly every quarter-section of land, and families were still moving into the area.  A bigger, safer, warmer, more forward-looking school was needed, and my grandmother, a teacher — although not in this building, which was three-quarters of a mile from our farm — was one of the motivating forces behind the cause.

The funds were raised and the school built.  Double-walled, with both facing and interior brick; a kitchen; wood flooring; full cement basement with a stage.  My siblings and I, in one of its later iterations, roller-skated in the basement, daring each other to take artistic leaps from the stage to the smooth cement floor three feet below.  My brain still knows whether or not anyone did, but the database is unfortunately down at present.  

My dad went from first through eighth grades here before attending high school in the small town six miles southwest.  My grandma took him, via horse and buggy, to his first day of first grade, and turned around a couple of hours later to find him standing in her kitchen.  The teacher had let the kids out for recess and my dad, having all he wanted of this “school stuff,” simply made a break for home.  He was bitterly disappointed to learn that attendance wasn’t optional, and despite being a thoroughly intelligent guy, formal education never became a favorite.


As Murphy’s Law #11 states, “You get the most of what you need the least.”  So about the time the beautiful schoolhouse was nearing completion, the farming boom was starting to go bust.  The air was turning to dust, Wall Street was headed for instability, to put it lightly, and families stopped streaming into the neighborhood while others gave up the struggle and packed it in.  By the time the little six-year-old up there finished eighth grade in 1935, the student population had thinned considerably, finally making it impractical to keep the doors open, at which point the building became a community center, a polling place, the location for township meetings, and an ongoing setting for the Grange’s poetry readings, plays, and other literary endeavors, which sounds so quaint and genteel I can hardly stand it.  

In my lifetime it was the site of community Thanksgivings … mostly in the late 1950s, which were nearly as devastating as the Dirty ’30s and left people feeling tapped out at holiday time so they pooled their resources.  We also held big carry-in dinners for extended family, where all the old men brought fiddles and harmonicas and assorted other instruments for Frontier Karaoke while my grandma “chorded along” on the old upright piano.  

I haven’t seen that corner for a while so I don’t know what if anything is still standing.  Those few acres became part of the family farm, and my dad told the friends and neighbors who inquired that they could have what they needed.  He and my brother had started taking the building apart and cleaning all the brick, a project that came to an end following my brother’s unfortunate death,  and after that I’m pretty sure my dad didn’t care who did what with any of it.  He did, with tears in his eyes, bring me a load of brick my brother had cleaned so that I could have a cozy hearth built in my newly-remodeled farmhouse … meaning we still don’t know the end of the story.  An entirely different family, in another county, will keep it going forward. 


It’s clear that bricks know the secret to longevity.  



6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rita Wagner
    Jul 29, 2015 @ 19:17:07

    Love this story! I’ll always have such fond memories of “the old schoolhouse”, especially roller skating in that basement and performing impromptu mini-plays on that stage. Also checking out the old grade books and giggling about the less- than- exemplary grades of people we actually knew who went to school there. You certainly know how to evoke a memory, sister o’ mine.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. AuntB
    Jul 29, 2015 @ 17:31:14

    I do remember attending at least one Thanksgiving dinner in that place. I also remember there was snow on the ground. It was too long ago for me recall my age at the time. Loved the story. Thanks for the memories, once again Dear niece.



  3. Barbara Wiggins
    Jul 29, 2015 @ 13:25:02

    My great grandfather was a brick maker in San Francisco…..My son married in a brick courtyard in New Orleans. I love your Kansas schoolhouse bricks and every story you tell.

    Liked by 1 person


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