Recollections -- "She taught the three r's...and saved lives"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Pat Hammer Contributed Photo

I remember when I was in first grade at a one room country school about a mile from my home. There were seven of us in first grade with one or more students in the other seven grades. We had one teacher who lived six or seven miles away, but she was always there when we arrived. Some days she drove her car, but if the roads were muddy her husband brought her. Mind you, these roads were not paved highways since this was 1941.

We had children from many walks of life. More than half came from extreme poverty, living in tar paper shacks on the sand bars of the Missouri River and lived "off the land" by planting a garden and hunting wild game. The school board -- my father was a member -- went to the parents of these children and encouraged them to send their children to school as it was free. These parents did send their children.

School started after Labor Day with everyone in their summer clothes and barefooted. My brother and I did not go barefoot, as there was too much glass, etc., in our yard, so I missed this part of childhood. When the weather turned cold, children of the tar paper shacks still came to school barefooted, in summer clothes and no coats. Our teacher got in touch with other parents that these children needed shoes, socks and coats, which were soon sent to school. I remember one girl in particular, several years older than me, who was big for her age, not fat, just big. None of the women's/girls shoes fit her so she got a pair of men's wing tip shoes. I can still see her walking between the rows of seats on the tips of those shoes.

When the weather became really cold the teacher realized these children had not had breakfast and many had not had supper the night before. The parents' gardens were gone; wildlife was not plentiful; they had no money or transportation. The teacher got commodities, asked the school board to furnish a kerosene cook stove, and cooked a hot meal at noon with the stipulation that everyone eat what she prepared. She did not want these children to feel different from the rest of us. She saved their lives.

Another word about that teacher, she truly loved every child she taught. When the weather was not suitable to go outside for recess, she played the piano and we sang. When she played "Darktown Strutter's Ball," that piano fairly danced across the room!

I remember when I realized I had a very good life.

Pat Hammer is a member of Marshall Writers' Guild and a lifetime resident of Saline County. Through her writing she shares her sweet and bittersweet memories of life here a "few" years ago.